Written by Xavier Mercader
Men and Mental Health: The Burden of Toxic Masculinity
Studies suggest men are less likely to seek support when it comes to mental health related issues. But, do we not suffer from stress or anxiety (among others), just as much as our female counterparts? Of course we do. So why is it that some men are still reluctant to seek help?
The main reason is societal stereotypes of what’s supposed to be “manly”. As men, some of us still feel some sort of social pressure in the idea that men are supposed to be “strong”, both physically and mentally. Therefore, showing signs of mental distress may be considered a weakness in the eyes of some people.
There’s an old song I like that says, “in the days of my youth, I was told what it is to be a man. Now I’ve reached the age, I’ve tried to do all those things the best I can.” Ironically enough, the man singing this song was Robert Plant, from Led Zeppelin, who has always been playful and open about his sexuality.
Fortunately, that “toxic masculinity” image has been changing and evolving over the years. Now, in 2023 we are starting to be able to see masculinity differently as well as have a different relationship with masculinity.
We know we don’t need to watch sports and drink beer. We don’t need to make more money than our partner or be the sole economic provider in our household. And, we don’t need to suppress our feelings. Yet, we still have a ways to go when it comes to wholeheartedly accepting these ideals.
These types of archaic stereotypes can play a role in our everyday life. They can impact what we do and stop doing, in fear of what’s (supposedly) expected of us as men. This is often because we feel our masculinity is challenged by what society dictates is “normal”.
My Relationship with Masculinity
One way I experienced it was while taking care of my toddler. After 8 months of maternity leave, my wife started work again. So, I cut my hours and changed my shift, to take care of our daughter. My wife’s scientific career is important to her and I supported her decision to go back to work early.
While still on maternity leave, my wife and I would take our little one to the playground on the weekend. But the first time I took my daughter to the playground by myself I felt out of place. (That going alone, as a man wasn’t the norm.)
Picture a guy with long hair and earring, wearing a biker jacket, a Motorhead t-shirt and leather boots, taking his 8-month-old daughter (dressed as cute as a baby can be), to the swings. Not only that, but I was also the only father on the playground. And, as silly as it may sound, I felt insecure. Of course, nobody was paying attention to me, but I felt uncomfortable because I fell outside the stereotype of a father. Traditionally, these roles are reversed in most families.
I’m sure if we ask, most men will agree that a father taking his child to the playground should be normal. But (sadly) numbers never lie, and they were telling me I was down 5 to 1, not just that day, but for months.
Should I have stopped taking my daughter to the playground because of my insecurity? Of course not! She loves the swings, so I took her anyway. Sure I felt out of place the first few times, but I realized I should stop seeing moms or dads (or the lack of them), and see parents. Though it’s impossible not to wonder where the other fathers are.
Men and Mental Health
So, how does toxic masculinity relate to mental health and what can we do about it?
A culture of toxic masculinity results in men trying to hide and bury our mental struggles. Though this will only create unsolved issues; producing a snowball effect. And like a snowball rolling downhill, that small problem we didn’t want to talk about, will keep growing until it explodes. I’m sure many, if not all, of us, have seen this type of explosion happen before.
It’s understandable that taking the step to seek the help of a professional may seem like a lot if you’re not used to asking for help. But there are smaller steps we can take to work towards seeking the help we need:
As the father of a young daughter, I want to see more men breaking down the ideas of toxic masculinity. I want to see more fathers spending one on one time with their children and opening up about their feelings, without feeling judged. When we are able to express our feelings and deal with our mental health we become better fathers, better partners, better family members and better men.
By Emory Oakley. Emory is a writer and LGBTQ+ educator who regularly discusses the intersections of queer identities and mental health.
In the last several years there has been an increased focus on men’s mental health. With a focus on de-stigmatizing mental health in order to encourage men to seek support for their mental wellness. We know men are less likely to seek support for their mental health than women.
It’s common to believe this trend is a direct result of the perceived standards of masculinity. If you were to ask almost anyone what it means to be a man, you’d probably receive answers like strong, confident, brave, etc. These characteristics are seen to be in direct opposition to seeking mental health support which is perceived as weakness. Although this is something we’re slowly seeing change as more people are starting to question gender expectations and fight against the toxic ideals of masculinity. But we still have a long way to go.
