According to the Pan American Health Organization, one in five men will not reach the age of 50 in America due to issues relating to hypermasculinity, also known as toxic masculinity.
While masculinity itself is not negative, hypermasculinity is a cultural issue that harms men just as much as it does women.
Researchers continue to uncover the many connections between hypermasculinity and poor mental health in men. This is even more true for men raised or working in hypermasculine environments, like the field of first responders.
Understanding how hypermasculinity can affect you or your loved one is an important first step in creating better mental health and a happier environment.
It’s crucial to learn how behaviors can be altered, depression can be masked, and addictions created due to toxic masculinity.
Hypermasculinity is a learned behavior in many cultures, especially in America.
We’ve all been socialized to think of specific characteristics as masculine and others as feminine. Men are encouraged to display dominance, suppress their emotions, and take control of every situation.
While “feminine” traits, such as vulnerability, emotionality, and passivity, are often socially looked down upon when displayed in a man. Of course, the reality is that every person, man or woman, is a combination of masculine and feminine traits.
Unfortunately, old-fashioned stereotypes persist in every aspect of our society. They can cause many men to internalize their emotions and cope in very unhealthy ways.
For some men, a lifetime of gendered socialization creates a barrier between themselves and others. They might feel as if sharing their feelings or expressing emotions is wrong.
This attitude can be further exacerbated by specific subgroups that encourage hypermasculinity. Such groups include gender-segregated sports teams and some male-dominated professions.
While these environments offer a connection with teammates and colleagues, they can also create a sense of pressure and shame. Whenever anyone behaves in a way that is not considered masculine enough, these groups may make fun of them or question their manhood.
Hypermasculinity and depression
While everyone is different, there are some common issues to look for in men with mental health issues who are struggling with hypermasculinity.
For example, these men may feel sad or unmotivated due to depression but express their feelings via anger or rage. They often feel that these emotions are more socially acceptable than sadness or vulnerability.
Some additional symptoms to look for include fatigue, irritability, sleep issues, a lack of concentration, and a disinterest in things they once enjoyed.
While hypermasculinity and gendered thinking harm women as well, women are given much more “wiggle room” when it comes to conforming to gender norms. Men, however, are often forced to fit into rigid definitions of masculinity.
When men are inevitably unable to live up to the social standard, they often face an identity crisis. This is especially true for men who’ve spent most of their lives conforming to hypermasculine behavior.
In circumstances where that is not possible, such as the development of a mental health disorder, they don’t know what to do. Depression is a common mental illness among men, claiming the lives of more men than women every year by suicide.
The only way to combat depression and other mental illnesses is through treatment that usually involves talk therapy. Letting go of a hypermasculine perception is often the first step to mental wellness for many men.
Hypermasculinity and addiction
The harm caused by hypermasculinity is often severe. Many men feel that they’ll never be good enough or struggle to recognize themselves as they go through an emotional hurdle.
Many men who struggle with these common issues turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. Substance abuse is used to numb and mask the pain but may also allow men to express themselves in a way that is considered unacceptable while sober.
Additionally, hypermasculine subcultures, such as those of first responders, encourage alcohol use. Inevitably, using drugs or alcohol in this way leads to addiction in many men.
Unfortunately, talking about addiction can be tricky in the presence of hypermasculinity. It’s crucial for men and those who care about them to deal with these damaging cultural norms.
Men suffering from mental health and addiction must be allowed to open up and talk about their trauma, emotional pain, and struggles to move forward and step into a life of wellness.