Boys Don't Cry: Toxic Masculinity and Mental Health

By Karinthia Treu, UWO Senior Peer Wellness Educator

Boys Don’t Cry: Toxic Masculinity and Mental Health  

In our society, men often struggle to express their emotions properly. This is likely related to the ways men are being raised. Often, men are raised to believe that being emotional is a feminine trait. This is evident in phrases like: “boys don’t cry”, “man up” or “be a man”. This culture becomes particularly problematic when a man is suffering from mental illness. 

Mental illness is very prevalent and harmful in the United States, specifically, the CDC estimates that fifty percent of all Americans are diagnosed with mental illness at some point in their life. The CDC also states that on average people with mental illness live shorter lives (about 25 years shorter). In addition, mental illness is the third most common cause of hospitalization in people ages 18-44 (CDC). The National Institute of Mental Health reveals that men are less likely to receive mental health treatment than women are. A survey done by the Mental Health Foundation found that 28% of men did not seek out medical attention for mental health concerns in comparison to 19% of women. This makes a lot of sense when you factor in the idea of toxic masculinity. 

Toxic masculinity is a concept that sheds light on how portrayals of extreme masculinity can be harmful to both men and women. Men in western cultures are commonly encouraged to abide by traditional gender roles. Toxic masculinity is often translated into hypersexuality, domination of women, encouragement of violence and inability to show emotions. Living in a society plagued by toxic masculinity results in men being less likely to seek out mental health treatment than women are. Emotional restriction can have extreme consequences and is linked to negative risk-taking and inappropriate aggression as well as mental and physical health problems. More specifically, Dr. Erlanger Turner discusses in his Psychology Today article how strict adherence to traditional masculine gender roles can result in dating difficulties, interpersonal violence and substance abuse. 

A website titled “Heads Up Guys” has a lot of resources for men who are struggling with their mental health. One part of the website I found very powerful was the “You’re Not Alone” section. In this section, there are real stories and quotes from men struggling with their mental health. Here are some quotes I thought were worth sharing: 

“When all your instincts tell you to retreat inward, find and follow the path that leads back from darkness. It can be hard to find the strength to do it, but reaching out is crucial.” – Tommy,  Nyköping/Stockholm, Sweden

“The simple act of raising my hand and admitting I needed some help really turned things around for me and I was surprised how supportive everyone was.” – William, Wollongong, Australia 

“Never put yourself in a situation where you have to shoulder the burden alone… Talk to someone about what you are going through. Find positive things/activities to do and channel your energy and emotion into it.” – Adam, Brunei and UK

Men can display different symptoms than women do, some common symptoms that a man could show when struggling with depression or another mental illness include:

  • erectile dysfunction
  • eating disorders
  • changes in energy level or appetite 
  • fatigue
  • inability to do chores
  • lack of concentration, sleep or interest 
  • self-medication or substance abuse 
  • irritability 
  • compulsive behavior 
  • engaging in high risk activities

It is important to note that men are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than women are (APA). Suicide is commonly associated with mental illness and is the second leading cause of death of people aged 18-35 in the US (CDC). This proves how important it is to check in on the men in your life and to be part of the solution by encouraging men to speak up about their emotions. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health set up an appointment at the counseling center here on campus. Visit https://www.uwosh.edu/couns_center for more information. 

Sources

American Psychological Association. By the Numbers: Men and Depression. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/12/numbers 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mental Health Home Page. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/index.htm

Clemens, Colleen. What We Mean When We Say, “Toxic Masculinity”. Retrieved from https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/what-we-mean-when-we-say-toxic-masculinity 

Doward, Jamie. Men Much Less Likely to Seek Mental Health Help Than Women. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/nov/05/men-less-likely-to-get-help–mental-health 

Heads Up Guys. Quotes To Help You Through Depression. Retrieved from https://headsupguys.org/quotes-help-depression/ 

Montero, Henry. Depression in Men: The Cycle of Toxic Masculinity. Retrieved from https://www.psycom.net/depression-in-men/depression-in-men-toxic-masculinity/

National Institute of Mental Health. Men and Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/men-and-mental-health/index.shtml 

Turner, Erlanger. Mental Health Among Boys and Men: When is Masculinity Toxic? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-race-good-health/201902/mental-health-among-boys-and-men-when-is-masculinity-toxic 

Whitley, Rob. Men’s Mental Health: A Silent Crisis. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-about-men/201702/mens-mental-health-silent-crisis