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Men’s Mental Health: The Stigma’s Surrounding Traditional Gender Roles and Toxic Masculinity

At HPCCH, we understand the profound impact that societal expectations and toxic masculinity may have on men’s mental health. In recognition of Men’s Mental Health Week, we are raising our voices to highlight these critical issues. These cultural norms, which prescribe certain behaviours and attitudes for some men, can lead to numerous negative consequences for their mental, emotional, and social well-being. Here, we delve into the harmful effects of what in extreme cases can result in toxic masculinity and the urgent need to challenge and redefine these norms.

Defining the Issue

Many societal (and some extreme) expectations prescribe that men must adhere to traditional notions of masculinity, often characterised by emotional suppression, dominance, and aggression. While these traits are sometimes seen as strengths, they can have detrimental effects on men’s mental health.

Key Takeaways:

  • Toxic masculinity harms men’s mental health by stifling emotions and discouraging help-seeking.
  • Men engaging in forms of toxic masculinity may have a higher risk of mental health challenges, such as depression and suicidal thoughts.
  • Challenging outdated historical societal norms and promoting healthy masculinity is essential for improving men’s mental well-being.
  • Following “rabbit holes” on the internet about “Men’s rights”, or “men as victims” (as a few examples) can create further problems for men concerned about their place in the modern world.

The Relationship Between Traditional Gender Roles and Toxic Masculinity

In many ways, “manhood,” like “womanhood,” comes with many expectations in Australian society. We often value kindness, compassion, and care in women more than in men. Men are positively associated with being protective and negatively associated with being emotional, according to societal norms.

This does not mean that men aren’t caring, compassionate, or emotional, but societal values can lead men to believe these traits aren’t valuable in themselves. As a result, men may tend to keep so much bottled up inside, including traumas and heartbreaking moments. Eventually, there has to be a release, and too often, that is in an explosive or unhealthy way.

“Fragile masculinity,” a term referring to the unrealistic cultural standards placed on men, exists because many men feel they have to overcompensate or act in a certain way to meet these traditional standards. However, we are all human, and regardless of gender, we possess a combination of masculine and feminine traits.

These societal pressures are linked with the following traits:

  • Extreme competition and greed
  • Lack of consideration for the experiences and feelings of others
  • Strong need to dominate and control others
  • Incapacity to nurture
  • Dread of dependency
  • Readiness to resort to violence
  • Stigmatisation and subjugation of women, gay men, and men who exhibit feminine characteristics

There are many different forms of masculinity that do not match the old societal “norms.” These harmful norms are different from masculine identity. However, they perpetuate risk factors that negatively impact men’s mental health, such as emotion suppression, stigma around seeking help, and an increased risk of aggression.

The Effects of Societal Pressures

When men suppress their emotions, avoid vulnerability, and conform to harmful stereotypes, it contributes to larger societal problems, such as:

The inability to express vulnerability can have severe mental health consequences, including heightened anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Men who adhere to harmful (and some outdated) societal norms are also more likely to engage in risky behaviours and less likely to seek help.

Breaking the Cycle

Breaking the cycle of harmful societal expectations requires a comprehensive approach that includes education, emotional support, and societal change.

Early Education and Emotional Expression When we treat boys as men and teach them to be emotionless, tough, and secure, we strip them of their innocence and place unrealistic and unhealthy expectations on them. We need to teach young men from an early age that it’s good to appropriately express emotions. In both our education system and at home, we need to help boys and men label their feelings and understand them. By approaching this in a non-judgmental, positive, curious way, we can try to eliminate the fears surrounding therapy and mental health.

Dealing with Negative Feelings Anger is often judged harshly, leading many men to bottle up their feelings, which can be destructive, and potentially lead to an “explosion”. An effective way to deal with anger constructively is through the five sensations technique which is used to ground oneself when feeling angry or frustrated. This involves:

  • Focusing on five things you can hear.
  • Identifying four things you can see.
  • Noticing three things you can smell.
  • Touching two things you can feel.
  • Tasting one thing.

Promoting Mental Wellbeing in Men

To promote mental well-being in men, it is crucial to address the root causes of harmful societal expectations and provide tailored resources and support. Key strategies include:

  • Therapy and Counselling: Encouraging men to seek professional help and offering accessible therapy options.
  • Support Groups: Creating (and being a part of) spaces where men can share their experiences and support each other.
  • Targeted Interventions: Developing and making use of programs that specifically address the needs of men struggling with these issues.
  • Building Resilience: Teaching men coping strategies and resilience-building techniques.
  • Encouraging Help-Seeking: Reducing the stigma around seeking mental health support.

Barriers to Blokes Getting Help

Here are a few common reasons and our responses to them:

  • “I don’t feel comfortable talking about my inner thoughts and feelings” – A psychologist from their training and experience will do their best to make the guy comfortable discussing what the bloke came to see them about and barring a few emergency situations the discussions will be confidential;
  • “I can’t, or don’t want to get time off work to see a Psychologist” – a “Bloke- friendly” psychology practice (like HPCCH where about 70% of our clients are male) will often offer after-hours or weekend bookings (perhaps even online bookings) and may also offer Telehealth consultations, which could potentially be used for FIFO workers (assuming there is good internet coverage on-site).
  • It’s too expensive and I can’t afford it” – Admittedly psychology services are not “free”, but the “Gap payment” (the difference between the Medicare rebate and what you pay) will almost certainly be less than the cost of a night of gambling and or drinking, you may well be using to deal with your stress, anxiety or other concerns – and you’ll almost certainly feel better after a consultation.
  • An unwillingness to look at or deal with mental health problems, like depression, and or anxiety (or anything else) and appropriately share their inner feelings, can lead to; High suicide rates, alcohol and illicit drug use and risk-taking behaviour.

Australian Men’s Mental Health Resources

  • Beyond Blue: – Provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health.
  • Black Dog Institute: – Provides educational resources and support for mental health.
  • The Fathering Project Practical resources to support your fathering journey.
  • Headspace: – National youth mental health foundation dedicated to improving the wellbeing of young Australians.
  • Lifeline Australia: – 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services.
  • ManKind Project WA: A group of Men who want a better life for ourselves and the people close to us.
  • Men’s Helpline: – A telephone and online support, information, and referral service for men.
  • QLife: Provides anonymous and free LGBTIQ+ peer support and referral for people in Australia wanting to talk about sexuality, gender, bodies, feelings or relationships.

The Bottom Line

Harmful societal expectations have a profound impact on men’s mental health. By challenging these norms and promoting healthy masculinity, we can create supportive environments that encourage emotional expression, empathy, and vulnerability.

At HPCCH, we are committed to fostering a safe and judgment-free space where men can seek the support they need to improve their mental well-being.

During Men’s Mental Health Week, and beyond, we are dedicated to raising awareness and breaking the cycle of harmful societal expectations. Together, we can build a healthier future for all men.

To finish, a quote from Steve Biddulph:

There are men who wake up in the morning energised and happy.

Whose partners and children love and trust them.

Who do work they believe in and enjoy. Have loyal and interesting friends.

And are deeply involved in the wider world. They may not be famous or wealthy.

They value something quite different.

They are learning to be real.

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