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What is toxic masculinity exactly?

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There continues to be a stigma around mental health and mental health care, but there is a particular stigma in regards to men’s mental health. The majority of mental health concerns are not mediated by gender and can be experienced by any gender, so why are there barriers for men when recognizing and seeking help for mental health? There are many factors that can contribute to this, but toxic masculinity can play a strong role in this.

Toxic masculinity is a term used to describe the aspects of masculinity that align with negative behaviours and values, such as aggression, violence, dominance, and callousness. These traits are connected in the traditional values of masculinity: strength, power, control, confidence, and independence, but are taken to the extreme. If these parts of masculinity can be toxic, why do they exist? There are strong societal norms for gender to be expressed a certain way which is implicitly and explicitly taught. The expectations from family and friends can have a strong impact on men’s beliefs about how to be a man which can instill these masculine traits. Further, allowing behaviour based on gender expression (“boys will be boys”) and condemnation of gender expression that doesn’t seem to fit (“stop crying, are you a girl?”) encourage and perpetuate a masculine way of being for boys and men.

As it pertains to mental health, men are encouraged to be unemotional, both in terms of what emotions are acceptable to feel and to express. This can be connected to the belief that emotionality is tantamount to weakness, and to be masculine is to be strong. While toxic masculinity alone does not cause mental illness, it can certainly perpetuate it. To be able to express emotions to others can be helpful to process difficult experiences, but these masculine traits often prevent emotional help-seeking from family, friends and health professionals. The encouragement of men to be strong and independent leads to men trying to manage mental health concerns on their own, which can lead to damaging coping mechanisms like isolation or substance use.

To understand how men can shift out of toxic masculinity, check out this post

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Stronger Minds content is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to establish a standard of care with a reader, you should always seek the advice of your mental health professional, physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. If you think you may have a medical or mental health emergency, call your doctor, go to the nearest hospital emergency department, or call emergency services immediately. You should never disregard or delay seeking medical advice relating to treatment or standard of care because of information contained herein. Medical information changes constantly. Therefore the information herein should not be considered current, complete or exhaustive, nor should you rely on such information to recommend a course of treatment for you or any other individual. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.