Growing up, were you accustomed to the phrases chin up or pull your socks up? Whilst we can’t blame our parents and their approach to raising us, the social standards we hold men to can have far-reaching effects. When we raise boys to be strong and stoic, we can be disregarding their sensitive side and prevent them from expressing emotions. Especially when it comes to mental health, we know male issues can be pushed aside.
Men commonly suppress emotions more than women, making it harder for them to speak up and air their thoughts if something is bothering them. Considering every day in Australia seven out of nine suicides are men, and the annual male suicide rate is almost double the national road toll; there is more work we need to do on mental health for men.
When it comes to displaying emotions in our society, men are held to a different standard than women. If you think about it, it is more socially acceptable for a woman to be upset in public than it is for a man. This isn’t to say that women and non-binary people don’t have a myriad of mental health struggles unique to them. However, it’s still important to highlight these differences to reduce mental health issues overall.
Men and emotions
For generations, it has been the norm to raise women to be more subdued and sensitive and men to be strong and stoic. As women are seen as more sensitive, it is more acceptable for them to express their emotions. On the other hand, men are not encouraged to express their feelings (ever heard of the saying boys don’t cry?). Raising children with these gender stereotypes can result in many toxic behaviours, and one of them is men feeling unable to express how they feel.
Some men may feel expressing their emotions is a weakness and jeopardises their masculinity. Due to this fear of showing sensitivity, men often channel their negative emotions in more socially acceptable male behaviour, like shows of strength and aggression. Even though the emotions underneath this kind of behaviour often comes from a place of pain. If we have conditioned our boys not to show sensitivity, can we really blame them for behaving in a perceived masculine way when dealing with their emotions?
Suppressing these feelings when they arise has consequences. Many mental health disorders like anxiety and depression are fuelled by bottling up emotions and never processing them in a healthy way. In fact, suppressing your emotions can result in headaches, anxiety, changes in eating patterns, unhealthy coping mechanisms and overreacting. So, what can we do about it?
Men and Vulnerability
For all human beings, mental health fluctuates throughout your whole life. You may be in a good headspace, but an unprecedented life event could trigger mental health struggles. Recognising when you are not in the best mental health state and knowing what you can do about it are life skills you should always have in your arsenal. One huge step forward for men’s mental health issues is the push for men to be more vulnerable and open up. What does being vulnerable look like?
Getting comfortable showing your emotions is a start. Even if you have hidden them your whole life, starting to open up with a close friend, family member or qualified psychologist is empowering and the first step towards a healthier mental well-being. Men leaning into their sensitivity and being more vulnerable doesn’t show weakness; it shows courage and strength of character to open up and be themselves.
Professor and best-selling author Brené Brown says vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage. At the end of the day, vulnerability is what connects us to other human beings. By being more vulnerable, you not only build stronger connections but also alleviate the pressure of what’s going on inside your head.
Whilst opening up isn’t a cure-all for mental health issues, it certainly can alleviate your mental state and possibly prevent conditions from developing in the first place.
Men’s mental health resources
Prioritising your mental health and well-being may feel odd at first, but our mental state affects all aspects of our lives — whether we like it or not. Here are some steps you can take to improve your mental health today:
- Talk about your feelings
- Get enough sleep
- Eat a balanced diet
- Exercise regularly
- Take breaks
- Participate in hobbies
- Connect with people
- Learn a new skill
- Practise mindfulness
- Manage your stress levels
- Talk to a psychologist
For more general male mental health support, visit MensLine Australia for online counselling, go to Head to Health for a mental health services guide, or SANE Australia for support for people living with mental illness. Take care of yourself!