Why We Need to Talk About Men’s Mental Health

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“Our culture doesn’t always leave space for men to express [their] inner struggle.” - Julia Malacoff (Health Line)

The above quote speaks words to me. It reminds me of where I came from before I started speaking out about my mental health. During the better part of my adolescence, I hung around a fairly masculine group of guys. At this time, my anxiety and depression were at an all-time high. I recall trying to reach out and speak to them, only to be shut down.

I was assumed to be, in their words, “a little bitch” or “pussy”. And I spent most of my high school thinking these things about myself. Going as far as to conclude I might even be a little crazy.

I mean, I was the only “bro” of my group that seemed to have this desire to reveal any kind of emotion. It sort of made me feel out of place. Like I wasn’t living up to normal male standards. Yet, as this group of guys and I grew into adults, it became more and more apparent they also had deeper feelings they were concealing. Holding back all for the sake of their masculine reputation.

This is why we need to talk about men’s mental health.

More and more men are coming out of this ‘emotional closet’ and beginning to understand who they are as individuals. And with more men coming out are psychologists and sociologists researching the matter.

Take Dr. David Plans, the CEO of BioBeats, as an example. He looks into these matters to a great extent. In one particular statement, he claims, “Men are taught from an early age, either by cultural referencing around them or by direct parenting, to be tough, not to cry, and to ‘crack on’. We train soldiers and professional warriors, and then expect them to be emotionally intelligent enough to open up when they need help. Worse, we expect them never to need help. We must bring vulnerability, as a core principle of emotional strength, into the framework of masculinity.”

Dr. Plans ideas were explored in a Psychology Today article by Barbara Markway Ph.D. She believes men take on a “double bind” when it comes to emotions. Her observations can be explained through five specific aspects of men’s personality:

  1. They Transform One Emotion Into Another

    When we look at what are stereotypically feminine emotions, such as sorrow and susceptibility, we make the automatic assumption that men don’t feel this way. However, Markway argues all men have these “feminine emotions”. They just transform them into other emotions - sorrow becomes anger and vulnerability becomes pride.

  2. They Move Their Emotions to Other Environments

    Markway observes that there are certain places where men feel comfortable expressing themselves. She uses the example of a sports event to show off the devotion men offer one another when their team wins. And the sorrow they express when their team loses.

  3. They Feel Their Mental Health Through Physical Health

    Though this can’t be said about all men, you’ll notice many have a strong fondness for their careers. It’s assumed that when men are working hard, they can cut off what they’re feeling. Therefore, when they’re taken away from their work, they may feel sick or uncomfortable. Again, this isn’t something all men feel. However, I can safely say I’ve been put in this position.

  4. Due to the Above Examples, Men are Caught in a “Double-Bind”

    When we consider all that’s mentioned above, we get an idea of how men are programmed to feel stereotypical masculinity. However, when they break away from that masculinity, they’re met with hostility. In fact, many pieces of research determine this hostility primarily comes from women. Though it can’t be said about all women, there are many who look for traditional masculine values in a man. Yet, they may also want their man to express himself. Still, they can only handle so much of this expression. For example, if a man has no control at all over his emotions, he might be perceived as “poorly adjusted”.

  5. Nobody Expects Men to Feel

    Men as a whole have put themselves in a position where the silence of their emotions is considered normal. Therefore, when one comes out and expresses himself, it’s perceived as abnormal. This is where the “double-bind” comes into play. However, we can’t forget the fact that men who do reveal their emotions not only overwhelm themselves, but also those around them.

Markway’s observations are highly important for understanding the social circumstances men are born into. Though there are more men today coming out about their emotions, they still face high stigmas. Mental health as a whole faces enough of a stigma, but when we start escalating this humiliation to a specific gender, we’re pushing them further and further back from the progress we hope to make.

As a man who’s handled mental health most of my life, I understand why most don’t reveal their true emotions. I was lucky enough to find people who I could reveal myself too. But I often think about how there are so many out there who aren’t lucky enough. And for those people, I hope change can be made within our society.

Written by Paul James.