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Male Stereotypes and Mental Health

The pandemic has opened the doors for increasing acceptance for mental health and its growing significance. It has become a subject of everyday conversation and has gained substantial importance in modern society. Yet, there seems to exist a significant gender differential gap with regard to different mental disorders. These differences enroot from the stereotypes that have been imbibed into our society about the ideal masculine notions. The overall prevalence of mental morbidity is higher among males (13.9%) than among females (7.5%), yet women are more open to seeking help in times of distress.

Men are generally taught to bottle up their emotions and are even discouraged from being expressive. Society perceives an exhibition of emotional vulnerability such as crying or expressing sadness, as a sign of weakness, while on the other hand, rage and anger are symbolized as signs of strength. These socially enrooted norms pave into the medical sphere as well. Women are much more likely to be diagnosed with depression by a doctor in comparison to men, despite the presence of the same symptoms or similar scores in men on a test-based analysis. The social stigma prevents men from seeking help for mood-based and other disorders. Statistically stating, boys and men are 12% less likely than women to seek mental help. Commonly, men are conditioned to suppress depressive symptoms from an early age, which eventually takes a heavy toll on their mental health with the increasing pressure of responsibilities as they enter their adult stage. Many might be unable to describe or comprehend the range of emotions that they feel. Like for everyone, the pandemic has worsened the situation for men. They are stuck at home, unable to blow off steam by working, exercising, or simply going out. A study conducted by the Indian Psychiatry Society revealed that the overall number of mental illness cases has increased by about 20% since the lockdown.

Stereotypically, men are expected to carry the financial responsibilities of the entire family. However, amid the pandemic, jobs have become scarce and many are facing an economic crisis. This adds to the anxiety and paranoia of an individual who, in turn, feels guilty for not fulfilling the societal expectation of being the breadwinner to substantiate his family. Shockingly, according to the National Mental Health Survey of India undertaken by NIMS, males in the age group of 30 – 49 years were the most affected of all, which indicates that mental disorders contribute to greater morbidity in the productive population. In other words, the prevalence of all disorders reaches its peak in this age group affecting work productivity, earning potential, and quality of life. Individuals belonging to the queer community who identifies themselves as male are in a more dire state when it comes to employment opportunities. They are constantly subjected to criticism for not being ‘manly’ enough. This becomes ‘toxic masculinity’ when it limits a man’s personality and holds him back from doing what might come to them naturally.

Substance abuse in men is seen as an act of normalcy or even glorified as an exhibition of power. The prevalence of alcohol use disorders in males is 5 times greater than in females. Numerous times the same toxic behavior that is considered acceptable when coming from a man, is not just looked down upon but is addressed as a concern in women; which thereby leads to negligence in treating this as an issue in men.

One of the worst consequences of the lockdown is the increased rate of sexual and domestic abuse. Around 53% of sexual abuse incidents in India each year are committed against boys, but boys are 89% less likely than girls to reach out for psychiatric support after they have been victims of sexual violence. The main reason according to various experts, for men not being able to talk about sexual abuse is fear of judgment. They are also caught in a vicious trap of fear of being excluded, hurt, and, most importantly, misunderstood. Men aren’t taught that their voices are important when it comes to mental health. “Stop crying like a girl” - they are told as if the emotional vulnerability is only a women’s thing. This connects back to the gender discriminant notions of toxic masculinity and pressure over men to always be brave.

Boys/men are expected to like sports and to be athletic, they are taught to act tough and stay silent about feelings. They are supposed to conceal their soft-side. These stigmas add up and lead to a boy caging his personal wounds and living in a box. The shackles of these rigid male stereotypes need to be broken. Men need to be given encouragement and a safe space to address their issues. We as a society should initiate more open conversations about toxic masculinity and its burden on a man’s life, however, these conversations need to begin foremostly amongst men themselves.

by - Alaina Rara

Graphic by - Nuti

Data sources:

- https://www.news18.com/news/opinion/men-seek-spaces-to-talk-about-masculinity-and-mental-health-2348479.html

- http://indianmhs.nimhans.ac.in/Docs/Summary.pdf

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