Toxic masculinity can kill you

Bias and stereotypes impact us all. Men and women often are constricted by stereotypes and feel compelled to stay inside the box of their traditional gender role. More than one-third of boys think they are expected to be strong and tough. “Be a man.” “Suck it up.” “Real men don’t cry.” Even today, with sexual orientation breaking through old stereotypical gender roles, the “strong, silent man” image still remains embedded in our thinking.

He might be strong and silent, but he also may be hurting inside. His toxic masculinity may kill him

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 8 percent of American men seek mental health help. And as men grow older, the numbers decrease steadily.

Men don’t seek therapy because of societal norms and expectations, or fear of embarrassment or shame. Instead, they bury their feelings so deeply that they believe there is nothing wrong with them.

When boys are not allowed to express their sadness or shed tears to release their emotional pain, it gets bottled up over time and eventually the boy, who is now a man, may have an emotional outburst or even suffer some serious health problems.

In 2018, the American Psychological Association (APA) published its first-ever psychological practice guidelines for boys and men, based on 40 years of compiled research. Examiners looked at how concepts of masculinity and the socialization of men may contribute to higher rates of suicide, depression, health issues and violence. Researchers also found that “traditional masculinity – marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression – is on the whole, harmful.”

Here are some statistics revealed through the APA study:

  • Men are 3.5 times more likely to die from suicide.
  • Men die from heart disease at rates 50 percent higher than women. For cancer, the rate is 90 percent higher than women.
  • On the average, men die five to six years earlier than women.

In its published study, the APA defines traditional masculinity as a risk factor.

And here are a few more alarming facts about men’s health:

  • More than six million men in the US are affected by depression.
  • The incidence of schizophrenia is two to three times higher in men than women.
  • Men are more likely than women to use illicit drugs. The use of these drugs is more likely to result in emergency department visits or overdose deaths in men.
  • The rate of suicide is highest in middle-aged white men. White males account for almost 70 percent of suicide deaths.

Even though more and more men today are seeking therapy for their mental health concerns, there still is a huge population who feels the defining traits of masculinity – toughness, dominance, self-reliance and no emotional expression – should remain at their core. Some even feel, our “new” culture is attacking masculinity.

I describe this as a condition called toxic masculinity because it can kill men physically and emotionally. Cultural pressure to be a “macho man,” as we called it when I was growing up, can be destructive.

How can we change this cultural stigma?

Men seeking therapy for their mental health really is no different than going to the gym for physical health. It’s okay for men to compare their bicep muscles, but it’s not acceptable to talk about their relationships or feelings.

The cultural pressure is real, but that doesn’t mean men have to give into it. Learning to be in touch with your emotions can improve your life. Men don’t realize that therapy can provide the necessary skills and tools to cope with their emotions.

It’s time to start building awareness that men can, and should, talk to a trained professional when they have mental health concerns. A therapy session is a safe space for men to share their struggles and their concerns. When you start talking, the healing process can begin.

How do you know if you need therapy?

  • If you are struggling and don’t feel you have anyone to talk to
  • If your issues are affecting your personal and professional life
  • If you are frustrated, sad, depressed, angry or anxious, and the feelings won’t subside
  • If you start drinking more or using drugs to numb your emotional pain
  • If your relationship is failing and you don’t know how to fix it
  • If you are becoming more and more aggressive and you don’t understand why

The benefits of seeking therapy are limitless!

Through therapy, you can learn so much about yourself, which will help you in your career, relationships, friendships, and personal life. You will find greater self-esteem and confidence, and it will help give you a greater sense of purpose. You will be happier and healthier!

Maybe it’s time to change the definition of masculinity. It should include vulnerability, which truly is a demonstration of strength.