Toxic Masculinity: Causing depression in men

by | Apr 14, 2023 | Articles, Depression, General Mental Health, Taboo & Breaking It, Wellbeing

“Man up!” “Boys don’t cry!” “Don’t be such a girl!” Sound familiar?  These are just a few of the toxically masculine insults that are proliferating within our current culture and society.  Men experience these types of sentiments daily. What’s worse, is so are young boys who are still incredibly impressionable, and are being conditioned en masse to adopt this toxic ideology. Toxic masculinity is by no means new terminology, though it has certainly come to the forefront of discussion as of late.  For those new to the idea, toxic masculinity refers to actions and behaviors that discourage a man from expressing his true emotions, other than anger and rage, while endeavoring to dominate over other people and situations (Iwamoto et al., 2018).  It is a highly repressive affliction that has been passed down through society, generation after generation.

Toxic masculinity has led to widespread depression among men and boys. Research indicates that 40% of men experience depression to some degree (Iwamoto et al., 2018), but even more alarming is that men comprise almost 80% of all deaths by suicide in the United States (CDC, 2023). Not all of these statistics are attributed to toxic masculinity; however, the prevalence and effects of toxic masculinity are certainly cause for alarm, and there is a need for serious discussion to generate large scale solutions to the issue.

Why toxic masculinity is harmful.

Society has often mandated that men act with unwavering composure.  Men are not to show pain, sadness, fatigue, or heaven forbid any form of weakness or vulnerability. Men have been told for eons to be pillars of “rigid independence” and to ask for help would be an open admission to failure or fragility (Iwamoto et al., 2018). Emotion, and its expression, has been deemed feminine, and to exhibit these behaviors would undermine this pseudo-masculine way of life.  This manner of living could not be more wrong or harmful.

Constant dismissal, emotional avoidance, and gender-definitive thought processes, taught to boys from an early age, is quite literally programming them for repression and emotional dysfunction later in life (Montero, 2022).  As time progresses, emotional dysfunction that goes untreated, or worse, is reinforced, has been known to lead to depression in men (Montero, 2022).  The unfortunate reality becomes that these maladapted men are role models for the new generation of boys, and so the cycle continues, and toxic masculinity continues its venomous onslaught. 

Toxic masculinity can be halted, but it requires self-awareness and emotional intelligence to do so.  Men and boys learn from each other; we pass the torch of masculinity from one generation to the next.  As such, it is vastly important that men pass down behaviors and ideals that serve to embolden and fortify a generation, not cause it harm, or impede its development.  Good role models, that exemplify healthy masculine traits, not only set the stage for proper development of boys into men, but also give boys a healthy sensibility.  It is this sensibility, whereby they may develop adequate coping mechanisms to battle adversity and depression later in their lives (Iwamoto et al., 2018).

Symptoms of depression in men.

         Men and women are fundamentally different in how they emote and subsequently behave; so, it stands to reason that the symptoms of depression would also present in a manner that would reflect this contrast. Men exhibit the following symptoms as a result of depression:

Eating disordersErectile dysfunction
FatigueFeeling sad/angry but exhibiting rage to maintain masculine appearances
Inability to perform daily tasks with previous quality or attentionIncreased irritability
Lack of concentrationDisinterest at work or with family
Lack of SleepSelf-medication with drugs and alcohol
Suicidal ideation 
(Montero, 2022)

In addition to the above list, a rather common symptom of depression that has been observed in men is over-working.  To distract themselves from the overwhelming burden of depression and their own repressed emotions, men will begin to dedicate even larger periods of time to their work or projects. To many, this may be observable as ambition, and for some it may be, however, it is more likely that this man is experiencing great pain that he wishes to diminish with the increased distraction from his work (Iwamoto et al.,2018).  This may be especially apparent if this man is seen drinking more often then he previously would, or if he begins self-medicating with drugs.  If you witness the men in your life exhibiting one or more of these symptoms it may be time to start a conversation.  Do so delicately, with respect for personal boundaries, and from a place of support, as confrontation may illicit a response that is either angry or defensive (Montero, 2022).

