Boys Don’t Cry: The Stigma of Men’s Mental Health

boys don't cry men's mental health stigma

This content has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified addiction therapist and a board-certified physician.

This content has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified addiction therapist and a board-certified physician.

Table of Contents

Behind the curtain of bravado and resilience, a silent epidemic is plaguing men worldwide.

Like a perfect storm, societal expectations, stereotyping, and the oppressive silence have created a world where men often grapple with mental health issues and addiction in the shadows.

This ‘boys don’t cry’ mentality is steeped in stigma and misconceptions, turning men into prisoners of their emotions, trapped in a vicious cycle of suffering in silence and self-medication.

In honor of June also being “Men’s Mental Health Month”, we shine a spotlight on this dark corner of men’s health, in the hope of bringing forth understanding, empathy, and much-needed change.

This isn’t just a conversation about men’s health, it’s a conversation about our society, our norms, and our collective human journey.

Understanding Men’s Mental Health

WHAT IS MENTAL HEALTH?

Mental health, at its core, refers to our emotional, psychological, and social well-being.

It involves how we think, feel, and behave, and it impacts our daily life, relationships, and even physical health.

Mental health is not just the absence of mental illnesses or disorders; it’s about having the necessary cognitive, emotional, and social resources to navigate life, handle stress, relate to others, and make decisions.

It’s an integral aspect of our overall health and well-being, one that deserves as much care and attention as our physical health.

THE PREVALENCE AND TYPES OF MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES AMONG MEN

Men are far from immune to mental health issues, yet the topic often lies hidden beneath layers of silence and misconception.

It’s estimated that one in five men experiences mental health challenges, yet they are significantly less likely than women to seek professional help1.

Depression and anxiety, two of the most common mental health disorders globally, are prevalent among men.

However, their symptoms can sometimes differ from the ‘classic’ manifestations, leading to underdiagnosis.

For instance, men may exhibit signs of irritability, anger, or aggression, rather than the sadness typically associated with these conditions.

Suicide rates among men are alarmingly high, with men being 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than women in the U.S.

Substance abuse is another major issue, with men being more likely than women to use all types of illicit drugs.

Additionally, men are more prone to externalizing disorders like ADHD and antisocial personality disorder.

Despite the prevalence and variety of these conditions, the stigma surrounding men’s mental health often leads to underreporting, making these figures just the tip of the iceberg.

UNIQUE ASPECTS OF MEN’S MENTAL HEALTH

Men’s mental health has several unique aspects that stem from a complex interplay of biological, psychological, and socio-cultural factors.

Biologically, men and women exhibit different patterns of brain activity, hormones, and genetic predispositions, leading to varying vulnerabilities and manifestations of mental health issues.

For instance, men with depression often exhibit more externalizing symptoms like anger and substance misuse.

Psychologically, traditional masculinity norms – such as emotional stoicism, self-reliance, and the suppression of ‘weak’ feelings – can make it harder for men to recognize their own emotional distress or seek help when needed.

This can result in a tendency to ‘mask’ mental health issues through behaviors such as substance abuse, risk-taking, and aggression.

Furthermore, men’s mental health issues often receive less media attention and public awareness, contributing to a lack of understanding and support.

The “Boys Don’t Cry” Mentality

The phrase ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ is a longstanding societal dictum that reinforces traditional gender norms, particularly the notion of masculinity being synonymous with emotional stoicism2.

Its origins are difficult to trace, as it’s been deeply ingrained in many cultures for generations, passed down through societal conditioning, family teachings, media portrayals, and peer interactions.

Essentially, ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ instructs boys and men to suppress their emotions, especially those perceived as ‘weak’ or ‘feminine,’ such as sadness, fear, or vulnerability.

It sends the message that real men are strong, unemotional, and invulnerable, teaching boys from a young age to equate emotions with weakness and to internalize their feelings instead of expressing them.

While the phrase itself might seem harmless or even well-intentioned – perhaps a misguided attempt to encourage resilience – its implications are far-reaching.

It contributes to a culture of silence around men’s emotional health and mental well-being, fostering unhealthy emotional habits and perpetuating the stigma around men’s mental health.

