In an episode of The Sopranos, crime boss Tony Soprano describes American actor Gary Cooper as the epitome of the ‘strong, silent type’. During the golden age of Hollywood, Cooper’s on-screen persona became the dominant image of the ideal American male figure. He portrayed a specific breed of masculinity, a physically strong man of action, quiet and emotionally reserved, never displaying feelings or weakness. Thankfully, things have changed since the 1950s. With the rise of mental health awareness, men are now encouraged to share their emotions and seek help in handling life’s challenges.
June is Men’s Health Month and, while we have come a long way in encouraging men to be vulnerable, old perceptions of masculinity and gender stereotypes still affect young men.
Brendan Maher, Movember’s global mental health director, says “young men are still feeling under pressure to conform to age-old, masculine stereotypes that stop them from talking about the things that keep them up at night.”
Why is it hard for young men to talk about their feelings?
The outdated perceptions of masculinity pressures young men to “man up” when life gets hard, causing them to suffer in silence to avoid being bullied, mocked, or labeled as weak. They feel this pressure not only from older men, such as relatives, but also from peers.
Call it for what it is: an emotionally stunting expectation that makes it hard for teens and young men to express themselves honestly, because they may come to believe that it is inappropriate and risky to do so. This reticence can affect their present and future relationships and, potentially, their parenting styles.
- 58% of men feel like they’re expected to be “emotionally strong and to show no weakness.”
- 38% of men have avoided talking to others about their feelings to avoid appearing “unmanly.”
- Over half (53%) of American men between ages 18 and 34 say they feel pressure to be “manly.”
- 22% of those in this age group say they’re always or frequently mocked for “not being manly enough.”
If a boy grows up in an environment where they aren’t encouraged to talk about their feelings, it’s tough to overcome later on in life. This can lead to problems in developing their emotional and relational abilities.
There are other reasons why men have a tough time sharing feelings. You can find more reasons here.
Part of being human is the ability to share experiences and connect with others. Suppressing emotions has been linked to cardiovascular health issues, memory loss, lower immunity to illness, lower productivity and faster burnout. It can also lead to depression and anxiety, and, significantly, it can also increase male suicide risk.
In 2020, white males accounted for 69.68% of suicide deaths, with middle-aged white males accounting for the greatest number of suicides. The symptoms of depression look different for men and women. Men who feel depressed may appear to be angry or aggressive instead of sad, making it difficult for their families, friends, and even their doctors to recognize the anger or aggression as depression symptoms.
Giving the boot to the “strong, silent’ myth
The first step toward male mental wellbeing is to encourage all children and teens, regardless of gender, to express their emotions in healthy ways. Emotional Intelligence can be learned, along with stronger communication and interpersonal skills. Parents can start by raising boys who freely express emotions and can question masculinity stereotypes. Older family members can also work on recognizing and unlearning some of these stereotypes themselves.
Men need to know that they aren’t alone, and that expressing emotions is natural, normal, and healthy. It also helps to hear stories from men in their midlife who have overcome mental health disorders. The more men hear stories from different social groups, sexualities, ethnicities, and ages, the more they will feel seen, understood, and supported.
Men’s Mental Health Resources
Movember Men’s Stories: https://us.movember.com/story?tag=mental-health
Young Adult Therapy: https://thebougainvillahouse.com/programs/specialty-treatments/
Need more help?
If you or a loved one feel depressed or are having a hard time expressing emotions, consider talking to a mental health professional. Find a safe person and space in which to talk. The Bougainvilla House is here for you, with an understanding and welcoming environment for you and your family. Take that important first step and ask for help.
The Bougainvilla House also offers Parenting Workshops to provide tools and strategies that support healthy families and nurture future generations as they grow.
Call now to find support that works for you and your family: (954) 764-7337.