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.
Enhancing psychological health, wellness and resilience