Let’s talk about men-tal health. How men can prioritise their mental health in the age of toxic masculinity?
By this point, you’re probably somewhat aware of the statistics surrounding men’s mental health. Men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women. Men report lower levels of life satisfaction than women and are far less likely to access psychological therapies.
The figures paint a bleak picture; men are far more likely to require help for their mental health but less likely to seek it out. This, naturally, begs the question: why?
While there is no clear overarching answer to explain the disparity between men and women regarding mental health, there is a consensus over a key contributing factor; toxic masculinity.
The term refers to a set of societal and cultural pressures and behaviours associated with or expected of men, which have harmful effects on men, women, and society.
Essentially, it’s the warped notion of being a ‘man’s man.’
Not showing emotion, maintaining an appearance of hardness or toughness, asserting power over others, usually through violence or physical dominance. These are the key facets of toxic masculinity, and they are tearing men apart from the inside out.
These harmful beliefs and thought patterns can often be quite insidious; many men won’t consciously realise they are subscribing to these nonsensical standards, yet the damage is still taking place.
Expressing emotion, in any form, is often seen as a sign of weakness for men. We are conditioned to put value in stoicism, to put a lid on troubling feelings to avoid being seen as lesser by others.
Thus, a lot of men will not seek help when they are struggling. That is not strength; it’s neglect. The national conversation around men’s mental health is certainly helping, but there is still an evident stigma around accessing services. Further still, this makes men more susceptible to use potentially harmful coping methods like drugs or alcohol.
Stereotypes of men usually hold them as the breadwinner of a family or in a position of power and influence. While these aren’t inherently wrong things, they can instill harmful pressures on a person to ‘keep it together and ‘man up.’ There’s little room for emotional distress.
It’s also important, however, not to paint in too broader strokes. Not all men put stock, consciously or subconsciously, in these toxic ideals and act in damaging ways.
To be a man is not to be stoic and hard, never to experience difficult emotions, and always be a dominant force. To be a man is to be whoever you want, as long as it’s your true self. There is no checklist to tick off, no societal parameters to meet. A real man experiences the full spectrum of emotions and feels no shame about that; that’s the human condition.
Prioritise your mental health
With all that being said, it can be challenging, as a man, to know how to prioritise your mental health. The first step is to talk. This is easier said than done and will only become a smoother process with experience.
It can be difficult even to know where to begin; toxic masculinity denies many men the ability even to understand and verbalise their emotions. If this is the case, a useful place to start is writing your thoughts and feelings down – this doesn’t need to be shared with anyone if you don’t want to; it can help you understand your thoughts.
Seek out other men who are, or have been, open about their struggles and emotional difficulties. This could be people in your own life, or it could be men in the public eye. Dwayne Johnson and Tyson Fury – a hulking Hollywood star and a heavyweight boxing champion of the world – fit the toxic masculinity mould of what a man should be. Yet, both have spoken at length about their mental health issues.
Just hearing other men discuss their emotions can go a long way to helping you talk about your own.
When it comes to talking to someone, confiding in someone you trust is always a lot easier. Be as open and honest as you can. The impact of talking can have huge benefits on your mental health and help others, particularly other men.
The more men who are open and talk freely about their mental health, the more this dialogue becomes normalised, and the impact of toxic masculinity is lessened.
If you are comfortable talking to others, try to set a positive example for other men and boys in your life: this can be particularly impactful on children, showing them that it is OK and natural to express yourself freely.
Likewise, if you notice differences in a man’s behaviour in your life – perhaps they’ve become more reserved – reach out and check in on them. I
f they say they’re OK when you ask, ask again to be sure. Let them know they won’t be judged or seen any differently.
If you’re particularly concerned about your mental health, do not fear the process of speaking to your doctor or a certified practitioner. If you’d rather not visit your GP, there are several online services you can use, many of which are anonymous.
The effects of toxic masculinity are still deeply embedded into society, and one person alone won’t change that. What you can focus on, though, is your own life and those around you. Make gradual changes to prioritise your mental health and express your feelings. Check in regularly with your thoughts and feelings and your inner dialogue.
Being a man does not mean you should not practice self-care; it’s an essential part of leading a happy, healthy life. Never let outdated ways of thinking deny you that.
Below are some useful contacts for anyone in distress or looking to discuss men’s mental health:
Anxiety UK – anxietyuk.org.uk for advice and support for people living with anxiety.
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) – bacp.co.uk as a Professional body for talking therapy and counselling.
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – thecalmzone.net provide listening services, information, and support for anyone who needs to talk, including a webchat.
Samaritans – samaritans.org are open 24/7 for anyone who needs to talk.
You can also take a look at our other mental health articles in the Mental Health Issue of the Digital Magazine.
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George has been writing for over a decade and has featured in George Boxing News, The Guardian, Times Higher Education, Time to Change and more. With lived experience of mental health issues and as a fully qualified Personal Trainer, George focuses on people's wellbeing and mental health, in particular men's mental health.