One of the biggest movements in mental health activism are anti-stigma campaigns. Within the mental health community, it is a shared goal to destroy the stigma surrounding mental health. Stigma continues to exist because of the belief that having mental illnesses should be seen as disabilities. Not only is this untrue, it leads to unnecessary discrimination of individuals with mental illness.
But what happens to stigma when we look at mental health through a gender lens? Does it deepen? Or remain the same? What can we learn from it?
In Western society, gender roles dictate the way we act, dress, speak, and interact with one another. According to historical stereotypes, women are expected to be quiet, well mannered, and in touch with their emotions. On the other hand, men are expected to be tough, strong, and aggressive. This notion is popularized by common phrases such as, “boys don’t cry” or “act like a man”. Although these lines are often said offhand and in passing, they have a strong impact on the values and beliefs we live our life by from a young age.
From his grade school days, a boy learns that if he falls and cries on the playground, his classmates will bully him. However, if he falls and brushes it off, he becomes a playground hero of sorts. This knowledge follows him into adulthood, where he learns to internalize his emotions because he believes he must be self-reliant in order to embody society’s stereotype of a “real man”.
In a world where there is already pre-existing stigma surrounding mental health, it can be said that preconceived gender norms hinder men even further from speaking out about their mental health and seeking the help they need. According to a study by Daniel Freeman as told to The Guardian, “women are approximately 75% more likely than men to report having recently suffered from depression and around 60% more likely to report an anxiety disorder”. This article is not to downplay the struggles women face, but to bring light to the amount of pressure that men may have to face to be self-sufficient.
As a society, it is important to recognize the role of gender in mental health. We can help end this stigma by deconstructing gender stereotypes in order to open up the conversation on mental health regardless of gender.