Men’s Mental Health: what is an idealised version of masculinity?

By Ella Thwaites | @ellathwaites_
Subedited by Jasmine Wing | @jasminenatashaw

From birth, men are forced to subscribe to an idealised version of masculinity, where being vocal about your emotions makes you weak, which is reinforced and perpetuated by phrases like; “Man up”, “Grow a pair”, and “Boys don’t cry”. However, with 78% of the 6,233 suicides recorded in 2013 being carried out by men, it is time that this rhetoric is challenged.

For decades, showing any sort of vulnerability has been seen to diminish a man’s masculinity and make him the target of abuse meant to bring shame upon him. This, in turn, contributes to a plethora of mental health issues and men are reluctant to admit to them. This reluctance to share and let people help can quickly morph into unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance abuse, self-harm, and even suicide. Men who suffer from these problems are much more likely to suffer in silence, especially minority men.

Despite the fact that now more than ever men are being encouraged to talk about their struggles, we still have a long way to go in making sure they are taken seriously. I did some research of my own and found that while 90% of people have a man in their life that has suffered from a mental health issue, only 66% of men feel that they can actually talk about their feelings with a friend and 51% don’t know what resources are available to them if they’re struggling. One person stated; “Telling guys to ‘man up’ is horrific, when we’re at our lowest it’s the last thing we want to hear.”

On why men don’t feel as if they can share their struggle I was told; “As a man, I don’t talk about my problems with my friends because most people who don’t have any ties to mental health don’t tend to understand it in any format, there’s this extra step of having to justify yourself.”

So, what can be done to help? I think keeping the conversation open is vital. I feel as though seeing other men, high profile or closer to home, come forward with the battles their facing will encourage more men to start talking about how they feel. As a society, we need to reassure men that their pride and masculinity isn’t tied to their emotional vulnerability. Being transparent about your feelings doesn’t make you weak if anything it makes you a stronger individual because it proves you have the gall, to be honest without fearing any consequences, of which there shouldn’t be any.

There are a number of charities and organisations that focus on the wellbeing of men such as Calmzone, The Blue Ribbon Foundation, and MIND.

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