My last blog post talked all about the stigma attached to mental illness. This stigma does not discriminate and almost anybody that’s dealt with a mental illness is fully aware of the negative consequences derived from this stigma. If you haven’t read it yet, please take a few minutes to do so. I go in-depth with the unseen struggles individuals facing stigma deal with (See “Blog #2” above). However, in trying to grasp the damage and destruction this stigma can cause, it might even be harsher for males with mental illnesses.
Since the beginning of modern society, males of every background have been held to and measured by unrealistic expectations. All males are subject to an invisible entity nobody seems willing to talk about. This entity makes a negative impact on every single male across the globe. This is an issue that needs more light shed upon it. What do we call this harsh invisible entity? Stigma. The stigma of what a male is supposed to be. Not exuding brawny masculinity every single second of every single day has become a plaguing stigma and an overwhelming weight every male has to carry. This stigma has been pushed onto every single human born a male (i..e. Male genitalia), especially in this country (America). Yet, this masculinity expected of males is only the tip of the iceberg for anybody diagnosed with a mental illness.
Before I continue, it’s important to understand that there is a major difference between male/female vs. man/woman. Being a male/female is determined by your sex when you are born. Being a man/woman is a construct of ideals and expectations decided by a society’s culture of what a man/woman is, does, and should be. In other words, being a man or a woman comes with a set of rules dictated by society. So, theoretically, everybody can ultimately choose to be a man, woman, or anything in between, but regardless, they will have been born into their sex (male/female/intersex). Further, the separation between an individual’s sex is not always definitively male or female. So, it is not fair to say the only sex one can be born into is as black and white as male or female. Many fall into what has been deemed “intersex,” which is to be in-between male or female. Point being, according to today’s society and culture, being born with a male reproductive system dictates a whole set of standards one should or should not exhibit if they are to be a “man.”
This stigma of masculinity affects all males because they become subject to judgment of what being a man is supposed to look like. These unrealistic expectations of being a man is ultimately where stigma is derived. This is a heavy burden most males cannot manage, especially if they are dealing with a mental illness. All of the stereotypical characteristics every male is supposed to exhibit is not a realistic assumption for any human being. Humans are imperfect, adaptable, emotional creatures...with an emphasis on emotion. A part of being human is to have and experience emotions. Just like we all breathe air, we all feel emotions. Regardless if a male has a mental illness, they will still have fluctuating emotions and feelings. This is a fact that cannot be undermined or refuted. All humans experience various issues in life that elicit these emotions, too. Yet, even as I type this, in the back of my head I hear a menacing voice telling me a real man doesn’t have feelings or emotions. “Why are you even talking about this?”---says the voice. “Are you, a man, really wasting time writing a blog about your feelings?”---the voice prods. “Can you imagine all the ridicule and embarrassment this will bring?” --demands the voice. From the day every male is born, the standards of being masculine have been so deeply instilled and ingrained in us that it’s hard to ignore that menacing voice.
The rules to being a man are not easy to maintain, but they are overwhelmingly impossible if you have a mental illness. To manage and overcome a mental illness is to quite literally go against everything being a man is all about. Firstly, you have to acknowledge and admit something is “abnormal” about you. Sometimes you’re not always in control of your emotions. You need to have humility to ask for help from friends, family, or professionals. You might be weak at times. You might breakdown and have to cry it out. Notice by identifying a few struggles of managing a mental illness, we have already completely crossed all lines of being what a real man is. A mental illness can break you down emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Yet, if you’re a true man, you’d never let any of this bother you, right? You’d keep it all hidden beneath the surface, shrug it off, and deal with it on your own because you’re a real man, right?
If you know anything about having a mental illness, it’s excruciatingly exhausting. However, what’s even more draining is trying to pretend you don’t have one. Talking about the emotions mental illnesses invoke in one is one of the best ways to manage a mental illness. Yet, if you’re a real man, you’re not going to share any of your widdle ole’ feelings, right? In essence, being a man about it and keeping these things inside only compounds the problem. I truly believe that not talking about your mental struggles is maybe one of the most dangerous decisions you can make, whether it was a conscious decision or not. Not getting help and talking about your struggles has to be one of the most influential components in the suicide epidemic we’re experiencing. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide is the second leading cause of death in the world for ages 15 - 29. Let me say that again. Suicide is the second leading cause of death! This is a complex issue and there are most likely numerous factors that play into those numbers, but without a doubt, there is a suicide epidemic among us. The frustrating aspect to all of this is that much of it is preventable! It’s important to understand that keeping your thoughts to yourself can be extremely detrimental to your mental health. The numbers speak for themselves. Suicide is happening far too often when it has been far too preventable. These are harsh realities, but in better understanding the problem we can know how to best address the issue.
