Have you ever wondered why so many men suffer in silence? Well, we believe that toxic masculinity has an awful lot to answer for! This article will therefore discuss what toxic masculinity is and the impact that it has on men’s mental health.
What Is Toxic Masculinity?
Toxic masculinity refers to the traditional cultural idea that blokes have to think and act in a certain way. It results in pressure on males to conform to traditionally masculine ideals that have been laid out over many years.
Masculinity in itself is not really the toxic part, it becomes toxic when the pressure that is placed on men’s behaviour becomes harmful. And this happens a lot more than you’d initially think, and it can often be hard to recognise.
Common misconceptions include the idea that all men should be masculine, hold power, be able to solve their own problems and that they must not engage in anything that could be regarded as feminine, such as looking after themselves, apparently.
Whilst it is likely that toxic masculinity affects all males, it often presents itself in a variety of different ways for different people. It can be severely, incredibly, awfully damaging to the mental health of males in the UK and across the globe.
How Does Toxic Masculinity Affect Mental Health?
Toxic masculinity usually means that men fail to access support when they need it, fail to admit they have mental health problems or even fail to commit to looking after their mental health.
When you think that one in eight males have a common mental health disorder (and those are just the ones that are reported!), men report lower levels of life satisfaction than women, and are almost three times as likely to take their own lives – it seems baffling that it still exists. (Source: Mental Health Foundation)
Surely we should all unite against our struggles? I know it’s definitely not as simple as that, but anyways, here are 5 ways that toxic masculinity can act as a barrier to good mental health in males:
Ah, the much-discussed S word. Stigma describes negative attitudes and discrimination towards people that demonstrate a certain characteristic, according to verywellmind.
Toxic masculinity feeds into this by presenting the false idea that showing emotions, struggling and asking for help are signs of weakness. This is often taught to males from a very young age, sometimes unintentionally.
But it results in many males feeling as though they cannot talk about any worries or struggles that they may be facing. Therefore, they end up trying to face them alone, which is extremely difficult for most people.
Often in the case of males, stigma may look like:
- People describing individuals with mental health conditions as ‘attention seekers’.
- People applying harmful stereotypes to people that talk about their mental health.
- Bullying, harassment or lack of acceptance from peers.
- Invalidating and unhelpful terms such as ‘man up’ and ‘get over it’.
- And so much more!
This stigma as a result of toxic masculinity often results in self-stigma. Yup, people stigmatise themselves and it happens very often with a huge range of conditions.
Essentially, it happens when people refuse to believe that they need help or even have a mental health problem in the first place. Some people even experience shame because of this.
A study by Zac Seidler and co. in 2019 identified that 73% of interviewed men thought that they had to solve their own problems, which is why they didn’t want to seek mental health care. As well as this, 80% of the cohort agreed that ‘a lot of people feel sad and down’.
Whilst these thoughts and feelings are very common, it is worth noting that everyone must look after their mental health, and mental health issues are absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
Often due to the stigma and societal pressure that is placed on men through toxic masculinity, many tend to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs. Studies suggest that men are three times more likely than women to rely on alcohol and regular drug use.
Unfortunately, this only worsens the issues and feeds into the culture of toxic masculinity that ultimately encourages and glorifies unhealthy habits. Therefore preventing them from achieving good mental health.
Overpressure on Situational Factors
Again, the ideas that toxic masculinity present can result in pressure on males to be dominant breadwinners. Now, this can cause problems for men in that this is how we tend to judge our successes and what contributes to our happiness.
Therefore, men tend to place an awful lot of pressure on themselves to get a good job, be financially stable, keep everything organised and provide for everyone around them. Back to that amazing Seidler et al. study again, the researchers revealed that 62% of the men interviewed agreed that ‘it would be normal for me to be sad given the circumstances of my life’.
Obviously, this can be stressful as such responsibility can be a lot to take on one’s shoulders, especially given that males are less likely to receive support and discuss this stuff. Consequently, contributing to worsened mental health when these things are slightly out of reach.
High Care Dropout Rates
Even when males manage to overcome the barriers provided by toxic masculinity and get themselves to therapy (usually upon the request of spouses, friends or family members), the dropout rates are still very high. With one in four males dropping out of mental health care prematurely, as stated by Seidler et al. in 2019.
It is estimated that only 9% of men with a mental health problem are receiving treatment.
Whilst there could be many different reasons for this, including clinician bias, it could be argued that the issues that toxic masculinity present could have a huge part to play.
But let’s be honest… talking about mental health issues is never easy.
A 2020 study (26% males) showed that the primary concerns we have about counselling are counsellor competence, and finding the right counsellor to work with.
And, once in the counselling room, the 3rd biggest challenge is actually achieving positive results from counselling.
It’s clear that increasing accessibility and efficacy of mental health services will be key to helping men resolve toxic masculinity, and make real-world progress on these very personal issues.