From an early age, most men are given an idea of what it means to be masculine. Sometimes, that vision of masculinity can seem laughably out of date; other times, the lessons are more subtle. How aggressively our visions of masculinity are interpreted or communicated varies a great deal, but the general direction of the stereotypes is consistent. Men are supposed to be tough, resilient, and self-reliant. They have to be strong and get ahead of their competition. When they’re hurt, they “shake it off;” they “play through it.” That, society tells us, is what men are supposed to do.
These visions of masculinity are killing people. Problems related to sexism and masculinity are hurting women and society at large. They’re also hurting men. Increasingly, we’re becoming aware of what some are calling the “silent crisis:” There is a mental health epidemic among men in America and across the globe.
Men and mental health
There’s no particular reason, of course, that men should be immune to mental health issues. Mental illnesses, like other illnesses, don’t necessarily discriminate. While some mental and physical illnesses are more likely to strike particular demographic groups, others spread their cruelty and suffering much more demographically.
Depression is currently believed to affect more women than men, but plenty of men suffer from depression as well: Nearly one in ten American males reports symptoms of depression or anxiety (two mental health issues that are typically related).
Other mental health issues can affect men in equal proportion to women. And, there are reasons to fear that mental health issues in men are underreported. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that men form a smaller portion of mental illness sufferers than do women, but also points out that men are less likely receive care for their mental illness and are more likely to commit suicide than women.
In fact, the numbers are stark: Men account for nearly 70 percent of all suicides in the United States. They are more than three and a half times more likely to commit suicide than are their female counterparts.
The male mental health crisis is killing men at an alarming rate. And it seems clear that the high suicide rate and low rate of mental health treatment among men is related to two things: The stigma that many associate with mental health issues and the vision of masculinity that is still all too prevalent in our society.
Too many of us consider mental health issues to be a sign of “weakness,” experts say; too many of us think the same thing about seeking treatment for those issues. Men, as a group, are more likely to avoid mental health treatment or refuse to admit that they have a mental health issue.
Experts are trying to change that. The professionals who run San Francisco group therapy sessions tell us that they offer group therapy focused on men. Other professionals and lobbying groups are trying to change attitudes and save men from the epidemic that is quietly claiming so many lives. We need to normalize mental illness for all individuals, including men, and treat such conditions as we treat physical ones. We need to change how we look at mental health and the way that we look at men, masculinity, and gender roles as a whole.
Individually, we have different challenges. Those of us who suffer from mental illness need to find the courage to seek treatment. With the help of professionals, we can become happier and healthier to become a part of a revolution that, in time, may save men from this terrible mental health epidemic.