Mental health disorders are often unrecognized and untreated among men, possibly due to traditional mindsets which expect men to be psychologically strong and have control over their emotions. A new meta-analysis has found an association between the most harmful traits of masculine behavior, also referred to as “toxic masculinity” or sexism, and poor mental health conditions in men. The research, undertaken by researchers from Indiana University Bloomington and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, was published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology in November 2016.
The meta-analysis combined data from 78 studies and comprised 19,453 participants. It focused on the association between mental health and 11 traits which conform to social norms regarding masculinity. These 11 traits include: the craving to win, need to be in control of emotions, taking risks, violence, domination, sexually promiscuous behavior, self-reliance, preeminence of work, power over women, treating homosexuals with disdain, and pursuing status. Three broad categories of mental health outcomes were focused upon: adverse mental health, positive mental health and help-seeking behavior for mental health issues.
Certain masculine traits are linked to poor mental health outcomes
Although participants demonstrated overall negative mental health outcomes as a result of conformity with masculine traits, the association was found to be most consistent for self-reliance, sexual promiscuity and power over women. According to Y. Joel Wong, associate professor of counseling psychology at Indiana University and lead author of the study, the traits of playboy and power over women are not only associated with masculinity; they demonstrate sexist behavior. What makes such behavior more harmful now is that society’s attitudes have transformed over the years to increasingly consider them intolerable.
Men with traits of self-reliance choose to deal with their own problems and avoid seeking others’ help. According to Wong, self-reliance is an obsolete concept in an interdependent and interconnected world where people have to frequently depend on others. He also puts forth the argument that men who adhere to such masculine behaviors will be socially restricted since sexist attitudes are likely to face a backlash and people may avoid men who display such behavior.
According to the study, preeminence of work did not show a significant relationship with any of the mental health outcomes. It probably reflects the complex influence of work on men’s well-being. Although an extreme focus on work can cause damage to an individual’s health and the maintenance of close social bonds with others, work is an extremely important source of identity for many people.
These masculine traits are associated with not only increased mental health problems such as stress and depression but also with feelings of loneliness, hostility and a lack of social bonding. Wong believes that the unhealthy relationship between such men and the women in their lives may be the chief reason for the negative mental health outcomes. In another study, Wong and his colleagues showed that men who believe that advancement of women they are closely linked to will lead to loss of their own rights share problematic relationships with their counterparts and suffer from poor mental health.
Persuading men with sexist traits to seek help can be a significant challenge
Men with sexist traits are less likely to seek help, and this can be a significant challenge for mental health professionals, family and friends. As per Wong, supportive tactics are available which can prompt such men to seek help. A male role model (such as a relative or friend who is held in high regard) who has been through similar counseling can be approached for help. Alternatively, coaching or mentoring, which is less stigmatized, can be used instead of counseling or psychotherapy. Online counseling or self-help books are less intrusive and secretive, and are considered good starting points for treatment.
If you know someone who is suffering from mental health problems, contact the California Mental Health Helpline for guidance on the best options for mental health treatment in California. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-559-3923 or chat online with our experts to get advice on some of the finest mental health centers in California offering evidence-based treatment programs.