As women, we know how important it is to talk about and share our feelings. Through intimate conversations and in sharing moments of vulnerability we learn how to resolve our emotions together and heal. Through understanding ourselves we are able to then better understand others. This makes us more empathic and capable of showing care for our peers. We are encouraged to speak about our feelings more so than our male counterparts. Most of us are aware that seeking professional help can make us feel better. However as a woman encountering relationships with men, we realise that men are still finding it difficult to express their emotions, share their feelings, or address that they may need help in the form of therapy or counselling.
It’s the year 2020. How is it that as a society we have yet to normalise men going to therapy?
According to Mental Health Foundation UK, 1 in 8 men in England have a common mental health problem. However, some men feel uncomfortable or reluctant to seek support for their mental health or disclose mental health problems with their loved ones. The most common reason for this is societal expectations of men which often leads to toxic masculinity. Traditional masculine traits such as dominance, strength, control, stoicism is encouraged and seen as positive. The reliance on these traditional traits, perceived as manly, can affect men in negative ways because they impose on them a preconceived idea of what a man should look like. In the long run, this affects men’s mental health because they feel the need to conform to societal ‘norms’ instead of finding out for themselves what it is to be a man, as an individual.
“While many of the same difficulties are experienced by both men and women, some difficulties and influences on mental health may be especially relevant for men.”
Studies have shown that in England, men are less likely to access therapies than women, with 36% of referrals to Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) made by men. Men are also more likely to use potentially harmful coping methods such as alcohol and drugs in response to their mental health distress which exponentially exacerbates their condition. In 2017, 5,821 suicides were recorded in Great Britain of these 75% were males. Suicide represents the largest cause of death for men under 50.
I have been engaging in several conversations on this topic of Toxic Masculinity and Men Going to Therapy with my partner, the closest man in my life. We sat down informally at the park so I could take notes of our conversation that we had particularly on the basis of providing some (rather insightful) material for this article.
I asked him a few questions on the topic and here are some things he had to say.
Q: When did you first experience toxic masculinity?
J: “School played one of the biggest parts in my experiences of toxic masculinity. You could be judged based on how you look, friends you’re associated with… If you had longer hair you could be seen as being feminine and be picked on for it. From a personal experience, I got my ear pierced and apparently it was pierced on the side that means I am gay. I was bullied for this and laughed at for this until I finally got the left one out and pierced the right one.”
Q: Why do you think men find it difficult to seek help for their mental health issues?
J: “Men do not want to be seen as vulnerable. This damages their ego. Real human emotion is distant to a lot of men… It’s the way boys have been educated.”
Q: What do you think about traditional masculine traits?
J: “I feel like there’s a lot of toxicity through advertising – that a man has to be toned, have muscles, look well dressed like a gentlemen. I think traditional masculinity should be abolished.”
Q: Why should it be abolished?
J: “We need to be equals. It needs to be abolished because the traditional roles of masculinity has created a divide between two genders. It stems from patriarchal values from the past and it no longer applies and shouldn’t apply in this era.”
Q: What can the community do to help men feel comfortable about seeking professional help?
J: “I’d like to see the community encourage individuals to speak up and maybe in schools they could educate boys on how to be more open with their emotions and help them feel comfortable in their own feelings. The biggest part we could play as a community is to stop judging each other on our differences.”
From the conversations I’ve had with my partner, my takeaway is that society has groomed boys into becoming toxic individuals by spinning this unhealthy narrative of what is “normal” behaviour for men. They are often never taught to express their emotions and voice their feelings in healthy ways, so instead they learn to internalise or ignore most of what they feel. This leads to unresolved issues and mental health problems further down the line, in worst cases it spirals into toxic masculinity and begin to affect their relationships with women. Boys are not taught to be comfortable with their feelings, instead they are often made to feel ashamed of it and at times are bullied by those closest to them. They are told that certain behaviour is unacceptable because it is not masculine, and from an early age associate effeminate behaviour as ‘weakness’ or being ‘vulnerable’.
Boys are not only conditioned to be masculine mentally and emotionally, but physically as well. They pick up physical traits that mirror strength, like muscles, getting lean, getting into fights. To appear more masculine, or more dominant. Some often pick up these traits to defend themselves from being bullied or becoming the target of small talk amongst the adults in their lives. By putting up a strong front men often conceal deeper more intimate feelings that remain repressed throughout their lives and sometimes these repressed feelings appear later on in their romantic relationships in the form of abuse. Men need to understand that going to therapy not only helps fix their relationship with themselves but also their relationship with others. As a society we need to have these conversations with the men in our lives and help them understand that we do not see them as weak or incapable, in fact quite the opposite, a man that can take responsibility by seeking the help he needs for his mental health is a man that society can rely on to solve bigger problems.
Every man should see a therapist by Sofia Barrett-Ibarria
Normalise seeing men in therapy by BBC Three (video)
What Is Toxic Masculinity? by Maya Salam
Support Organisations (UK):
CALM – Tel: 0800 58 58 58 (daily, 5pm to midnight)
Samaritans – Tel: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)
Anxiety UK – Tel: 03444 775 774 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 10pm; Saturday to Sunday, 10am to 8pm)
Mind – Tel: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)
No Panic – Tel: 0844 967 4848 (daily, 10am to 10pm). Calls cost 5p per minute plus your phone provider’s Access Charge
OCD UK – Tel: 0333 212 7890 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)
If you have anything to add on the topic feel free to comment below as I may have missed a couple of things that are relevant to this discussion and I’m happy to also learn more about other experiences relating to this topic.
Everybody say “love”.