‘Men’s health and the internet’ was this year’s theme for Men’s Health Week, and we’re revisiting it for Men’s Mental Health Month. The internet has proved to be revolutionary and transformative for us as a society, but this doesn’t stop it from negatively affecting our mental health. Harmful stigmas and stereotypes surrounding masculinity and men’s mental health can be unwittingly pushed onto men online, causing them to not seek help when they’re struggling, which has proved to be fatal in many cases. Let’s look at the role of the internet and masculinity, and how we can raise awareness to normalise talking about men’s mental health.
Mental Health and Masculinity
For men under 50, suicide is the largest cause of death. In 2021, three quarters of the 5,583 suicides registered in England and Wales were men. Men’s mental health is clearly a huge conversation that needs addressing, and to do this, we need to understand how societal stigmas and portrayals of masculinity through the internet and online platforms affects mental health.
In recent years, the discussions around gendered norms and stereotypes in the media has arguably been targeted towards women, such as Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ and Nike’s ‘Dream Crazier’ campaigns. Brands have worked (and are still working) to shatter outdated stereotypes and support the belief that it’s okay to embrace physical differences and appearances and to challenge traditional gender roles. For men, however, the representations on the internet appear to be somewhat behind.
In a study conducted by CALM and Instagram, the results showed that 48% of men struggle with body image. When we’re constantly bombarded with unhealthy comparisons of beauty standards, the internet can have detrimental effects on mental health. Both physically and emotionally, the advertising of masculinity and what it means to be a man is often still constructed through the ideals of ‘toxic masculinity’, the notion that men need to look and act tough and show no emotion. Being self-sufficient, brave, tough, and emotionally strong are typically male characteristics and like all characteristics, may come naturally to some people. However, if they are broadcasted as the only type of way to act and behave with no alternative options, mental health can suffer as a result, such as:
- Higher risk for suicide
- Increased feelings of loneliness
- Increased substance and alcohol use
Thanks to the internet and social media, portrayals of toxic masculinity are constantly at our fingertips through our mobile phones. Unattainable characteristics, partnered with a stigmatised culture of men not talking about their mental health, provides the internet with the potential to become a breeding ground for dangerous messaging to be spread. This has been supported by the recent popularity of the self-proclaimed ‘misogynistic influencer’ Andrew Tate, who, amongst many other things, was criticised for controversially claiming that depression doesn’t exist and for his views on how ‘real men’ should act to millions of followers. Without positive representations of masculinity for men and boys to connect with, it’s easy for the internet to become a dark place for men’s mental health. With this in mind, here are a few ways to help break stigmas around masculinity that can support mental health:
- Encourage men to express emotions freely
- Encourage compassion and kindness towards themselves and others
- Listen to experiences and validate feelings
- Check-in with male friends and loved ones
These actions support the understanding that men don’t have to conform to typical male values or toxic masculinity. By encouraging men to express emotions and demonstrate compassion towards one another, we can start to reshape attitudes and understandings towards men’s mental health. However, we know this can be easier said than done, especially when it comes to having conversations about mental health.
Talking About Mental Health with the Men in Our Lives
78% of people in the UK tell friends and family we’re “fine”, even if we’re struggling with our mental health. For men who have been taught to not show emotions, the thought of having a conversation about mental health can seem even more scary. Here are some ways to help start up those chats.
- Ask twice – The power of asking twice may seem small but can be mighty. Rather than stopping at the initial ‘how are you?’, try saying “no, really, is everything okay?”. This lets the other person know that you’re here and ready to listen when they’re ready
- Don’t wait for the perfect moment – Starting these conversations can be daunting, so why not try a walk in the park or at a café? Having something else to do at the same time can ease off the pressure and make you both feel more comfortable to open up
- Talk about yourself – Whether it’s a recent worry or a self-care activity you enjoy, sharing something can make it clear that this is a safe and non-judgemental space
- It doesn’t have to be face to face – Although some people may find this the best way to communicate, we’re all different. Checking in via text or a phone call can go a long way
The importance of talking about men’s mental health has been powerfully and poignantly portrayed by Norwich City Football Club in their campaign for World Mental Health Day last month. The video focuses on two men at a football match, with the message that spotting the signs of someone suffering with their mental health isn’t always straightforward. Understanding that emotions are healthy is an important step in normalising conversations about our mental health, and these emotions can be conveyed in different ways. Check out the video here – https://www.skysports.com/watch/video/sports/football/12981797/norwich-city-launch-powerful-video-on-world-mental-health-day
Help and Support
Campaigns like the one delivered by Norwich City shows the power the internet has to spread important and progressive messaging that can help reshape attitudes around men’s mental health for the better. If this campaign has affected you or you would like to access support for your mental health, these websites provide advice and support that you can access today:
- CALM – access their free helpline on 0800 58 58 58 from 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year
- Samaritans – open 24/7, 365 days a year, call their helpline on 116 123 or text SHOUT to 85258
- Men’s Health Forum – this organisation provides information, services and treatment to help men and boys live longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives
Despite its negative impacts, the internet has the power to challenge stigmas and stereotypes around men’s mental health and reshape attitudes towards masculinity. Let’s all harness this power for good to drive positive change and support men’s mental health not just today, but every day.