Something that has become increasingly bothersome to me, and I’m sure many of you, are the stigmas that society has put in place. Whether the stigmas affect those struggling with mental health, those who do not identify as a binary gender or sexuality, or those of a particular ethnic group, nationality, or religion, society has a way of creating these cookie-cutter-type images of what we are supposed to look and act like. Even though these images are near-to-impossible to recreate, we are often brutally shamed for not meeting these expectations.
We see this in visual ad campaigns where female models are stick thin, oversexualized, and often being dominated by men, and where male models are tall, dark, and rugged, often sporting a six-pack and bulging muscles. We see this when people of the LGBTQIA community are bullied and murdered for not dressing like the gender they were assigned at birth, for publicly holding hands with someone of the same sex, and for simply not having the desire to hold anyone’s hand. We see this when people are attacked both verbally and physically for identifying with a particular religion, when people of a certain race or ethnicity are targeted and not given the same opportunities as others simply based on the color of their skin, and we see it when people who happen to look similar to whomever is labeled as “the enemy” at that point in time are attacked. And as we know, we see this when the topic of mental health is pushed further and further down on the agenda and people are told that their conditions are “all in their heads,” that their dire needs cannot be met because “other people have it worse,” and that it’s “not as bad” as a physical health condition.
Unfortunately, as we all know, these stigmas can all have dangerous side-effects. They result in catastrophically high rates of violence against marginalized and minoritized groups, and the LGBTQIA community. They result in violent acts driven by hate and ignorance, and as we’ve seen in recent news, our country has had no shortage of this. (Not to mention that “LGBTQ individuals are almost 3 times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition such as major depression or generalized anxiety disorder.”) They also result in women and men developing eating disorders, dangerously low levels of self-esteem, and high rates of suicide and destructive behavior.
The reason I’m writing this is because I recently read, “Getting better: Experts talk men, mental health & masculinity,” an article by The New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung, a German newspaper in Texas. While I found the article to be empowering for men who are struggling with their mental health, I couldn’t help but feel bothered again by gender stereotypes and their connection to mental health. Mind you, I don’t have a problem with the actual article; I thought everything was wonderfully said and felt that it was supportive of men who have a mental health condition. I sincerely hope men who are struggling can read this article and not feel ashamed for what they’re experiencing. My problem is with the negative, hurtful, and damaging societal stigmas that are constantly shaming people for whatever their truths may be.
Robin Blackburn, author of the article, writes about the “additional hurdles to discussing and seeking help for mental health problems” that men suffer due to the fear of being viewed as weak, incompetent, and other feelings that reflect society’s designated non-masculine behavior. Society consistently drills into our heads that men should be the epitome of strength – they must be physically and emotionally strong, be dominant in any and all relationships and must hide their vulnerable side, only reflecting masculine emotions such as anger and aggression.
Mental health statistics show that approximately six million men struggle with depression every year. Chief executive officer of the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute tells Blackburn that, “when we talk about masculinity, there are three hallmarks: the first is strength, the second is responsibility – being a provider for your family – and the third is not being a woman. Men don’t want to be perceived as feminine.”
It’s this fear of being viewed as feminine and weak that society has instilled into men that inhibits them from seeking treatment for their mental health condition. And it is this fear that has resulted in men dying by suicide 3.5x more often than women. Speaking as a woman, this infuriates me; not only is there nothing wrong with being female, there is nothing wrong with struggling with your mental health. What is wrong is being shamed and not getting the help that you deserve.
The societal stigma that tells us we must fit into a binary, cookie-cutter sexuality, gender, and style of dress, is the same stigma that tell us that feeling weak and incompetent are “feminine” and belong to females, and that feeling strong and responsible are “masculine” and belong to males. It is the same societal stigma that makes us feel lesser of a person if we can’t find the strength to get out of bed in the morning, if we hear voices that aren’t there, and if hanging out with friends at the movies sends us into a panic attack.
What we need to do is put an end to societal stigmas. We have to free ourselves from the chains society has shackled us to and start living authentic lives and seek help. If we join together and use our voice, we can make a difference. That power is inside of you, I know it is.
So please, do not judge someone based off of their race, ethnicity, culture, religion, gender, sexuality, or mental state. Do not hate. If someone tells you that they’re struggling, do not invalidate them. Do not tell them that they are making it up, or that they are weak, or a “wuss.” Do not use derogatory language against them. Do not contribute to the societal stigmas. Instead, educate yourself and others. Be an advocate and an ally. Even if you cannot relate to what they are going through, support them. Tell them that you believe them. Practice and preach love rather than hate.
If you are a male struggling with your mental health (whether you fit the binary gender or not), know that you are not alone. You are not weak, incompetent, or any less of a human for struggling, despite what society may be telling you. Do not be ashamed for what you are feeling; there are other people out there just like you who understand what you’re going through.
And to everyone else out there who is either struggling or knows someone who is: mental health knows no gender. Mental health affects everyone, whether you fit a binary gender or sexuality or not. Whether you are white, black, Asian, Latinx, or any other race or ethnicity. Whether you are Christian, Muslim, Atheist, or any other religion or faith. It does not discriminate. You are not the things society says you are. You are strong, brave, resilient, and you have the strength in you to fight.
Always remember that you are not alone.
You are loved.
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