Facts About Men’s Mental Health
Here are some specific facts about Canadian men’s mental health:
I’ve struggled with mental health to varying degrees my entire life, though I would probably say I started to notice it in my teenage years. By notice, I don’t mean I recognized I was experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression. I was a late bloomer and experienced significant insecurity and discomfort in my body and I cared too much about what people thought of me. So, I tried desperately to fit in and to be ‘okay’ (whatever that means).
At the same time, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and she passed away three years after I graduated from high school. So, on top of my own personal struggles, I was experiencing profound loss and grief I was unprepared to deal with at seventeen.
Being The Tough GuyDespite everything I was going through I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I refused to admit I was struggling and put on a strong face. While simultaneously pouring my feelings into antsy poetry and contemplating why I should bother living. Of course, this made things worse, not better. I don’t recall anyone mentioning professional support even though I was perceived as a girl at the time.
It wasn’t until I entered a community where it was common to talk about our struggles that I started to open up. At that point, I’d finished my degree in psychology and even though I could admit I had some struggles, I was also able to convince myself I was strong enough to manage it myself. What changed everything was that almost everyone in this new community space had an experience with going to therapy (and wasn’t afraid to talk about it).
The impacts I experienced in therapy were profound.
What Can We Do To Help
Regardless of how we identify, we would all benefit from a more mentally healthy society. So, how can we support men’s mental health whether it be ourselves or the men in our lives?
Here are some things I suggest:
We all experience varying states of mental wellness regardless of whether or not our symptoms ever reach a point of being considered a diagnosable disorder. We all experience sadness, worry, and stress to some degree and many, if not all, of us, could benefit from support in developing our emotional resilience. It’s my hope that we are able to talk more about mental health and see the value of therapy for everyone.
By Dr. Joti Samra, CEO & Founder of the Psychological Health & Safety (PH&S) Clinic and MyWorkplaceHealth
Why do people like Valentine’s Day? I hate it. Not because I’m single, I’ve actually been happily married to my wife for six years. But she always gets upset when I don’t go all out or seem sincere enough on this one annual occasion. I’m a good husband, I think, and she tells me that I do loving things for her all the time during the other 364 days. So what gives? Why do people get so caught up in a single day that (I think) isn’t all that special?
There’s no special occasion that men and women disagree about more than Valentine’s Day! You are like many men that I hear from: frustrated and confused about the (seemingly) disproportionate emphasis that their female partners place on this day relative to other days of the year.
So, here’s the answer to your question in a nutshell: Women like Valentine’s Day for reasons that are, in spirit, not dissimilar to the reasons they like other special occasions. The day is a celebration of something very special in their lives – love. An informal poll of my female friends was unanimous: This is a day that women want to feel extra loved, appreciated and special to their partners.
Chalk it up to the childhood dreams many of us women have about fairy-tale happy endings and knights in shining armour. It’s perhaps a little silly, and usually far from the reality of life, but certainly something that makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Here’s what I suggest: Rather than getting caught up worrying about why so many other people like this day, why don’t you ask your wife what it is that she values about the day? After all, it’s her opinion that matters the most. Ask her how she would like to celebrate. Then communicate – non-defensively – how you feel about the occasion. It may be that you are putting undue pressure on yourself and thinking she expects something much grander than what is actually the case.
In his fantastic book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, Dr. Gary Chapman writes about the differences couples encounter when they are speaking different “love languages.” He articulates the importance of understanding your partner’s primary love language (i.e. quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service or physical touch) as a way to improve and strengthen your relationship. Special occasions – and the associated celebration of them – often speak to the different love languages couples have, and the differences partners have about how the other communicates their love.
So, smile. Enjoy the day. Go the extra mile for your wife on this day, then ask yourself: Something that makes her feel extra happy and special can’t be all bad, can it?
Excerpted from Dr. Joti Samra’s “Ask the Psychologist” weekly column in The Globe and Mail.
Enhancing psychological health, wellness and resilience