News

The Intersection of Masculinity and Mental Illness

06/08/2021
One stigma remains stubbornly adherent and impactful, and that is the stigma surrounding men and mental health. 

By David Schwenk, MA, LCMHC-A, LCAS-A, NCC, SouthLight Counselor – Adult Outpatient Services 

Stigmas surrounding mental health exist for all populations, regardless of how they are statistically analyzed. 

Mental health treatment itself, throughout history, has fought against the stigma of models based off of morality or underlying literature rife with sexism, ageism, bigotry and racism.  As we continue evolving these models to account for the full depth and breadth of human experience, one stigma remains stubbornly adherent and impactful, and that is the stigma surrounding men and mental health. 

Mental health treatment itself, throughout history, has fought against the stigma of models based off of morality or underlying literature rife with sexism, ageism, bigotry and racism. 

Masculinity norms are no more readily apparent than in American culture, and we do not, as a society, have to go very far to find examples of these.  Traditional norms considered to be masculine in America include:

Adherence to these norms is a functional one; within the patriarchal hierarchy of Western society, following the norms above is a protective factor that will ensure survival, and even success, within the hierarchy.   

Viewing the list of norms above, it is easy to see two things; one, how these are continuously reinforced by society, and two, how volatile adherence to these norms would be for any human being. 

Adherence to these norms has shown its effects in a myriad of ways; difficulties in interpersonal relationships, substance abuse, physical health impacts (like high blood pressure), and interpersonal violence, to name but a few.  And these ideas, rather than challenged from a societal perspective, are often reinforced, particularly within Western society.  The idea of what it takes to “be a man” has been a pervasive one throughout our history, from the Greatest Generation returning from war stoic and victorious, to the growing Alt-Right movement of our present day. 

It is incumbent upon mental health professionals, and society as a whole, to recognize that traditional masculine norms cause a disproportionate impact on our society, and that breaking down the stigma associated with accessing mental health care is inextricably linked to breaking down the stigma of what it means to be a man.   

Mental health care is no more important for one sector or population of society than any other, but the undeniable truth is that the reinforcement of the above norms causes not only an imbalance in regards to unequal treatment of associated populations, such as women or non-binary individuals, but further exacerbates the oftentimes harmful, and even fatal, effects experienced by the whole of society.  

It is incumbent upon mental health professionals, and society as a whole, to recognize that traditional masculine norms cause a disproportionate impact on our society, and that breaking down the stigma associated with accessing mental health care is inextricably linked to breaking down the stigma of what it means to be a man.   

SOURCES: Parent, M. C., Gobble, T. D., & Rochlen, A. (2019). Social media behavior, toxic masculinity, and depression. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 20(3), 277. 

About SouthLight Healthcare:

Founded in 1970, SouthLight Healthcare is one of the area’s largest nonprofit providers of substance use treatment and mental health services. SouthLight partners with individuals and communities to provide innovative treatment solutions delivered with compassion and dignity. With outpatient and community-based programs, SouthLight provides prevention, education and treatment services in the Triangle and beyond. Call 919-787-6131 for help or more information or visit www.southlight.org