Men, start the conversation for your mental health

‘Boys will be boys.’ ‘Real men don’t cry.’ ‘Men can’t be feminists.’ From social media to our homes and society, toxic masculinity is everywhere and has serious repercussions. Here’s why men may struggle to speak out about mental health issues.

The traditional idea of gender roles can be harmful. For example, men may be expected to be breadwinners, strong at all times, dominant and in control. According to research, these stereotypes are leading reasons why men are less likely than women to ask for help and open up about their emotions.

Mental health stigma also perpetuates this cycle. Some men may perceive experiencing mental health issues, or emotions like sadness, as a weakness.

Men who are less likely to speak up about their issues and emotions may:

  • bottle up their feelings and struggle to recognise when they need help
  • be less likely to ask for support and are likely to isolate themselves
  • use harmful coping methods such as substance abuse (i.e. drugs and alcohol)
  • develop toxic traits such as violence and aggression because they aren’t using healthy outlets to express themselves

Why is self-expression important?

Expressing yourself allows you to:

  • communicate more easily with your loved ones and helps you to navigate and prevent conflict
  • validate your feelings, identity and sense of self in a healthy way
  • prevent emotions from intensifying – for example, bottling up emotions such as anger can lead to aggressive behaviour
  • learn to trust yourself and your loved ones

How to end the cycle

Try to open up to others. This will help you to slowly let go of the shame of sharing emotions. Start by talking to someone you trust, such as a loved one or close friend. If opening up is hard initially, try writing down what you want to say first.

Remember, you’re not alone. Join support groups, such as The ManKind Project South Africa, or call helplines when you’re struggling.

Educate yourself and others. Help men in your circles such as friends, your sons, nephews or peers to unlearn the belief that self-expression is weak. It’s especially important for young boys who are still learning healthy habits and navigating their emotions.

Consider professional help such as seeing a counsellor or psychologist. It may feel more comfortable for you to open up to a stranger, who can offer objective guidance. Ask your doctor for recommendations or contact 24-hour helplines such as The South African Depression and Anxiety Group.

For more advice related to men’s wellbeing, read these helpful articles:

References

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