American actor Will Smith recently discussed his marital issues in an emotional video. Instead of receiving support, he mainly got criticised on the internet for showing his emotional vulnerability. Why this stigmatisation? What would have been the reaction if he was a woman?
We live in a society that unfortunately is still characterised by a clear divide between men and women. There are certain perceptions of what it means to be of either gender. To be a man is to be strong, masculine, independent, stoic. In one line, it is seen as unsuitable for a man to be emotional, or to seek help for any difficulties.
Sometimes referred to as ‘silent epidemic’, mental health problems among men often go underreported, due to a lack of call for help as well as stigmatisation. Many men perceive current mental healthcare as mainly set up to serve women and their psychological difficulties. Unfortunately to some extend this might be true: language that is used might not resonate with men, or topics that are raised might be less relevant. Moreover, it is known that many psychological difficulties are expressed differently between men and women. Thus, signalling that traditional support might not be sufficient.
However, this does not take away that there are some very common misperceptions about mental health, especially when relating to mental health in men:
- Emotions, depression, and personal struggles are signs of weakness.
- It is not suitable for a man to ask for help.
- Talking about problems and difficulties won’t do anything.
- Asking and seeking help will make you a burden for others.
- A man should be able to control his feelings and emotions.
- Psychological challenges are an excuse for bad behaviour.
- It’s all just a lack of strength and/or willpower.
Especially men with traditional masculinity concepts and role perception may think that it is a sign of weakness to search for mental health support: a real man is supposed to tough it out. Seeking help is abnormal. This is simply not true. Many men face psychological difficulties or psychiatric disorders. Some specific disorders are even more common in men than in women. Moreover, the male gender is traditionally associated with more high risk behaviour and this is confirmed by behavioural and clinical studies. This high risk behaviour unfortunately also includes substance abuse, violent incidents, and suicide.
Where feminist movements have since long tried to break the traditional barriers between men and women, where are the advocates to tell men that it is totally ok to not adhere to the traditional image also? Even if only sometimes, it is absolutely ok to show emotion. Taking care of emotions and psychological difficulties are not a women’s right, and it’s about time that this perception changes.