A crisis has arisen in much of the Western world that’s gone silent for too long. Men are struggling with various mental illnesses at higher rates than ever before. And the majority of these men aren’t seeking out professional help.
Recent studies have found that 75% of suicide victims within the United States are men – with a male killing himself every 20 minutes. 7 out of 10 of these suicides account for white men. ¹
Some may consider this proof of the destruction of a threatening patriarchy. However, when we take a look into the psychology of men and humans in general, nature may have something else to say.
Throughout this blog, we’re going to take a deeper look into these statistics, to really get a sense of the issue. From there, we’re going to explore various aspects of society that have led men to this point. Finally, we’ll look into the psychology of men and humans to get a better sense of what’s going wrong.
At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
The Rise of Mental Illness in Men
As we mentioned in our introduction, men make up 75% of all suicides in the United States. These rates are most notably high among white men – particularly those living in “flyover states,” such as Wyoming, Montana, and New Mexico.
Though there’s no definite explanation as to why this happening, many are linking it to the decline in traditional male industries. These include manufacturing, forestry, and fisheries – all of which were big business in these “flyover states.” In turn, many men of these regions have been left unemployed, under-employed, and financially desperate. ²
When a man has difficulty making an income for himself and his family, he naturally loses his sense of pride. And, with that, his sense of purpose and meaning in life.
Without these traits, it’s only natural suicide seems like a formal way out of the issue.
However, there are other methods. One of the most popular being substance abuse. When people are experiencing a mental illness, it’s common for them to turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of self-medication. To better cope with life-stressers. ³
Men in American are 3 times more likely to abuse a substance in comparison to women. ⁴ Research has also found that substance abuse is highest among men in stressful life situations.
Besides unemployment, one of the biggest examples is divorce. Men are bound to have more troubles in a family court and the data proves this – only 1 in 6 men have custody of their children. ⁵
Considering that 50% of all marriages in the United States end in divorce, you might begin to put the puzzle together for this mental health crisis among men.
The Fall of Mental Health Service Utilization
However, beyond mental illness itself, one of the biggest issues is men are remaining silent about their struggles. There is clear evidence that men are much less likely to use a mental health service when battling a mental health condition. ⁶
Often, this fact is accredited for the fact that men tend to be more stubborn than women. But the problem may lie within treatment itself.
Traditionally, psychological treatment is bounded by two factors; talk therapy and medication. There’s plenty of evidence showing these forms of care can have positive effects on an individual, but only if that individual is willing to comply.
Men aren’t complying and it’s not because they’re stubborn. It’s because, when faced with a stressful situation, a male is more likely to act rather than discuss. ⁷
In the modern culture, men are faced with a challenge they haven’t come face-to-face with through the majority of human history. That is, society’s transition into a gender-polarized landscape.
It’s becoming more common for women to find themselves in male positions and men to find themselves in female positions. To further this, there’s a growing stigmatization surrounding various masculine traits, such as aggressiveness and competitiveness.
On the surface, this can appear as a step in the right direction. Especially for those in support of progressive politics. But as mentioned, this is a new reality men have not experienced for most of the time they’ve been on this planet. And great changes always come with great risks.
These risks were perfectly demonstrated in an article featured on the GoodMenProject. The author, Reesee Zigga Zagga, asked men of a variety of personalities to finish the phrase: “The manliest thing about me is…” ⁸
The majority of responses were attributes often associated with female qualities, including, “my heart,” “my ability to show emotion,” “I cry,” and “my vulnerability.”
Anyone who reads this can’t help but step back and ask, “are these really the manliest aspects about these men?”
The truth is probably not. These men are most likely just embellishing their feminine sides and ignoring their masculinity.
The Good and the Bad
In some respects, men embracing their feminine sides can have some positive effects on our culture. For example, there is less ridicule placed upon a man when he meets admissions of sympathy or compassion. This is good as any human being is likely to experience these qualities.
The problem is these are the character traits expected of men while traditional and – as we’ll soon find out – hereditary traits (i.e. protectiveness, assertiveness, deference to truth over feelings) are demonized.
In other words, 50 years ago, men were ridiculed for not being masculine enough. In today’s society, men are stigmatized for being too masculine.
In turn, there is a lot at stake for men when it comes to their acceptance within society, their understanding of themselves, and their administration of their nature. Many are made to feel ashamed for who they truly are and this is where mental illness starts to shape.
The Nature of Masculinity
Though it is true that women retain certain masculine qualities, these qualities are attached to the masculine for they appear significantly more in men. And this is seen across all cultures, histories, and even animal species.
These traits include, but aren’t limited to: ⁹
- Deference to truth over feelings
- Risk taking
- Sexual appetite
The reason these traits are particular to men is purely due to biological makeup. More particularly, a hormone known as testosterone. Though testosterone’s main motive is sperm production, it can also affect mood and emotions. ¹⁰
Interestingly, the rise in men’s suicide rates happen to go alongside a societal drop in testosterone levels. In fact, some studies believe men, on average, are losing 1% of testosterone a year. ¹¹
The risks of this were perfectly summed up when Psychology Today author, Aqualus Gordon, Ph.D., wrote:
“By knowing and accepting potentially problematic aspects of our masculinity, we gain insight into the truth of ourselves and our relationships with others. But a man, who is unwilling to admit that he is aggressive, sexual, protective, or competitive – at least to himself – sacrifices his capacity to oversee and make use of those parts of himself that he is too afraid or ashamed to acknowledge.” ¹²
If you are a man and you are struggling with a mental health condition, consider what makes you masculine. If your answer is weak, your problem may simply be that you’re going against your own nature.
Of course, this isn’t going to be true for every man. Even the most masculine men are susceptible to mental illnesses.
However, the purpose of this article was to look beyond individuality and see what’s happening from a collective point of view. As already noted, mental health professionals all agree our environment plays a major role in the development of mental disorders.
Yet, when it comes to mental illness, how often do we consider the environment our society is creating? Probably, not enough.
Still have questions or concerns about men’s mental health?
We invite you to talk to us in the comment’s section below. Whether you’re coming from a personal or professional standpoint, your discussion is valued here.
¹ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Suicide Morality in the United States, 1999-2017
² Psychology Today: Men’s Mental Health: A Silent Crisis
³ National Institute of Mental Health: Substance Use and Mental Health
⁴ National Institute on Drug Abuse: Sex and Gender Differences in Substance Use
⁵ National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse: Dad Stats
⁶ American Journal of Men’s Health: Improving Mental Health Service Utilization Among Men
⁷ frontiers in Psychology: Gender roles and traits in stress and health
⁸ Good Men Project: The Manliest Thing About Me Is…
⁹ frontiers in Psychology: Traditional Masculinity and Femininity: Validation of a New Scale Assessing Gender Roles
¹⁰ National Institute of Health: Understanding How Testosterone Affects Men
¹¹ Forbes: You’re Not The Man Your Father Was
¹² Psychology Today: The Stigma of Masculinity