How do we do our part?

         To every problem there is always a solution, and this holds true when we speak with regards to combatting toxic masculinity. Even if you are not a man, there are things you can do to help put an end to toxic masculinity and the stigma surrounding depression in men:

  1. Sincerely encourage men to express themselves and their emotions in a healthy manner. You can do this by providing a safe and supportive environment where a man can be vulnerable without the fear of judgment or ridicule. This will require building mutual trust (Montero, 2022).
  2. Avoid the trivialization of depression in men. Depression is a very real and legitimate issue that a lot of people face, but as it pertains to men, do not tell them to “man up” or “just get over it.” This only serves to perpetuate the issue at hand; instead, provide compassion and support.  You would be surprised how some well placed words of encouragement and empathy can help to change someone’s mindset and outlook (Montero, 2022).
  3. Showing and telling boys that it is okay to cry and express their emotions in a constructive and healthy manner.  Discuss their emotions with them, and show them that communicating your emotions doesn’t have to result in an explosive outburst of rage and anger. Real expression of emotions creates a dialogue of empathy that serves all participants (Montero, 2022).

As a man, there is much you can do to help prevent and reverse the effects of toxic masculinity. Being a good role model and an example of healthy masculinity will do much to create lasting effects in other men and boys.  Our behaviors subconsciously, and automatically, grant permission to others to adopt the same behaviors and effect real change in the male population. The following are manners in which men can do their part and take accountability for each other:

  1. Be willing and open to accepting help from others, but also giving help to others. It is easy as a man to reject help because of perceived burden, but if help is extended accept it.  This is how compassion and empathy create genuine connection between people, and when we feel connected, rather than isolated, depression and anxiety are greatly reduced (Foss, 2022).
  2. Do your best to eliminate controlling behavior.  Not only is this an exhausting behavior to exhibit, but feeling threatened by the beliefs, opinions, and choices of others only reflects the insecurities that exist within you. Let people be who they are, and focus on your own growth and development (Foss, 2022).
  3. Perhaps the most important thing a man can do is to actually model healthy expression of a wide range of emotions. This will most likely feel uncomfortable at first, and require genuine courage, but creating a space where healthy expression and emotional intelligence can thrive is important as a means to teach others that there is more than just anger, irritability, and suffering in silent.  Everyone benefits when men are emotionally stable and are capable of healthy expression (Foss, 2022).

For the future…

Mental health is a buzz word in our current culture. Though it is getting more time and attention in the spotlight, we as a society still need to be doing a better job of providing information and resources to help remove the stigma surrounding mental health and treatment. This is no less true with regards to the plight men are faced with as toxic masculinity slithers its way through the ranks of boys and men.  Providing information is only half the battle, we also need to provide solutions and demonstrate those solutions by proactively using them to enrich our lives, and the lives of others. Men face greater scrutiny and criticism now more than in any other era, but not all men are the unwitting victims of toxic masculinity. It is up to men to take accountability for each other. We have a responsibility to show each other how to be better, do better, be mindful, be aware, and be masculine in a manner that honors the spirit of what it means to be a man.  Men are vital contributors to the framework and function of society, and to do any less than our best, to be our best, only serves to undermine our progress and perpetuate the ideology that men are aggressive, egotistical, and power hungry. Doing your part by adopting the solutions posed in this article is one way we can all work together to put an end to toxic masculinity.

~ Aaron Weiner

Aaron is a research based article writer for Breaking Taboo.  He is a massive proponent and advocate of mental health, and specializes in men’s mental health. He holds a psychology and business degree from Kendall College. Aaron is currently working on a number of psychology based self-help books that will be published later this year. His passion for helping others, and his immense desire to effect greater change in the world at large ring loudly from all of his work. 