The Stigma Surrounding Men’s Mental Health

STIGMA SURROUNDING MASCULINITY 

The stigma surrounding men’s mental health has roots that stretch back to traditional societal expectations of masculinity.

Society has long dictated that men should be strong, stoic, and unemotional — the proverbial ‘rock’ that others can lean on.

In this narrative, mental health struggles are often mischaracterized as signs of weakness or failure, leading many men to feel ashamed or embarrassed about their issues.

This stigma is perpetuated through various channels in our society.

Popular media and culture often depict idealized images of men as invulnerable and emotionally detached, reinforcing these damaging stereotypes.

Similarly, societal norms and expectations can implicitly discourage men from expressing vulnerability or seeking help.

For instance, phrases like ‘man up’ or ‘boys don’t cry’ send the message that men should suppress their emotions and face their struggles alone.

Even within healthcare systems, the stigma can persist.

Mental health issues in men are often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed, partly due to stereotypes that influence how professionals interpret symptoms.

Men themselves might downplay or hide their symptoms during consultations, further complicating the diagnosis and treatment process.

Overall, this stigma creates a vicious cycle where men feel pressured to hide their struggles, which in turn perpetuates the silence and misconceptions around men’s mental health.

SOCIETAL EXPECTATIONS IN DETAIL

Societal expectations and gender norms play a critical role in perpetuating the stigma around men’s mental health.

At the heart of these norms is the traditional concept of masculinity, which posits that men should be strong, independent, and unemotional.

This ‘macho’ ideal encourages men to suppress their feelings, endure pain in silence, and avoid seeking help, all in the name of appearing tough or ‘manly.’

Expressions like ‘man up’ or ‘boys don’t cry’ echo these ideals, reinforcing the notion that showing vulnerability is a sign of weakness.

Such stereotypes can lead men to feel ashamed or weak for experiencing emotional distress, and hence, discourage them from acknowledging or addressing their mental health concerns.

Furthermore, societal expectations often associate mental health issues with personal failure or inadequacy, contributing to self-stigma among men with mental health problems.

Men may fear being judged, misunderstood, or treated differently if they disclose their struggles, leading many to suffer in silence.

These societal expectations and gender norms create a damaging cycle of stigma, silence, and unmet mental health needs among men.

They highlight the urgent need for societal shifts towards a more inclusive and compassionate understanding of masculinity and men’s mental health.”

EFFECTS OF STIGMA ON MEN’S MENTAL HEALTH, SOCIETAL INTERACTIONS, AND SELF-PERCEPTION

The stigma surrounding men’s mental health has far-reaching and devastating effects.

For starters, it can deter men from seeking help for their mental health issues, leading to delayed treatment, or worse, no treatment at all.

This can exacerbate mental health problems, increasing the risk of severe outcomes such as suicide.

Stigma can also influence social interactions.

Men grappling with mental health issues may isolate themselves due to fear of judgment or misunderstanding from others.

They may feel a sense of shame or guilt, believing that they should be able to ‘handle’ their problems alone.

This isolation can fuel feelings of loneliness and worsen mental health conditions.

Moreover, this stigma can significantly impact a man’s self-perception and self-esteem.

Constant societal messaging that equates emotional vulnerability with weakness can make men feel ‘less than’ or flawed for struggling with mental health issues.

This can lead to a negative self-image, a sense of hopelessness, and further reluctance to seek help.

In some cases, to align with societal expectations, men might resort to harmful coping mechanisms such as substance abuse or risk-taking behavior, creating a harmful cycle that can further deteriorate their mental health and overall quality of life.”

REAL-WORLD STIGMA AND MENTAL HEALTH STRUGGLES IN CULTURE

In recent years, several celebrities have bravely stepped forward to shed light on their struggles with mental health, effectively challenging the stigma associated with men’s mental health.

British royalty and mental health advocate, Prince Harry, has openly discussed his struggles with anxiety and the grief he experienced following the death of his mother, Princess Diana.

He’s leveraged his platform to promote mental health awareness, co-founding the ‘Heads Together’ campaign and the mental health services company, ‘BetterUp.’

Renowned Hollywood actor, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, known for his ‘tough guy’ roles, revealed his battle with depression, debunking the myth that mental health issues are a sign of weakness.

He’s emphasized the importance of seeking help, stating, “Depression never discriminates… it’s incredibly important to talk about it and seek help when needed.”