Males with emotional struggles NEED to get help. They NEED to know it’s okay to ask for help. They NEED to know it’s normal to have mental health needs. They NEED to know they shouldn’t be ashamed for having emotional struggles. They NEED to speak up. And the world NEEDS to hear them...without judgment. These overall issues are something I am hugely passionate about. Maybe that’s because this stigma of being a man impacted me every single day of my life. Being a male has it’s own set of guidelines, but growing up with mental illnesses really tests those boundaries. I always thought I had to act a certain way or hide specific things because I wouldn’t be accepted. I constantly feared fitting in and being man enough. Humans are extremely social creatures and needing to be accepted is what largely motivates our behaviors. Throughout my life, I have come to learn firsthand that society’s belief of what a real man is, is a real problem.
If you ask me, a real man is somebody who can acknowledge their mental health issues and tackle them head on. A real man won’t ignore, deny, or run away from their emotions. A real man will bravely do what it takes to overcome their mental health problems. A real man can and will accept their weaknesses so they can turn them into their strengths. Without this courage, humility, and vulnerability, no male, let alone any human, can effectively manage and ultimately overcome mental health struggles. An egotistical and overly prideful male will believe he has no weakness. He will never believe he’s wrong. He will believe nothing is his fault. This type of male will believe only weak people have mental health struggles. This same male will deny his own emotional struggles because he is a man! This same male will not seek help when he needs it most. This male’s masculinity, ignorance, and a lack of humility will be the end of him. Instead of facing the pain from the mental health struggles, he will drown his pain with substance abuse. Worse yet, it is not unlikely he may take his own life rather than acknowledging a man can hurt, feel pain, and be weak at times.
So you tell me what a real man is. Is it somebody who doesn’t ask for help? Somebody who thinks only weak people have emotions? Or somebody who doesn’t acknowledge their own overwhelming emotions that is ruining their life? I’ll never regret acknowledging my struggles and asking for help. I believe a strong human, not man, WILL face their emotional problems with grace, courage, and bravery. Anybody willing to commit to recovery must be vulnerable, have humility, and be humble enough to acknowledge their problems. To me, these traits are only exhibited by somebody with true strength. Being a man or male has nothing to do with it.
While mental illness might not be preventable, suicide is. Know there is no such thing as a real man. Not just males, but individuals across the world NEED to know it’s okay to ask for help. We ALL need to understand how important it is to have good mental health practices. I know everyone has heard this, but NOBODY is perfect. Not even close. Please never feel ashamed to ask for help or feel guilty that you have mental health needs because we all got ‘em. Please take your mental health needs seriously. The sooner you face your demons, the sooner you’ll wonder why you didn’t in the first place.
More than anything, I hope this blog post instills 2 things: 1) There is no such thing as being a “real man” 2) Take care of your mental health needs shamelessly. Please think long and hard about what I have talked about here because these are intense issues that require our attention. Thank you so much for taking the time to read. I really hope there was something valuable you learned and that it helped you in some way. Also, don’t be afraid to share this with a friend or family member you think it could benefit!
P.S. One last thing! I hope to start blogging about OCD specific issues so if you’re looking for more OCD help, stay tuned for my next couple blog posts. There were a few topics I just had to get out of my system before I could narrow my focus onto OCD and the struggles it brings. I felt the stigma of mental illness and being a “man” were very important to address first. Now it will be time to get to the real nitty gritty!!!! By the way...if you haven’t signed up for my newsletter please do so that way you can be kept in the loop for when I post the next blog. THANK YOU!
P.S.S. If any of this resonates with you, if you have any questions, or if you simply have any kind of input, please leave a comment below! We love hearing from you!!