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2023, January 9). Suicide Data and Statistics. Suicide Prevention. Retrieved April 2, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/suicide/suicide-data-statistics.html

Foss, K., MFT (2022, November 14). What is Toxic Masculinity and How it Impacts Mental Health. ADAA. Retrieved April 2, 2023, from https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/what-toxic-masculinity-and-how-it-impacts-mental

Iwamoto, D. K., PhD, Brady, J., Kaya, A., & Park, A. (2018, July 4). Masculinity and Depression: A Longitudinal Investigation of Multidimensional Masculine Norms Among College Men. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved April 2, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6199432/

Montero, H. A., MS,LMHC (2022, June 8). Depression in Men: The Cycle of Toxic Masculinity. Depression in Men. Retrieved April 2, 2023, from https://www.psycom.net/depression/depression-in-men/toxic-masculinity

more related articles

Hope for Treatment-Resistant Depression

Depression is a common and often debilitating mood disorder that affects millions. It is a significant global public health problem, and in the United States, 8.4% of adults and 17% of adolescents had at least one major depressive episode in 2020, with many of these...

Suicide: The Other Pandemic

For the majority of us, September marks the start of Autumn. A long-awaited season bringing brisk air, warm apple cider, and the beautiful turning of leaves. But we mustn’t forget. It is also a month dedicated to the cause of suicide awareness and prevention, hence,...

How To Support a Loved One Going Through Depression

With over 17 million American adults suffering from major depressive disorder (1), it’s not unlikely that you may know someone who is currently living with this condition. Although professional treatment is invaluable in helping depressed individuals recuperate and...

Is it Depression or ADHD? You Could Have Both

Both Depression and Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are very commonin our population. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH, 2021) shows statistics that theprevalence of the current adult population in the United States with ADHD is 4.4%; for...

Bipolar 1 Vs Bipolar 2, What’s the Difference?

Bipolar disorder is a severe chronic mental illness that affects millions of Americans today. It is a complex disease with various symptoms that can cause a multitude of issues for those that live with it. What makes bipolar disorder even more complicated is the fact...

Why Are Women More Susceptible To Depression?

Extensive research has revealed that one in eight women develop depression at some point in their lives, which is twice the rate of cases compared to men. (1) But why is that? What makes women more vulnerable to this condition? Before explaining the significance of...

Too Close to Home: Filipino Suicide and Depression

Many Asian Americans, especially Filipino Americans, struggle with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and suicide. In fact, young Filipina women experience greater suicide ideation (45.6%) compared to other minorities (Javier et. al 2018). However, despite...

Antidepressants: How Does It Treat Depression?

A Word on Pill Shaming             There are a number of reasons that prevent people from seeking, and ultimately receiving mental healthcare. Clearly, structural barriers contribute to these cases (i.e. some tangible lack of access to medicine). More subtle but no...

The Neuroscience of Depression

What is Depression?  One of the world’s leading causes of disability, depression is a mental illness that is frequently experienced with symptoms of dejected moods, disinterest, excessive self-criticism, and many others. Given the pervasiveness of depression as an...

How To Talk To Someone Struggling With Depression

There are many symptoms of depression, including loss of energy, loss of appetite, negative thoughts of death or self-harm, lack of motivation in school and at work, weight loss or gain, difficulty sleeping, feelings of worthlessness, negative mood, irrational...

4 Lesser Known (But Effective) Psychotherapies For Anxiety

What if I told you, anxiety was an epidemic. In fact, according to NAMI, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States. Over 40 million adults in the U.S. (19.1%) have an anxiety disorder.” Most people are treated with Cognitive...

3 Powerful Ways To Stop Anxiety Now

Let’s Get Started. Anxiety affects everyone on planet Earth, everywhere from San Jose, California to San Jose, Costa Rica. It’s a part of being alive. It’s part of the human experience. But, it doesn't have to be. At least, not to the extent it plagues most...

How to Cope with Anxiety During Covid-19

We are all living in a critical time right now. Whether we are one of the hundreds of thousands affected with COVID-19, a loved one of someone affected, a health professional at the front lines, or like the majority, at home or working an essential job, doing the most...

