When machismo prevents men from seeking mental health help

Fictional spy James Bond (played here by Daniel Craig in the 2012 movie Skyfall) is a typical example of toxic masculinity as he suppresses his emotions, always maintains an appearance of toughness and commonly exhibits tough-guy behaviour. — AFP

Those suffering from mental health issues or contemplating suicide can reach out to the Mental Health Psychosocial Support Service (03-2935 9935/014-322 3392); Talian Kasih (15999/019-2615999 on WhatsApp); Jakim’s (Department of Islamic Development Malaysia) family, social and community care centre (011-1959 8214 on WhatsApp); and Befrienders Kuala Lumpur (03-7627 2929, their website or email sam@befrienders.org.my).

Each year, suicide ranks in the top 20 leading causes of death across the world for people of all ages.

It is responsible for more than 700,000 deaths, translating to one suicide every 40 seconds.

These statistics aren’t just numbers; they are friends, members of a family, partners, parents, sons and daughters.

But when we consider statistics, there is a significant difference between genders.

The number of suicides is much higher among males than females across all age groups in the world.

Being a ‘manly’ man

Toxic masculinity, is, unfortunately, a term we’ve all come across.

The concept has been around for a while, but is now discussed pretty much everywhere.

And for good reason – toxic masculinity is essentially a “macho” and “red-blooded” culture where men are expected to be tough and exhibit typical “masculine” characteristics.

Researchers define toxic masculinity by behaviours and beliefs in part as:

  • Suppressing emotions or masking distress
  • Maintaining an appearance of toughness
  • Using violence as an indicator of power (e.g. tough guy behaviour)

In simple terms, toxic masculinity is the result of decades, perhaps centuries, of society teaching boys that they can’t and shouldn’t express emotion openly, and that if they do, then they are weak and “feminine”.

These boys then internalise these feelings and grow into men who have been taught that they can’t be anything less than “masculine”.

According to the American Psychological Association, these norms integrated into our culture have been linked to aggression and violence, resulting in men being at “disproportionate risk for school discipline, academic challenges and health disparities”, including cardiovascular problems, substance abuse and suicide.

As well as toxic masculinity, there is also a massive stigma around mental health that is in the process of being deconstructed.

Due to mass conversation on social media around the world, more and more of us are understanding the importance of mental health and being able to open up, although there is still a long way to go.

We need to do the same with toxic masculinity.

Confidentiality assured

Sadly, men who have internalised traditional views of masculinity are not only less likely to go to see their doctor, but they are also less likely to be honest about their health history and symptoms.

It can be incredibly daunting reaching out for medical advice, particularly about something so private.

But if you need help, contact your general practitioner (GP) to discuss how you’re feeling.

Everything discussed will be confidential, so you don’t have to worry about anyone finding out.

They can recommend medication, lifestyle changes, therapies and support to help.

If you struggle reaching out and are reluctant about making the first step, you can access online doctor appointments through healthcare apps that allow you to speak to your doctor via video call.

This can be particularly important for those who are held back by feelings of discomfort, offering a degree of discretion.

Not only can you access medical advice virtually, but you can also order and get your prescription medications delivered to you.

With toxic masculinity and general mental health stigma holding many people back from seeking help, research suggests that the discretion allowed by technology can help improve access to mental health services.

What you can do

Masculinity can be redeemed.

It’s time to reclaim its meaning and recreate it as a concept of compassion and care.

Here are some tips to help build trust with those in need and encourage the men you love to be more comfortable sharing their emotions:

> Avoid trivialising men’s mental health

This is probably one of the most important and effective points to consider.

Avoid saying things that invalidate a man’s feelings, e.g. “You sound like a woman”, “Stop being a girl”, “Man up”, and “Why are you being so emotional?”.

Instead, acknowledge their feelings, show empathy and provide support.

Finding the right words can be difficult, and nobody is expecting you to provide high-quality counselling.

If you find that you don’t know what to say, then just listening without judgment is the best thing you can do.

> Check up on friends and family

Dropping in, whether it is at their home or through phone calls or text messages, shows that you’re there for them and that they can rely on you for support.

Feeling alone is a huge symptom of depression, so let them know they’re not.

> Encourage men to express emotions

Expressing emotion and crying are normal reactions for all people, regardless of gender.

Don’t associate crying or stereotypically feminine traits with being weak.

Processing emotions makes us human – encourage the men in your life to acknowledge this.

Feeling and displaying your emotions aren’t bad things.

Both femininity and masculinity can encompass compassion, empathy and care, and shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.

Please do seek medical advice if you’re in need.

This article is courtesy of the UK-based app MyGP.

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Mental health , men's health , suicide


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