Masculinity Masks Mental Illness

Masculinity Masks Mental Illness

Being a man doesn't constitute hiding your problems.

“Toughen up and be a man.”

As a kid who grew up in rural Alabama, this is a phrase I have heard throughout my entire life, especially as a teenager and young adult. Men aren’t supposed to be fragile. Men aren’t supposed to display their emotions, especially when those emotions are because of a mental illness.

When I entered college, I learned more about mental illness than I did spending 18 years with a mother diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

In the Journal of Mental Health, Patrick Corrigan discusses that college is the first time that many people deal with a mental illness. College is a delicate balance between managing absolute freedom with your social life, and the intense workload of full-time class schedule. Not to discredit the challenges of grade school, but college is the first real taste of the “adult world” for many students-- these newfound stresses cause of a variety of emotional responses, and mentally, each person responds differently to this experience. Mental illnesses affect how someone’s mind and body deal with stress: bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, ADD, ADHD and many more display their first signs in an individual under stress.

Associated with mental illness is a social stigma. The problem of this stigma is that people are less likely to “come out” about having a mental illness because of the negative stereotypes associated with having any variety of mental illness, which I believe are worsened by how mental illness is portrayed in the media we consume. Jessie Quintero Johnson finds in her study of mental illness stereotypes in the media that there is “an underlying concern about the ability to differentiate the mentally ill from other people” because of the “stereotypic attributes including violence and anger, social problems, and childlike qualities” portrayed by television and film characters.

Although we may not think the media creates that strong of an influence of our perceptions of mental illness, these potentially media-influenced stigmas inhibit the ability for college students to talk about their challenges with a mental illness. This particularly affects males, because as seen in Corrigan’s study, men are less likely to participate in discussions about mental illnesses: only 36.1% of the study’s demographic identified as a male. Why is this?

Samantha DeLenardo’s study on male varsity players begins to hint towards why talking about mental illness, and thus seeking out help for mental illness, is difficult for men — conforming to masculine norms. Much like I have been told my entire life, the “suck it up, you are a man” attitude of the stereotypical masculine man points to something called the “pain principle,” where men “deny their authentic physical or emotional needs and develop health problems as a result.”

As college men, in the stages of becoming a “grown man with a job and responsibilities,” we are increasingly obligated to “perform” the understood masculine identity of numbing our emotions for the greater good of work production and social acceptance. While all college students feel the pressure to perform as adults, theoretically college men may experience more of this pressure because of the gender stereotype of being a breadwinner. We are told we shouldn’t spend time on addressing whether or not we may have a mental illness because that time could be better used for work or extracurricular activities. Multiple studies support the idea that the suicide rate in rural areas, where this performative masculinity is a traditional standard, is almost twice as high as in urban areas.

People can’t manage a mental illness when they can’t talk about having one. People can’t talk about having a mental illness when they are told they’re not supposed to talk about it. Talking about mental illness doesn’t have to challenge all gender norms, but it does involve taking a critical perspective on why we act the way we do. Do we act a certain way to avoid confrontation with others, or confrontation with ourselves? That is the unanswered question.


Corrigan, P. W., Kosyluk, K. A., Markowitz, F., Brown, R. L., Conlon, B., Rees, J., & ... Al-Khouja, M. (2016). Mental illness stigma and disclosure in college students. Journal Of Mental Health, 25(3), 224-230. doi:10.3109/09638237.2015.1101056

Delenardo, S., & Terrion, J. (2014). Suck it up: Opinions and attitudes about mental illness stigma and help-seeking behaviour of male varsity football players. Canadian Journal Of Community Mental Health, 33(3), 43-56. doi:10.7870/cjcmh-2014-023

Quintero Johnson, J. M., & Riles, J. (2016). 'He Acted Like a Crazy Person': Exploring the Influence of College Students’ Recall of Stereotypic Media Representations of Mental Illness. Psychology Of Popular Media Culture, doi:10.1037/ppm0000121

Cover Image Credit: James Garcia- Unsplash

Popular Right Now

To The Person Who Feels Suicidal But Doesn't Want To Die

Suicidal thoughts are not black and white.

Everyone assumes that if you have suicidal thoughts that means you want to die.

Suicidal thoughts are thought of in such black and white terms. Either you have suicidal thoughts and you want to die, or you don't have suicidal thoughts and you want to live. What most people don't understand is there are some stuck in the gray area of those two statements, I for one am one of them.

I've had suicidal thoughts since I was a kid.

My first recollection of it was when I came home after school one day and got in trouble; and while I was just sitting in the dining room I kept thinking, “I wonder what it would be like to take a knife from the kitchen and just shove it into my stomach." I didn't want to die, or even hurt myself for that matter. But those thoughts haven't stopped since.

I've thought about going into the bathroom and taking every single pill I could find and just drifting to sleep and never waking back up, I've thought about hurting myself to take the pain away, just a few days ago on my way to work I thought about driving my car straight into a tree. But I didn't. Why? Because even though that urge was so strong, I didn't want to die. I still don't, I don't want my life to end.

I don't think I've ever told anyone about these feelings. I don't want others to worry because the first thing anyone thinks when you tell them you have thoughts about hurting or killing yourself is that you're absolutely going to do it and they begin to panic. Yes, I have suicidal thoughts, but I don't want to die.

