When it comes to men’s mental health, there are still a lot of barriers. Mainly, this idea that all men should be masculine or even hyper-masculine, showing all of the traditional characteristics for a man. Things like being assertive, powerful, in control and courageous. Which are all good qualities. But in some cases, the idea of masculinity can become amplified, and this is known as toxic masculinity. In our modern culture this is a term we hear a lot, and it has been held up as the cause of many problems, particularly for women. But the truth is many people aren’t even sure what the term means, and have never stopped to consider that toxic masculinity may be just as difficult for the men struggling with it.
What is Toxic Masculinity?
Most people can identify the symptoms of toxic masculinity when it’s in front of them, but not many can really explain what it is. Simply put, toxic masculinity refers to the traditional cultural masculine norms that can be harmful to men, women and society at all. It doesn’t demonise these norms at all – but it does expose and emphasis some of the negative effects that those traditional masculine ideals can have on society.
For example, how many of us have heard the phrase ‘boys don’t cry’? This simple 3-word phrase has been said by mothers to their sons for centuries, with no thought to the harm it could be doing. Men who are brought up to think they should suppress their emotions, suggesting that being emotional is a feminine trait and showing weakness, often really struggle with mental health problems later down the line. There is also the need to be strong and assertive, to be the provider and protector of your family. Outwardly this can lead to men becoming overly aggressive to show dominance and power, resorting to violence with others and with partners, and developing a significantly sexist view on the world, and on women.
Toxic Masculinity and Mental Health
Over the past couple of decades a lot of research has been done into toxic masculinity, and studies have found time and time again that there is a strong link between traditional masculinity turned toxic and poor mental health. And in fact, a new meta-analysis published in the Journal of Counselling Psychology has not only confirmed the link between traditional masculinity and poor mental health in men, but it’s also unearthed some of the most damaging aspects of toxic masculinity. What they found was both enlightening and slightly alarming. Their study found that these 3 particular traits were linked to poor mental health:
- Playboy: Those who conform to the so-called ‘playboy’ norm of masculinity will see women as sex objects, and typically say they would prefer to have many sex partners rather than a committed sexual relationship with one person.
- Power over women: Those who conform to the ‘power over women’ norm see women as unequal to men, and in need of a controlling masculine influence.
- Self-reliance: Men who adhere to this norm prefer to solve problems themselves and not ask others for help, no matter how much they’re struggling.
This leaves us with a kind of man who may become isolated from others due to the sexist and harmful views they hold, and find themselves unable to reach out for help when they are struggling. The study also found that adherence to these masculine norms directly correlated with an increase in mental health problems, with stress, depression, anxiety, and social functioning being at the top of the list. This kind of man is likely to feel lonely and hostile, and is less likely to benefit from strong, loving social bonds. Their relationships are likely to be poorer, which just adds fuel to the mental health fire, and they feel trapped and unable to seek help for fear of losing that traditional masculinity. This means they keep everything bottled up inside – all of the traumas and heart-breaking moments the stresses and the anxiety. Eventually there has to be a release, and all too often it’s in an explosive way.
One other view worth mentioning is the men who don’t meet those traditional masculine norms. They are also struggling as a result of toxic masculinity. Some struggle with bullying from others for not being ‘manly’ enough, while others want to achieve those levels of masculinity, but when they can’t they sink into depression. It’s just one example of how toxic masculinity has an impact on all men’s mental health – not just those engaging in it.
How do we Change it?
So far we’ve painted a pretty bleak picture, but it isn’t all doom and gloom. The good news is that the way society views masculinity is changing all the time, and in the last few years there have been great strides made in this area. More and more men are coming forward for help, and new generations are being raised without the old adage of ‘boys don’t cry’ parroted at them from a young. So there is progress being made to remove the stigma of mental health problems in men, even if it is slow going.
However, men are still much less likely to access traditional mental health services than women, and suicide is still the single biggest killer of men under 45. So there is still a lot of work to do. This is one of the reasons we developed our mental health app – MELP. MELP provides users with access to a wide range of supports for mental health and wellbeing, from exercises they can do at home to resources and access to a wide network of highly qualified professionals all ready to help. Our own research has shown that men are more likely to seek mental health help if they can do so privately, which is the beauty of a solution like MELP. It’s a personal therapist in your pocket, and no one else needs to know about it. So if you, or a man you know is struggling with their mental health, why not suggest MELP as the first step to getting the support they need? To find out more, just click here, or get in touch with us today.