Be a man. Don’t be such a pussy. Men don’t cry. Man up. Boys will be boys. Don’t be a fag. She has you whipped. I see who wears the pants in your relationship. There was a time when men were men.
The worst part is that I could keep going for a long time. These phrases are examples of toxic masculinity. Not only has it taken a toll on society as a whole, but toxic masculinity can be a severe detriment to one’s mental health.
What is Toxic Masculinity?
In terms of psychology, toxic masculinity refers to masculine behavior associated with harm to society and men themselves. This includes misogyny and the idea that men are socially dominant. This also includes homophobia and the willingness of some men to create in and out groups.
In addition, toxic masculinity tends to promote the idea of dominance through violence. This can lead to behaviors such as bullying, sexual assault, and domestic violence. The science also points out that engaging with toxic masculinity can cause emotional repression. Emotional repression can then lead to depression, stress, anxiety, and even substance abuse.
It is very easy for men, especially young boys to adhere to the norms of toxic masculinity. In many cases, it is enforced strictly early in life by parents. It is later enforced when children start to socialize in schools. Bullying is very common in schools because of some of the learned traits passed on by these norms. Bullying demonstrates the need to be dominant, strong, and better than others. For many children, bullying is their first encounter with a detrimental effect from masculine culture.
The Tragedy of Emotional Repression
The most probable outcome in a culture of toxic masculinity is emotional repression. In essence, emotional suppression is the act of pushing away one’s thoughts and feelings. The problem with this is it causes a “rebound effect.” This rebound effect causes suppressed thoughts or emotions to come up more often and with a stronger intensity. This is where mental health comes in.
Some men are told their entire lives not to cry, not to show emotion, and to be a man. This is the perfect storm for a lot of pent up emotion that has nowhere to go. Many of these men don’t even know how to process emotions in a healthy way because they’ve spent their entire lives avoiding them. This causes many of them to lash out. This can be with violence and anger because there is no other outlet.
This, in itself, is a tragedy. For me, I lashed out in anger at myself. I self-harmed for a few years. I became depressed and anxious because I didn’t know how to deal with emotions.
It was possibly the worst stretch of my life. I was a mild case.
I grew up with parents that supported me and never really bought into the manly men culture. Nonetheless, the culture existed in my schools, in my sports, and pretty much anywhere I went. I was affected because it is everywhere. It is engrained into every part of our society.
It could have been a lot worse for me. People are dying because of this culture where we force men to not talk about their emotions. Men are depressed and don’t know where to turn. Men are the single highest risk group for death by suicide. Men die by suicide at a rate 3.5x that of women. Almost 80% of attempted suicides by men are successful.
How do we change?
I am not saying that men are the only people that get depressed, anxious, and struggle. Anyone can be depressed. The change that we need to make is that everyone should be able to ask for help.
There is no excuse in maintaining this culture. Educating people on the realities of depression is a start. We need to encourage everyone to address their emotions and be able to express them freely. Emotions and feelings are a good thing. Without emotion and feelings, I would not be writing this article.
Emotion is a gift, and we need to stop shaming men for having them. Without sadness, there could be no happiness. There is no dark without light. It is time for everyone to look at the reality of mental health and depression in the eyes instead of running away from it. Showing emotion and feeling pain isn’t unmanly and it isn’t cowardly. Teaching young kids that “men don’t cry” is the cowardly action.
As a society, we need to be brave and see mental health for what it is. It is a problem that can be treated and taught. It is just as real as a broken arm or a headache. Men that have depression are not alone. It is estimated that 30% of men suffer from depression in their lifetime. Many professionals also believe this number could be much higher due to low report rates.
30% of men experienced depression, but only about 25% of those men will seek out help. This is what needs to change. Getting help for your mental health should be as normal as getting a physical checkup from a doctor. Changing 25% to 100% is what will help everyone in our society tackle mental health.
Men do cry. Men do feel sad. Men do feel pain. Men do feel suffering. Understanding mental health and accepting it for what it is will create a better society for all of us.
A society that stares depression down and says “You will not win” is the society I want to live in. That is brave. Not only that, but it is manly. You are not alone.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
AFSP. (2019). Suicide Statistics. [online] Available at: https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/ [Accessed 6 Jun. 2019].
Wikipedia. (2019). Suicide Statistics. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxic_masculinity[Accessed 6 Jun. 2019].APA. (2019). [online] Available at: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/12/numbers[Accessed 6 Jun. 2019].