Toxic Masculinity is the enemy of Men’s Mental Health
Gender stereotypes and expectations of strength and lack of emotion are killing men.
It has become a common known fact in society that men are less likely to seek medical or psychological help for their mental health than any other gender. Academics and mental health advocates have been investigating to determine the cause of this result, and the conclusion that the majority have come to is that toxic masculinity is the root cause.
Masculinity itself is identified as the set of traits and roles that people, who identify as men, are expected to have/take. In addition to the problematic nature of these gender roles and traits, there are a number of “toxic” features that are included, and unfortunately, for men, these can be seriously debilitating and often affect the people around them too.
In 2018, a study was conducted by Silver, Levant and Gonzalez, who discovered 4 aspects of toxic masculinity that detriment a man’s mental health. The first, being the most well known trait, is the derogatory image of a man being a “sissy” or “feminine” if they are emotional. This thought is deeply rooted in sexism and homophobia, and sadly, discourages many men from expressing themselves emotionally due to their fear of being judged.
To add fuel to the fire, men are often raised to be over-ambitious to the point where stress leads to a number of mental issues such as anxiety and depression. The belief that men should strive for ultimate financial success and work nonstop to get there is completely bizarre for their well-being and unfortunately, high rates of mental health issues come from middle-aged working men, who have been overworked for most of their lives.
Strength and solitude. Whilst men often socialise and work in groups, they are raised to deal with their problems by themselves. Instead, they must portray themselves as though they are capable of anything, and nothing can break them down. This notion is problematic because men will then be challenged to a point where they break, if they do not consider abandoning this toxic trait.
The 4th toxic trait that often contributes to men having problems with their mental health is the aggression and dominance trait. Men are often expected to compete and be in conflict with other men, and women too. Sadly, hampering situations may take place where productive ‘conflict’ may become debilitating, and result in aggressive, violent behaviour, and communication issues.
Dr Earl Turner considered these toxic masculinity factors and found that they do, in fact, have terrible results for a man’s mental health. There were high levels of depression and anxiety found in his study of men, a high abuse of substances, problems with violence and aggression, greater physical symptoms due to psychological pressure, and problems with social interactions such as dating.
There are a number of solutions to tackle the toxic masculinity component in order to break mental health stigmas for men. Firstly, the barrier that is created for expressing emotions needs to be broken immediately. The best way to do this is to become the change-maker by expressing yourself and how you feel in your friend groups and circles. Crying should never be assigned to a gender, that is an exceptionally dangerous notion. In fact, it is beneficial for fellow men to see each other’s resilience, as it will allow them to relieve stress and negative feelings, rather than bottling them up.
For all genders, being able to speak about your mental illness is crucial because it normalises it in society. Depression and its symptoms should be spoken about normally, the same way the flu is spoken about in a group setting. Yes, it may be more personal, but people should feel comfortable to talk about their illnesses, whether physical or mental.