How Sleep Deprivation Can Increase Your Anxiety

Anxiety is a pervasive problem that can be difficult to diagnose and treat. People try everything from pharmaceutical remedies to therapy, natural remedies, supplements, meditation, and more. Some find relief from their anxiety, but others continue to struggle, no...

The Psychology of Addiction

  Addiction is described as a condition in which a person engages in the use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences. An addiction can...

Everything Can Be Addictive: Part 1

Blog Title: “Addicted” Means Everything After the death of my older brother who died from overdose to guaifenesin, also known as Mucinex, I was shocked and appalled to see how many people were uneducated as to what an addiction is, including the authorities and...

Rehab, Prison, or Death: Why Rehab Doesn’t Always Work

When you think of rehab, you probably think of those lavish centers advertised on day-time television or the late and great Amy Winehouse’s single Rehab, where she testifies she’ll never go back and there’s nothing she has to gain from sitting in therapy for 10 weeks....

Which is Better? Luxury Sober Living vs Government Funded Homes

Sober living homes are used for people who want to maintain abstinence from alcohol and drugs. It can be difficult to return to a home environment that is not drug and alcohol free. Sober livings create a supportive place for recovering addicts to live during their...

What is a Panic Attack?

What is a panic attack? How long do they last? Are they scary? A panic attack is psychological and is an overreaction of your adrenal system. A panic attack can happen within a moment’s notice. They occur because there is a sense of danger and your mind and body start...

May- Mental Health Awareness Month Multidimensional Awareness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Which means that there is a lot of extra focus on mental health, mental illness, and breaking the stigma surrounding these two very important topics. We use that word a lot- “awareness”, but so many people don’t fully understand...

Hope for Treatment-Resistant Depression

Depression is a common and often debilitating mood disorder that affects millions. It is a significant global public health problem, and in the United States, 8.4% of adults and 17% of adolescents had at least one major depressive episode in 2020, with many of these...

“Self Love” in the East VS west

“Self Love” has become one of the catchiest concepts being thrown around in Western society, a terminology seemingly present now everywhere we look; on billboards, all across our social media feeds, in meditation practices and therapy practices. It is now a popular...

Suicide: The Other Pandemic

For the majority of us, September marks the start of Autumn. A long-awaited season bringing brisk air, warm apple cider, and the beautiful turning of leaves. But we mustn’t forget. It is also a month dedicated to the cause of suicide awareness and prevention, hence,...

Somatization and Asking for Help: How Asian Populations Respond to Psychological Stress

The intricate mechanisms of the body alone, are quite remarkable; but once we add the functionalities of the mind to the mix, the body often succumbs to the mind’s agency in decision- making, be it conscious or sub-conscious. Although quite awesome and intricate to...

Getting Comfortable Outside of Your Comfort Zone

If you struggle with anxiety, depression, or self-doubt, you’ve likely struggled with stepping outside of your comfort zone. It makes sense - comfort zones lack variability - they are familiar, they are controllable, they are, well, comfortable. While we all deserve...

How To Support a Loved One Going Through Depression

With over 17 million American adults suffering from major depressive disorder (1), it’s not unlikely that you may know someone who is currently living with this condition. Although professional treatment is invaluable in helping depressed individuals recuperate and...

How to Live (and Thrive) with a Mental Illness

  Did you know: “More than 46 million Americans are living with a mental illness?” That’s nearly one in five U.S. adults (19% of the population). [1] So, what is mental illness? “Mental Illnesses are brain-based conditions that affect thinking, emotions, and...

Is it Depression or ADHD? You Could Have Both

Both Depression and Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are very commonin our population. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH, 2021) shows statistics that theprevalence of the current adult population in the United States with ADHD is 4.4%; for...

Why Are Women More Susceptible To Depression?

Extensive research has revealed that one in eight women develop depression at some point in their lives, which is twice the rate of cases compared to men. (1) But why is that? What makes women more vulnerable to this condition? Before explaining the significance of...