Positive Masculinity Contributor - Hailey Khetan
Communications Specialist at Positive Masculinity and a junior at Oakton High School currently pursuing an advanced diploma
Trigger/Content Warning: This piece contains sensitive topics including suicide, drug use, and mental health challenges.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the male suicide rate was “3-4 times the rate for females” between 2000 and 2020, yet only 14.6% of men received “any mental health treatment” in 2020, compared to 25.6% of women.
This data presents a staggering disparity that asks the question: Why does this gap exist?
To put it simply, the society that we live in holds masculine-identifying people to an unhealthy standard. To “be a man,” you must be aggressive, rugged, and stoic because real men don’t display their emotions. Real men also don’t listen to others; instead, they are in charge. And real men never have a moment of weakness because weakness is not masculine.
This mindset is highly toxic and can have intense effects on masculine-identifying people. It can push them to neglect signs of mental health conditions and stop them from seeking guidance from friends or professionals. As a result, people keep their feelings inside. These emotions build up continuously until one can’t contain them anymore — and that’s when everything crashes and burns. The outcomes can be things like drug overdose, suicide attempts, and manic and depressive episodes, which can be life-threatening. To get out of this awful cycle, we must address the root cause by encouraging masculine-identifying people to push past the stigma surrounding men’s mental health.
So, how do we go about this?
First, we must call out the fallacies surrounding men’s mental health and restructure our understanding. Having a mental health condition does not make anyone weak or less masculine. Similarly, reaching out for help from professionals or friends does not degrade masculinity. Instead, being honest with one's needs and treating others with kindness is a way to express masculinity. In terms of mental health, people must be willing to be true to their emotions and vulnerable with others to receive help if that’s what they need.
Next, we must understand that, sometimes, outside help is required. Mental health struggles exist on a spectrum with an infinite range. No two people will have the same struggle. Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety can’t be wished away. Sometimes, the problem persists no matter how much you work on it. And in these cases, outside help is absolutely necessary. Whether that means talking to a friend, family member, or professional, assistance is needed. And this could be as simple as someone sharing a recent struggle and asking for support; even if they are not comfortable sharing details, admitting that something is not okay goes a long way. It’s important that people lean on others, no matter where they are on the mental health spectrum; it could quite literally be the thing that saves them.
Lastly, once individuals finish learning and reflecting internally, they must push this out into the world. We can’t make progress unless the conversation about men’s mental health is opened up and the stigma is diminished. So if you identify as masculine, I urge you to share your mental health journey. Encourage others to share theirs, and spread the values of a positive masculine frame instead of a toxic one. If you don’t identify as masculine, you are still a crucial part of the movement. To help, check in with your masculine friends. Emphasize that you are there for them and encourage them to lean on you. Be aware of the symptoms of depression and other mental health conditions and help your masculine-identifying friends find treatment services or support systems if needed. Having a mental health condition does not mean that you did anything wrong. It means that you are human, and all humans face struggles — regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or age.
The topic of men’s mental health is a taboo one, but something must be done to change the status quo because it is unsustainable. Masculine-identifying people are struggling silently, but they don’t have to if we all do our part to eradicate men’s mental health stigma.
If you or a loved one is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Garnett MF, Curtin SC, Stone DM. Suicide mortality in the United States, 2000–2020. NCHS Data Brief, no 433. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2022. DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.15620/cdc:114217
Terlizzi EP, Norris T. Mental health treatment among adults: United States, 2020. NCHS Data Brief, no 419. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2021. DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.15620/cdc:110593