The Surprising Link Between Gender Roles And Mental Health

Man crying - mental health awareness

“How are you?” is a question I get asked almost every single day. It’s a well-meaning question often encountered when passing colleagues in the corridor or meeting up with friends and family. My response is always automatic and is usually some variation of: “I’m good thanks!”

However, the surprising truth is that my answer doesn’t always reflect how I’m really feeling and I know I’m not alone with what I write.

UK surveys show that 40% of men won’t talk about their own mental health. Even more alarmingly, three out of four suicides  are by men and suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 35.

Men and women suffer from mental health problems in equal measure but the way in which these problems are dealt with are vastly different. Women are more likely to ask for help and are far more open to discussing difficult feelings.

Societal pressures and traditional gender roles are thought to play a significant part in the stigma associated with men talking openly about mental health problems. 

The same traditional gender role programming is also the reason for the stigma associated with men wearing makeup. The commonality that connects both stigmas is the concept of masculinity. This can be defined in the broad sense of the traits men ought to have which in many cultures includes strength and emotional control.

However, it must be said that strength and emotional control are not negative traits and are also not exclusive to men. In addition, emotional control is not synonymous with emotional repression but is instead a mastery of them.

The problem arises when there is a direct conflict with how a person actually feels and how a person ought to feel. For generations the phrase “big boys don’t cry” is an example of the social conditioning at an early age that associates showing emotion with weakness. If there is an automatic expectation to live up to an ideal that internally it is felt cannot be met is where problems can manifest.

I am not advocating for an alternative definition of masculinity or femininity but to instead allow for an individual to express themselves freely without fear of ridicule or embarrassment. This can take the form of openly talking about mental health problems and also choosing to wear makeup as a man.

The meaning of masculinity and femininity varies depending on the culture and the era. It is therefore up to us to continue to challenge the traditional notions of masculinity and also femininity.

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