Men, Masculinity and Mental Health

Written by on February 17, 2021

“Grrrrrr… I am man…. me no feel emotion….. me no sad” said the caveman to his cavelady wife after his hundredth failed attempt of trying to start a fire to provide for his family. He could feel something gnawing away and hurting him from inside. What was this strange feeling?

Think of a masculine man. Harrison Ford? John Wayne? Dwayne Johnson? Bruce Willis?  Schwartznegger? Stalone? Chris Hemsworth? Tom Hardy? Fuck yeah, that is the testosterone man hunks we associate with masculinity. Rippling abs, ridiculously good looks and they show little to no fear or weakness.

Wrong! OK, not about the dashing good looks or the muscles that glisten because let’s be honest that is fact. No, you are wrong about them having no fear or weakness. I am here to break it to you the most ‘masculine’ men are also some of the most emotional. For instance, Tom Hardy said when discussing his anxiety “I’m just a frightened bloke. Everything scares me. Not being in control, not knowing, anticipation, waiting for something to go wrong.” The God of Thunder himself spoke about his anxiety saying ““[I] became more and more anxious, to the point where I couldn’t harness or use that energy”. Schwartznegger replied to one fan dealing with depression “We all go through challenges, we all go through failure. Sometimes life is a workout. But the key thing is you get up”. Harrison Ford stated “its people i am afraid of” when discussing his fear of public speaking and said he feels “a mixed bag of terror and anxiety”. Even the Rock, who let’s be honest is a God of a man, said after his mother’s suicide attempt he  reached a time where he “didn’t want to do a thing or go anywhere” and he “was crying constantly.”

“So, Mr Caveman you see even the individuals we hold as masculine ideals have a rich, complicated and emotional core”.
“[Indistinguishable grunt]”.

“Well that is not kind and if I am honest it hurt me and it is ok to feel hurt but the world’s association of masculinity with a lack of emotion is an issue. Let me explain why.”

1 in 8 men suffer with mental health issues. That seems a lot, however, the numbers don’t seem to add together. Men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women. Men are three times more likely to be dependant on alcohol or develop a drug addiction.  87% of those who are on the streets are male whilst almost 3/4 of missing adults are men. Yet men only make up 36% of the referrals to talking therapies. What is going on here then?

Well this is where gender roles come into play and notions of masculinity. Men have been told and disciplined for generations that emotion, fear and more overly mental issues are a sign of weakness. How can you be the breadwinner if you feel like crying? Is a man truly strong if he let’s his emotions beat the shit out of him?

This belief that to be masculine is to be devoid of emotion is harmful because to be human is to feel. If someone tries to internalise, cover or hide these emotions or issues then it will inevitably boil over. The problem is men find it harder to see this ‘boiling point’ that often takes the form of mental health issues and are less likely to reach out for help as it goes against the mainstream notion of masculinity. It is my belief, and many others, that there are more then likely thousands upon thousands of men suffering with mental health who refuse to acknowledge a problem or ask for help.

“So, you see Mr Caveman it is ok to feel emotions, or even ask for help when they become too much. You can still look after your family and have feelings and need help”
“[Indistinguished grunt]”

“I am glad you are feeling ready to find help. Oh, you want to know where is the best place to start? Friends and family are a great starting point but if you feel overwhelmed talk to your GP…. oh they haven’t been invented yet. Well, here is my phone and visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-health-helplines/ for a list of very helpful numbers”

Don’t be a caveman, be a real man and talk about your mental health.

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