There are a lot of conversations happening about mental health lately, particularly after the Parkland High School shooting in Florida. Why do people commit such atrocities? The answers to that question are extremely complicated, but there’s one important factor we can explore: gender.
Perpetrators of mass shootings are overwhelmingly male. Many have a history of domestic violence, social withdrawal, and extreme anger. Though there is no one answer to why someone can snap, in this case it may be helpful to examine the idea of toxic masculinity and its relationship to mental health. Because it matters to all men, not just the bad guys.
Toxic masculinity is a psychological term that refers to the mixture of gender roles, learned behaviors, and biological impulses that cause men to behave in destructive or problematic ways. Much of it is tied to age-old expectations of men to hide their emotions, be overly aggressive or dominant, and to never show weakness.
It is important to note that masculinity itself – even traditional masculinity – is not bad by default. It becomes a problem when someone feels coerced or forced into accepting those norms despite their wishes.
Toxic masculinity can have serious effects on a man’s mental health. Boys who suffer trauma may never work through it, carrying its pain into adulthood. Men can feel enraged or inadequate when they fail to meet these social norms, resulting in depression and substance abuse.
The risk goes beyond merely personal health. Enraged or unhealthy men commit more domestic violence and engage in sexual promiscuity, raising the risk of STD transmission. A stoic man may also withhold vital medical information from his doctor or spouse, raising his risk of dying from a preventable disease.
So what do we do? Toxic masculinity cannot be treated, because it is not a condition; instead we must focus on mitigating its effects, especially in younger men. Flexible gender roles are also important. In families or cultures that honor traditional gender roles, it is still vital that men can express their emotions in a healthy way.
For adults, it is best to focus on symptoms. Anger management courses, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other traditional treatments can help ease the effects of pervasive, toxic masculinity. Most important are other positive male figures: a co-worker, a friend, an older parent.
Toxic masculinity is a pervasive force that affects us all. Men deserve support, and our boys deserve a society that loves them and raises them well. We all have a role. How will you help?
If you need help with anger management, self-esteem, substance abuse, or other male mental health issues, Azevedo Family Psychology can help. Contact us today, and let’s create a life worth celebrating.