It is a well-known stereotype that ‘masculinity’ encompasses the criterion of being ‘emotionally resilient’, and thus it is misconceived that seeing a man crying is effeminate. Society has an expectation of men to be ‘strong’, funny and void of low moods. We also use phrases like, ‘stop crying like a girl’, which is frankly demeaning to both sexes. But until we stop feeding these stereotypes, a safe space for men’s mental health cannot be created.
My youngest sister is three years old and a few days ago, she came back from nursery and said to me, “boys don’t cry”. I was quite shocked. If anything, at home, my middle sister and I try our best to negate any societal stereotypes and challenge them – we never automatically opted for pink clothes for her just because she is a girl, we never stopped taking her to the car and robots section of ToysRus simply because they were boys’ toys. In fact, we encouraged her to play with a football and her cars, alongside her dolls and toy kitchen set. So to hear something like that from her took me aback.
That day, I realised how much this stereotype is really ingrained in our society. I presumed that this was an idea that she picked up from her peers at school, and children always learn from adults. Clearly, if we don’t change the way we think and act, children will only follow in our footsteps and reinforce the stereotypes, albeit subconsciously. It took me a lot of convincing to persuade my sister to believe that boys can cry too. She insisted that it was a ‘girly’ thing to cry.
Unfortunately, the large majority of men feel ashamed to open up about their mental health because of the expectation of them to be so ‘resilient’. Some of my closest male friends have divulged that it’s embarrassing to talk about it, so they often keep quiet and that leads to not being able to seek help. According to statistics, males are 3.5 times more likely then females to commit suicide. There is a shocking number of domestic violence incidents against men by women, but this is very hardly advertised. It is estimated that depression rates are much higher amongst the male population than the statistics suggest because most of them never talk about it or seek help. Sexual abuse is another topic that we never really much about from men – not because the incidence of sexual abuse amongst men is very little, but because of the strong stigma attached to it. We instinctively think of women as the victims when we think of sexual abuse, but I have personally heard some disturbing stories from men regarding their experiences of sexual abuse.
Whatever sex a person may be, it should never be shameful to talk about mental health issues. We need to stop indulging in the roles set by society for men and women and start accepting that everyone is human, and it is only human to cry, to be depressed or have any other mental health issues. Violence and abuse are not exclusively carried out by men, and we need to stop generalising behaviours and assigning them to a certain sex. There is no shame in talking about these difficult issues, for men or women, and we can overcome the taboo by opening up and opening the eyes of everyone else around us.