In the music industry, rapper Logic released a hit single titled ‘1-800-273-8255’ (the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s number) to increase awareness about mental health and suicide.

logic 1-800-273-8255 mens mental health
Logic, performing live at Grandoozy on September 14, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. Logic has been an open activist about men’s mental health.

Kevin Love, a professional NBA player, has shared his experiences with panic attacks and anxiety.

kevin love mens mental health
Kevin Wesley Love is an American professional basketball player for the Miami Heat of the National Basketball Association.

His openness has sparked conversations about mental health in the sports community, often characterized by hypermasculinity and silence around such issues.

These celebrities are examples of the growing movement to destigmatize men’s mental health, showing that no one, regardless of their status or perceived strength, is immune to mental health issues.

Men and Addiction

There is a strong and intricate link between mental health and addiction in men.

Many men who struggle with addiction also experience co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or trauma-related conditions.

Substance abuse often serves as a means of self-medication for these underlying mental health issues, as individuals may turn to drugs or alcohol to alleviate symptoms or numb emotional pain.

Conversely, the abuse of substances can worsen mental health symptoms, creating a vicious cycle of addiction and psychological distress.

Factors such as societal expectations of masculinity, reluctance to seek help, and limited emotional expression can further complicate the relationship between mental health and addiction in men.

Addressing addiction and mental health concerns through integrated treatment approaches is crucial for effectively supporting men in their recovery and overall well-being.

MENTAL HEALTH STATISTICS FOR MEN VS WOMEN

Statistics on addiction among men indicate that they are generally more susceptible to substance abuse than women3.

According to various studies and surveys, men tend to have higher rates of addiction to different substances, including alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs.

They often exhibit riskier behaviors, such as binge drinking and drug experimentation, which can contribute to their increased vulnerability.

However, it is essential to note that while men may have higher overall addiction rates, women face unique challenges.

Women often develop addiction in the context of co-occurring mental health disorders, trauma, and societal pressures.

Additionally, women may face greater stigma and barriers to seeking help for their addiction.

Therefore, while men may have higher statistical rates of addiction, both genders require targeted and comprehensive support to address the complex factors contributing to substance abuse.

 

SOCIETAL VIEWS AND MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT MEN WITH ADDICTION

Societal views and misconceptions about men with addiction can perpetuate stigma and hinder their path to recovery.

There are often stereotypes that associate addiction with personal weakness or moral failing, leading to judgment and blame.

Men who struggle with addiction may face societal pressures to conform to traditional notions of masculinity, which can discourage them from seeking help or expressing vulnerability4.

These stereotypes can also contribute to a lack of empathy and support from others, making it harder for men to open up about their struggles and access appropriate treatment.

Challenging these misconceptions, promoting understanding, and creating an environment that encourages men to seek help without fear of judgment is essential.

Recognizing addiction as a complex health issue rather than a character flaw is vital in fostering a more compassionate and inclusive society for men in need of support.

Addressing the Stigma: Strategies and Solutions

Strategies for addressing the stigma of men’s mental health and addiction involve individual, community, and societal efforts.

At the individual level, it is essential for people to educate themselves about mental health and addiction, challenge their personal biases, seek support, and engage in open dialogue.

Communities can organize awareness campaigns, create safe discussion spaces, establish support groups, and promote mental health training and education.

Societies can focus on ensuring accessible and affordable treatment options, reducing stigma-related barriers, encouraging positive media representation, and highlighting positive role models.

By implementing these strategies, individuals, communities, and societies can work together to break down stigma, foster empathy and understanding, and create supportive environments that promote men’s mental health and addiction recovery.

