The Pressure on Men to be Macho

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imageUnfortunately, when men are suffering from anxiety or depression they are often far less likely to see their GP than women. Men tend to be deeply conditioned, from boyhood, to believe that it’s socially unacceptable to be emotional. They can grow up feeling fiercely ashamed of crying, believing that tears are a display of weakness and failure. The depth of shame associated with feeling anxious or depressed, for a man, can be immeasurable. Sometimes men feel so hopelessly unable to meet social expectations and live up to the image of the tough, resilient male that they take their own lives.
As a society we need to break the trans- generational tendencies that result from what we traditionally teach boys about dealing with their feelings of sadness, fear and anxiety. Boys, as well as girls, need to know that it’s good to talk about their feelings and that it’s alright to cry when they feel sad or afraid. Repressed negative emotions can lead to mental ill health. Children also need to be taught about appropriate ways to express feelings of anger in order to avoid aggressive behaviour and bullying; especially boys, but girls as well. We need to educate parents, especially fathers, about gender equality so that emotionally, boys are brought up in the same way as girls.
Generally speaking men need help to change their perception of what it really means to be strong and courageous. They need help to understand that it’s manlier to face up to physical and emotional problems than to try to ignore them. However, the sense of shame and weakness associated with asking for help can be immense and should not be underestimated. It can take an enormous amount of courage for men to swim against the tide of what they perceive to be socially acceptable masculine behaviour.
Many men still believe that they should be the main breadwinner in the family. This sense of responsibility is an ingrained value drummed into them down through the generations and won’t easily change. Men tend to feel ashamed if they become unemployed or have to take a drop in income. This sometimes causes anxiety and depression.
Men are less likely to ask for help or talk about their worries than women. They believe they have to be seen to be strong and manly. Research has shown that most men don’t manifest depression, anxiety and stress in the same way as women. Men who are depressed or suffering from stress are more likely to turn to recreational drugs or alcohol, or to act out with aggressive behaviour, than to seek help.
When men choose to talk, they are more likely to talk to their wife or partner than to a friend or colleague. For this reason, married men, and those with long term partners, tend to suffer less from mental ill health than single men. Emotional wellbeing is known to be directly associated with good physical health and so men with long term partners tend to live longer than single men, as do men with good social relationships. Men who are in a stable relationship and have a partner to confide in are thought to experience an increased sense of wellbeing; it is known that they are less likely to have heart attacks and strokes. Men who come for therapy have often been encouraged to come by their female friends and colleagues, wives and partners.

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