Men’s mental health and the lasting harm of social stigma

By Luke Lombardi

Be a man. Grow some balls. You cry like a girl. These are phrases almost every man has heard throughout their life. In a sense, these statements are just normal things to say in our society due to how generations of people were raised. They shouldn’t be.

There are plenty of stigmas about mental health, but I can only touch on the ones I have seen and experienced as a man. In our society, traditional cultural norms dictate that men aren’t allowed to show emotions in most settings.

Although some people just acknowledge this as a dumb sentiment and move on without much thought, in my opinion, everyone should fight back against statements like this.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), men are 3.63 times more likely to commit suicide than women. It is obvious how society plays a role in this statistic becoming fact. By being constantly told they can’t show emotion, cry or tell people their problems, men often feel they must suffer in silence. The stress and pain can build and build until the person suffering hits a breaking point.

While I have never hit my breaking point, I have experienced the “problem” of being a man and showing emotions. Throughout middle and high school, I went to the guidance counselor. Most of the time, we wouldn’t talk about school; we’d just hang out. This helped me mentally a lot as I felt like I had someone who knew me and could help whenever I needed it.

However, kids will be kids.

Whenever someone got in trouble, people would assume I snitched, since I was always hanging out with the guidance counselor. Instead of thinking I was doing something for my mental health, people automatically assumed I was trying to get them into trouble. This led to some groups of friends excluding me. Essentially, because I was able to have an outlet to show my emotions that some people didn’t like, they ostracized me from hanging out with them. I have a strong belief that part of the reason I got such flack for going to the guidance counselor a lot was that I was a guy, and I wasn’t supposed to show my emotions.

Luckily, I didn’t enjoy hanging out with people at that point. I’ve always been a homebody, so not being invited to parties didn’t bother me like it would have for some others my age.

I have also always been a crier. The stigma of men not being able to cry and let out their emotions has never seemed right to me. If I felt like crying would help, I would cry. From a young age, it made no sense to me that women could cry but men couldn’t. This didn’t help my reputation at school, but I would prefer people looking weird at me to being depressed.

The story about my guidance counselor also serves another purpose. A second dangerous stigma about mental health regards getting help. Some people think attending counseling for their problems or seeing a therapist means they are crazy or weak for not being able to deal with the emotions they are feeling. While this is slowly changing due to more role models, like professional athletes and celebrities sharing their therapy experiences, it is still a very dangerous stereotype.

Most people who seek therapy have already struggled with being inside their heads. If you add the outside perception of therapy, that is sometimes enough for people to decide against getting the help they need. I hope I have made it clear that I am someone who doesn’t care.about how others view me when it comes to how I process my emotions. However, this does not mean I am perfect. For a long time, I have been aware that I probably need therapy. I have a generalized anxiety disorder. I know how much talking to others helps me process things.

Even with the ability to self-reflect, it took a lot for me to finally build the courage to start therapy due to all the stigmas about it. Without the support system that I had to help me work through the decision, I honestly don’t know if I would have ever started going.

All in all, there are plenty of mental health stigmas that bother me and must be heavily addressed. If these problems are ignored, the issue of mental health in men particularly will only get worse which is something we as a society need to avoid.

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