Level Strategies Details
Individual Educate oneself Take the initiative to learn about mental health and addiction, including their causes, symptoms, and available treatments. Seek credible resources and stay informed.
  Challenge personal biases Recognize and question any preconceived notions or stereotypes about men’s mental health and addiction. Actively challenge and change these biases to foster empathy and understanding.
Seek support and engage in open dialogue. Contact trusted friends, family, or professionals to share experiences, thoughts, and concerns regarding mental health and addiction. Participate in open discussions to reduce stigma and increase awareness.
Community Organize awareness campaigns Plan and execute community-wide campaigns to raise awareness about men’s mental health and addiction. Use various channels, such as social media, workshops, and events, to spread accurate information and dispel myths.
  Create safe spaces for open conversations. Establish support groups, community forums, or safe spaces where individuals can freely discuss their experiences without fear of judgment. Encourage active listening and empathy within these environments.
Establish support groups and peer networks. Facilitate the creation of support groups that allow men to connect, share their struggles, and support each other in their mental health and addiction recovery journeys.
Societal Ensure accessible and affordable treatment options Advocate for policies and programs that ensure mental health and addiction treatment services are easily accessible, affordable, and tailored to the specific needs of men. Work towards reducing financial, geographic, and systemic barriers.
  Reduce stigma-related barriers to treatment. Conduct anti-stigma campaigns targeting societal perceptions and attitudes toward men’s mental health and addiction. Promote understanding, compassion, and acceptance of individuals seeking treatment.
  Encourage positive media representation. Encourage media outlets to portray men’s mental health and addiction issues in a realistic and empathetic manner. Highlight success stories, recovery journeys, and positive role models to challenge stereotypes and inspire others.
Highlight positive role models. Showcase individuals who have overcome mental health and addiction challenges, emphasizing their strength and resilience. Promote positive role models to inspire hope and reduce the stigma of seeking help.

Available Treatments for Addiction

At Cornerstone Healing Center, we offer various co-occurring drug rehab programs and treatments for addiction that cater to individual needs and circumstances.

One commonly used approach is behavioral therapy, which helps individuals identify and change unhealthy behavior patterns and develop coping strategies.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing are effective behavioral therapies.

Support groups, such as 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), offer peer support and a structured approach to recovery.

Residential or inpatient rehabilitation programs sometimes provide intensive, round-the-clock care.

It’s essential to consult with one of our representatives to determine the most appropriate treatment options based on the type and severity of addiction.

Men Supporting Men

GENDER-SPECIFIC SUPPORT GROUPS

Men supporting men through dedicated addiction and mental health recovery groups can provide significant benefits.

Men’s groups create a safe and understanding environment where individuals can openly share their experiences, struggles, and triumphs without judgment.

These groups offer a sense of camaraderie and fellowship, allowing men to connect with others who have faced similar challenges.

By sharing their stories and supporting each other, men in these groups can gain a deeper understanding of their journey, build resilience, and develop effective coping mechanisms.

Men’s groups also provide an opportunity for emotional expression and vulnerability, challenging societal expectations of masculinity that often discourage seeking help.

These groups foster a sense of belonging, support personal growth, and contribute to the overall well-being and successful recovery of men dealing with addiction and mental health issues.

Breaking Silence

Breaking the silence on men’s mental health isn’t just about shattering old stereotypes or defying outdated notions of masculinity.

It’s about saving lives and nurturing a society where every individual feels valued, understood, and supported.

It’s time we redefine strength not as the absence of vulnerability, but as the courage to be authentic, the bravery to seek help, and the resilience to rise above adversity.

Remember, true bravery lies not in stoicism but in expressing oneself authordially.

After all, real men do cry, they feel, they struggle, and most importantly, they overcome.

If you or a loved one finds yourself struggling with Addiction, please reach out to us at Cornerstone Healing Center for a free and confidential assessment today!

SOURCES

[1] Improving Mental Health Service Utilization Among Men: A Systematic Review and Synthesis of Behavior Change Techniques Within Interventions Targeting Help-Seeking

[2] “Boys Don’t Cry” — how stereotypes of masculinity harm boys and men

[3] Sex and Gender Differences in Substance Use

[4] Males and Mental Health Stigma

Published: 6/19/2023

Main Contributor: Julie Miller

Co-Contributor: Susana Spiegel

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julie miller recovery writer and author

Recovery Writer and Advocate

Julie is a recovery advocate, with over two years sober. She is a recovery speaker who believes people can change for the better. Her mission is to write factual, helpful information about addiction, treatment, and recovery. She believes that no one should be left in the dark about the process at any stage of their recovery.
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Clinical Reviewer

Lionel, a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC) with over 4 years at Cornerstone. Passionate about helping those with addiction, he has trained as an EMDR therapist  adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues of addiction, providing an empathetic approach.

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