Forgotten Emotions: Men's Mental Health and Its Stigmas

Many women today are easily able to talk about their own mental health, and often find solace in venting, crying, or hugging their friends in order to relieve any pain and sadness that they have. It is a normal thing for women to be completely comfortable speaking to their friends about their overall mental health, going to therapy, or any emotional pain that they have.

But what about guys, though? They are often forgotten in the fight for healthy minds and stable emotions, but they, too, are surely often plagued with negative emotions and want to be comforted about this. All too often, those feelings are stigmatized and pushed to the side. Whether this is because of the media, television, and movies often portraying males as strong and unemotional, or if it is instead society which creates the norm, the fact is: men are often encouraged to shut off their emotions - which is extremely unhealthy.

This unhealthiness shows in the statistics, too. More than 6 million men in the U.S. suffer from depression per year (not counting the many that are undiagnosed) and men's suicide rates are more than quadruple women's - about 79% of suicides in a year are from men. This is often caused by men's reluctance to seek treatment and their inclination to downplay emotions. Jonathan Lu, a male student at UC Davis explains this phenomenon, saying that this downplay stems from "making yourself believe that [the problem] doesn't exist in the first place… not so much that you don't have an opportunity to talk about it, but it's more telling yourself internally that you're not feeling these things, and therefore you don't need to talk about them." 

This is not an uncommon thing for men to feel, though. Men are taught by their parents or peers to suppress emotions so frequently as children that they often have no understanding of some emotions that they feel later in life. Psychologist Ronald. F. Levant has termed this "normative male alexithymia," meaning not having words for one's emotions. As this continues through life and men are unable to express their emotions, they then tend to hold in and build up many negative emotions.

Perhaps parallel to emotions being inherently suppressed in males is the societal suppression and stigmatization of touch (even platonic and comforting) between males. Between women, comforting touches and hugs are normal and encouraged, especially in situations when another friend is needing to be comforted. Between men, though, is a different story. Touch between males is so discouraged and stigmatized that men tend to shy away from it, even in moments when it may have been appreciated. To this point, Lu noted, "In a situation where physical touch is encouraged, the stigma about touch between men prevents it from happening." 

When asked about this same topic, though, and specifically what he would do in a situation where a male friend needed comforting, Schuyler Alschuler - another male UCD student - noted that he wouldn't hug or touch his friends, but not because of any stigmatizations. Rather, he says, "It's more ingrained than stigmatized. I don't hug other men in those situations because I think I'd be judged, but more that it just isn't my natural reaction." Much of this seems to stem from homophobic expressions from boys in school ("That’s gay!" or "No homo.") and in the media, such as movies and TV shows that never show male characters hugging. This constant barrage of homophobia and obstruction from male-to-male physical contact makes it difficult throughout men's lives to open up to it - and, being that hugs are so good for you (they increase oxytocin levels, reduce stress, etc.), it's unhealthy physically and emotionally to not do it.

With such a progressive society as we have today, it should not still be a problem for men to engage in touch or provide themselves as emotional outlets and feel as though they can be emotional, as well. It's mentally destructive to them, unhealthy, and breeds an increasing amount of negativity against male touch, emotions, and mental health, as we continue to let this stigma carry on. Hopefully someday soon, we can provide men with the same support for their mental health as many women have found in each other.

*Images used do not belong to Her Campus or the author.