“Man up”. Don’t be such a girl”. These are phrases that most men in our society will be familiar with. They are heard at school, home, among peers and in popular culture. But are we aware of the damage caused by this mentality that we continue to normalise?
Although this dogma is one that has been upheld for generations, it hides a very real dark reality. Teaching men that by showing emotion makes them less of a man is one of the most damaging principles that can be injected into any man’s psyche. Quite often it results in lifelong mental struggles and disabilities and can even lead to abusive and violent behaviour, or worse, suicide.
And there are statistics to support this.
“The number of men who have been admitted to hospital for an eating disorder has risen by 70% between 2011 and 2017, according to data from the NHS”.
Due to the stigma, men are less likely to seek help, or may not even notice the disorder within themselves. This is because they are not encouraged to recognise the symptoms or seek help to the same extent that women are.
This is not limited to eating disorders, though. As stated on Men’s Health Forum by reference to a compilation of data, 12.5% of men in the UK suffer from at least one mental health related issue.
Suicide is the number one killer in men under the age of 49 years old, three quarters of the total suicide rate in the UK. Which has been argued to be the result of conditions going untreated to the point of feeling totally hopeless and alone. This is supported by Mental Health America reports that six million American men are depressed, too often going undiagnosed for years.
Reading the statistics are one thing, but speaking to individuals that are directly affected really shines a personal spotlight on the inner turmoil and power that this “real men don’t cry” belief has on men.
I recently had a chat with a man battling depression who wishes to remain anonymous, about his thoughts on this topic. A 21 year old who recently joined the military, an organisation which prides itself on bravery and ruggedness, he expressed the difficulties he has opening up to his peers out of fear of being ostracised and laughed at leaving him feeling isolated and alone in his struggle.
“I think of it as the exaggeration of positive masculine traits. For example, protectiveness becomes aggression, sex-drive becomes predatory, and confidence becomes arrogance”, Goliger interestingly notes when asked about toxic masculinity and what the term means to him.
“The social standards expected of men and women differ in that with women it revolves around image and appearance, whereas in men it stretches past that to not only physique, but character too, challenging the way we feel about themselves internally. If we feel we don’t fit the tough macho ideal, it can manifest into a dangerous inner conflict
Being faced with the stats, having first hand experience and conversing with other men highlights that we, as a society, have a problem on our hands.
We live in an age where equality is fought for in almost every possible facet – the workplace, the home and the government. Can we not broaden the spectrum to include mental health too? If we are protesting for equal pay in the office, can we also advocate for equal empathy for men battling mental illness?
That’s what it is, after all. An illness. And that is how it should be handled. With support and understanding.