Pressure is defined as a continuous force exerted on or against something; in the realm of pressure, societal pressure is the greatest of all. The various forms of pressure men face in every stage of their lives are extremely influential on how men and women alike come to detrimentally define masculinity, with significant effects upon, and social consequences for, men. Some detrimental effects in need of addressing are the difficulties in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses in men.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that in 2017, the past-year prevalence of major depressive episodes among U.S. adults was 5.3% for males, compared to 8.7% for females. For adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17, the statistics were 6.8% for males and 20% for females. Assuming that everyone referenced is cisgender, it seems that, at least numerically speaking, women experience more cases of mental illnesses than men, however, suicide statistics tell a different, much darker story. Disaggregated by gender, suicide rates among men were at 22.4 cases per 100,000, compared with 6.1 cases per 100,000 for women, both for the year of 2017. These statistics question how accurately depression, and other mental illnesses leading to suicidal ideation, are being reported among men. The discrepancies in reporting suggest that various obstacles prevent men from reporting their mental health conditions, among these being cultural and societal factors.
Modern ideas of masculinity are firmly rooted in history. For instance, historically, men have taken the role of “breadwinners” of the household, consequently encouraging women to marry men that can provide and protect. This expectation for men to unilaterally support their families is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain in the modern day, partially evidenced by the necessary rise of women in the workforce. When society is changing, even in a positive direction, but cultural values of masculinity stay the same, it puts unfair pressure on men to try to comply. This expectation can also restrict the cultural freedom of men pursuing careers that are not historically deemed masculine or financially stable, examples including the arts and hospitality/service industries. When not given social support to follow the desired career path, mental health issues are more likely to occur. In addition, it is not culturally considered problematic when men sacrifice time with family excessively in order to fulfill work commitments. In fact, men are socially expected to work long hours; some are even applauded for it. Unfortunately, this practice is detrimental and can inadvertently degrade familial relationships, specifically between fathers and children; this relationship is vital in a child’s formative years and can contribute to mental health problems for the father and child in the future.
And what has become the expected, if detrimental, social duties of men, shift into the accepted, attractive attributes women look for when choosing a partner. These pressures then become part of the societal conscience, feedbacking through entertainment such as film and television, where the male protagonists often exhibit unhealthy levels and types of emotional behavior.
When such negative expectations and pressures exist, the social order will lack appropriate outlets for men to speak about their mental health struggles. Coming forward with such struggles will continue to be considered weak, vulnerable and socially unacceptable in cultures that value behavioral and emotional stoicism in men. As a society, we need to be more aware of the constraints and demands we put on men, how they respond to these pressures, and how this detrimentally affects the rest of society.