According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five people live with mental illness in the United States every year.
While conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders and eating disorders are more common in women, men also experience mental health issues at concerning rates. In fact, men are nearly four times as likely to commit suicide than women, and are also more likely to die from alcoholism or drug abuse.
Statistically, men tend to fall into dangerous, self-destructive behaviors rather than seek professional help for their mental health. They may avoid or delay seeking treatment because of concerns about being treated differently, or due to perceptions that having a mental health issue diminishes their masculinity.
Unfortunately, stigma, prejudice and discrimination against people with mental illness are widespread. Stigma often comes from lack of understanding or fear. We encounter stigmas in professional, social and cultural settings, and even within ourselves. The different types of stigmas are:
Professional: Refers to the stigma that medical providers might impose on their patients, leading to underdiagnoses or lack of necessary care for specific people.
Social: Created perceptions that make those with mental illness seem “weak” or “crazy”.
Cultural: Every culture has a different way of looking at mental health. For example, in the Black community, mental health is often considered a weakness, and thus left untreated and hidden; this attitude is rooted in historical misconceptions and a distrust of the medical industry. Other cultures may not recognize mental illness or believe health disorders are only physical.
Internal/Self: When a person feels ashamed or embarrassed about their own health. This could leave people in denial, ignoring their symptoms or signs of trouble.
Traditionally, our society has positioned men as strong, privileged, and the breadwinners, so having a perceived disadvantage, such as a mental illness, makes them seem weak or unmanly. These stigmas and toxic masculinity more broadly, ultimately create a space in which people fear speaking up about their health or accepting their diagnoses.
What needs to happen to reduce the barriers created by stigmas and to shift society’s attitudes about mental health? While the challenges to creating change are significant, we can achieve progress by educating people about mental health and its true impact, reshaping perceptions of “manhood”, providing deeper training to medical professionals, and diversifying the pool of mental health providers.
By reducing stigmas around mental health, we may see more people seek treatment and ultimately manage their symptoms to live a more fulfilled life.
Special thanks to Beth I. of Beacon Academy for Editing.