Masculinity and Mental Health
May 13, 2023
Conversations around mental health have undergone an incredible number of changes over recent years. There have been numerous efforts to destigmatise conversations around mental health, particularly in the media and in schools. Social media has played a huge part in this, with celebrities and influencers using their platforms to share their own stories and offer resources to better inform users who might not have the tools to understand their own emotions and mental health. Health and relationships education in schools has also helped young people understand more about their emotional health too, focusing on learning about emotions and personal growth.
Many of the changes that have occurred over these years have involved further developing our understanding of the impact that social issues like gender, sexuality, class and race have on our experience of mental health. One important factor in this growing conversation has been the idea of masculinity. Historically, stereotypes about gender have created a culture where young men and boys hide their emotions, fearing that they might look weak. Expectations around masculinity and how to be a man have also made it so that boys have felt the need to act more aggressively, using anger as an outlet and not admitting that they might actually be sad or upset.
Recent research from 2021, has shown that suicide rates for men are still incredibly high, and in 2022, the government highlighted the importance of encouraging men to access support for their mental health as they are still very reluctant to do so. The UK Health Secretary has urged men to seek support through their GP or refer through the NHS to get help, and services that offer therapy are incredibly important if you need space to talk through your emotions with a professional, especially if you are feeling depressed. Luckily, this culture of bottling up emotions has not gone unnoticed. Projects like Becoming a Man, from The Mental Health Foundation, and organisations like Boys in Mind, have done much to change the landscape of young people’s mental health in positive ways. There has been a shift to creating conversations by looking at the impact of gender stereotypes on our mental health so that we can create more positive conversations around the importance of emotional health and openness.
The landscape for mental health research, however, is still changing. In January 2023, The University of Strathclyde in Glasgow announced a new research project, Men Minds, which aims to look into the experiences of minority groups within men’s mental health research, focusing particularly on how specific groups – those who are migrants, LGBTQ+ or in conflict with the law- access support for their mental health. The focus of this project is particularly important as it aims to delve deeper into the experiences of men by looking at how various minority groups within a larger grouping, such as ‘men’, experience inequalities or difficulties in getting help compared to the general population.
It has been shown that LGBT+ people are more reluctant to seek help for their mental health due to fear of discrimination. This raises important questions about how this might impact LGBT+ young men who might feel already that they need to hide their emotions or that they are weak for feeling sad or stressed, and who might, in addition, experience this fear about seeking support. Similar questions can be asked about the experiences of young black men who, as shown by the Centre for Health, experience significant health inequalities but are less likely to receive support. Government research also shows how black people in particular are less likely to receive psychological therapies compared to white people. These two examples highlight the differences in needs that minority groups have in terms of their mental health, but also the needs that might need to be considered in support services.
Expectations about ‘being a man’, even with the progress that has been made in campaigns around positive masculinity and emotional openness, still puts pressure on young men and boys who might be going through difficult periods. It’s important to encourage young men, in particular, to seek help if they need it, and to consider what extra support might be needed for young men with multiple identities.
If you need help and don’t know where to start, you can book a free initial consultation with Mindsum through our online service.