Men and mental health
It’s well known that men find expressing emotions difficult; the stereotypical expectations placed on men by society stigmatise us into withholding our emotional problems for fear of being judged as less masculine or mentally weak.
We prefer to suffer in silence, as burdening others with our issues somehow means we are incapable of controlling other aspects of our lives. Avoiding confrontation of the personal matters we face daily builds up, placing immense pressure on ourselves and unfortunately results in many men taking their lives when things become so unmanageable that they feel there is no other option.
Many of the problems men face stem from this masculinity and its traditional beliefs, restricting communication, concealing emotions from loved ones, and our dominant values can lead to maladaptive mental health coping strategies; where we self-sabotage and conform to established masculine ways of dealing with emotional strain, often worsening our ability to manage.
Living up to the internal and external ideals and expectations set through this idea of masculinity, of what it means to “be a man”, can have us in knots when life doesn’t go our way; and disrupts our self-image, ultimately leading to avoidable mental health challenges.
As the struggles men face with mental health have become more advertised, and the links between negative masculine traits have been highlighted, expression of highly masculine characteristics has been labelled disruptive, and with societal progression around inclusiveness, even anti-social.
The attachment of negative views around masculinity potentially handicaps men, who adhere to or project masculine traits knowingly or not. These negative aspects of traditional masculinity undoubtedly come from sections of society where differences, acceptance and understanding are lacking.
This results in masculinity being attached to forms of hate, something we may call ‘toxic masculinity’. But what if we could harness these same masculine characteristics, that negatively affect our ability to manage our wellbeing, and have unfortunately been demonised through improper use; but use them to propel us forward in times of mental struggle?
How can masculinity be positive?
Tapping into advantageous associated masculine traits like strength, courage, independence, leadership, assertiveness; and applying masculinity positively, can help men manage emotions, build relationships, better communicate problems, improve life balance, and alleviate mental health concerns.
Many of the drawbacks of encouraging men to express emotions, actions, and behaviours are their belief these are feminine, not ‘manly’, and will therefore reduce their masculinity.
Highlighting how masculine traits men already possess and use in other contexts, like sports, competition, work, and personal pursuits, could educate men to actively apply them in more intimate situations.
Men feel that showing connectedness or emotional sensitivity is a weakness. But allowing themselves to be captivated and passionate about their nation winning a world cup, for example, shows their capability to understand their own ability to express emotion.
Men show stubborn dedication and effort to work, passions or hobbies, a trait that can be used to show their ability to persist through tough times. Men’s use of humour and togetherness, a crucial social bond, can be used as a tool for compassion, bonding and understanding. Allowing men to reach deeper levels of mutual respect and reach for help.
Male assertiveness, used to project themselves in confrontation, is a powerful tool indicating a man’s resilience, confidence, courage, and self-assurance to problems affecting their mental health. Exemplifying the masculine abilities some men may already possess naturally, can give men who are suffering some tools to combat mental health setbacks, who otherwise feel directionless or crippled from reaching out, under the weight of male beliefs or for fear of losing this masculinity.
The key takeaway
By addressing this stigma and educating men about how masculinity can be used, adapted, and applied positively; we move closer to helping them approach their mental health challenges through relatable and applicable methods. Meaning hopefully whereby we can see men embrace their masculinity for good, reducing the devastating effects of negative mental health within this community.
Our Guest Blogger:
Thank you for this insightful alternative perspective on ‘masculinity’ from our Ambassador Toby, re-looking at associated male traits and how we can better use them in a more positive way for mental health.
Remember, talking can SAVE lives! Please talk to someone about how you feel or ask someone how they are feeling and let’s #GetDorsetTalking.
Dorset Mind offers group support that can also help with your wellbeing. The group offers peer support and helps to reduce stigma by normalising conversations about mental health. You can also check out further support for stress and mental health here. You’ll find links for 1-2-1 and groups mental health support we offer here.