“Be a man.”
“Tough it out.”
Every day, phrases like these — directives, really — are uttered to men and boys across the country. From the time that they are young, many males are told implicitly or explicitly that talking about their feelings and showing emotion are signs of weakness. How did we reach this unfair and unpleasant conclusion that has been perpetuated for generations?
A Psychology Today article posits a theory in relatively simple terms:
“Men who deviate from the traditional masculine norm by being emotionally expressive and talking about their fears are often judged as being poorly adjusted.”
As those in the behavioral health field have been arguing for many years, society needs to evolve to meet the mental health needs of men and boys. They are not immune to issues, pressures and stressors; they have human reactions, just like everyone else.
Recently, several high-profile men have publicly shared their experiences with mental health needs, and in doing so, challenged their image of the typical “macho male”:
- NBA All-Star Kevin Love shared his personal story about experiencing a panic attack during a game.
- Actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson opened up about his experience with depression and agony over witnessing his mother’s attempted suicide.
- Actor Michael Ian Black summed it up in a New York Times op-ed that hits on the issue perfectly — “There has to be a way to expand what it means to be a man without losing our masculinity.”
As Vanguard’s behavioral health clients know, societal norms have conditioned men and boys to believe that withholding their feelings and not seeking support for their mental health is the way that men should behave.
While working with the University of South Florida on a media assessment about how the mental health of men and boys in the U.S. is being covered, we found that stigma is often cited as a barrier for them to seek and receive support. These barriers have consequences. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that men are responsible for 77 percent of all completed suicides.
It’s time for society to challenge the status quo for men and boys and counter these stereotypes. There’s no shame in acknowledging you are going through a tough time and asking for help, and in the end, you could be empowering others to do the same.