It's a confusing feeling, it's a scary feeling.

When the depression takes over you feel like you aren't in control. It's like you're drowning.

Every bad memory, every single thing that hurt you, every bad thing you've ever done comes back and grabs you by the ankle and drags you back under the water just as you're about the reach the surface. It's suffocating and not being able to do anything about it.

The hardest part is you never know when these thoughts are going to come. Some days you're just so happy and can't believe how good your life is, and the very next day you could be alone in a dark room unable to see because of the tears welling up in your eyes and thinking you'd be better off dead. You feel alone, you feel like a burden to everyone around you, you feel like the world would be better off without you. I wish it was something I could just turn off but I can't, no matter how hard I try.

These feelings come in waves.

It feels like you're swimming and the sun is shining and you're having a great time, until a wave comes and sucks you under into the darkness of the water. No matter how hard you try to reach the surface again a new wave comes and hits you back under again, and again, and again.

And then it just stops.

But you never know when the next wave is going to come. You never know when you're going to be sucked back under.

I always wondered if I was the only one like this.

It didn't make any sense to me, how did I think about suicide so often but not want to die? But I was thinking about it in black and white, I thought I wasn't allowed to have those feelings since I wasn't going to act on them. But then I read articles much like this one and I realized I'm not the only one. Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, and my feelings are valid.

To everyone who feels this way, you aren't alone.

I thought I was for the longest time, I thought I was the only one who felt this way and I didn't understand how I could feel this way. But please, I implore you to talk to someone, anyone, about the way you're feeling; whether it be a family member, significant other, a friend, a therapist.

My biggest mistake all these years was never telling anyone how I feel in fear that they would either brush me off because “who could be suicidal but not want to die," or panic and try to commit me to a hospital or something. Writing this article has been the greatest feeling of relief I've felt in a long time, talking about it helps. I know it's scary to tell people how you're feeling, but you're not alone and you don't have to go through this alone.

Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, your feelings are valid, and there are people here for you, you are not alone.

If you're thinking about hurting yourself please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit to live chat with someone. Help it out there and you are not alone.

Cover Image Credit: BengaliClicker

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

I Joined WW Freestyle And Here Are 10 Ways It's Positively Affected My Life

Healthy Habits = Happy Tummy


I know its a stereotypical New Years resolution, but this year I took myself seriously and decided to join WW Freestyle. It is a great program and 100% worth the price, which ranges from $3-$15/month. My parents and older sister have been doing it for a few years now so I decided to hop on the weight loss train.

It's probably the best decision I have made this year. It's not even the end of January but I feel more confident than ever, but that's not all!

Here are ten things WW Freestyle has done for me...

1. I eat MORE than I did before!


And not just fruits and veggies!

Before WW, I was eating two meals a day, sometimes one. I thought that would help me lose weight, but if anything I gained. It was hard and I tried every "one special trick" in the book, but nothing worked.

Now I get X amount of daily points and I find someday's I'm looking for more food to use up all my points (which is very important). Not only do I get daily points, I get BONUS/weekly points that have to be used by the end of the week, so if I want to indulge or splurge, I can! Sweet treats here I come!

2. I look in the mirror with confidence!


I only joined two weeks ago and I already feel more confident and beautiful, and I haven't even lost much weight yet! Just the idea that I am on my way to a healthier body inside and out gives me a boast of much needed self-confidence.

3. Its teaching me healthy habits.


Before choosing to just swing by Starbucks or McDonalds I now think, "do I have points for that?" and since I can't check my phone while driving, I then decide it'd be better to just go home and eat a hearty and healthy dinner.

And hey! If I do have the points you can best bet I'll be indulging in some chicken nuggets and fries!

4. I've become part of a new, amazing community


With the 6-month package I purchased, I get to attend weekly meetings! They are such a great support group and the leader of the group is amazing! It's a no judgement zone and even if you gained weight, its okay to share because its a learning and growing experience.

The environment of the meetings is so welcoming. And even if you just get the digital package, there is an online community as well that you can be a part of.

Everyone there is on the same or similar journey as you and the success stories keep you going because that could be you!

5. It's inspired me to exercise more!


I used to barely ever exercise. I sat around all day on my computer procrastinating exercise. But now! I'm back in the pool swimming laps and attending a free water aerobics class up at Eastern!

I swam for 6 years of my life and its great to be back in the water! It's bringing back my lung capacity which has significantly dropped over the years of no exercise and I can feel the difference in my breathing.

You should never diet alone! Always, always get some sort of exercise at least 3 times a week. The weight comes off faster and you feel so much better.

(My article about being on the swim team)

6. I walk a little taller

And its not just the new confidence! Losing weight makes for a better posture as well! As a girl with a weak lower back, WW Freestyle has helped me so much already.

7. I feel healthier


I can breathe easier, I'm lighter on my feet, and that's just for a start! I used to have really bad stomach/digestive issues but they haven't bothered me in the two weeks I've been a part of WW Freestyle.

Knock on wood, but I hope that they'll stop for good. Healthy habits = Happy Tummy.

8. I've started being more open to dating again


Four years of low self-esteem and not liking who I see in the mirror is rough. With this new confidence, I joined a few dating websites to get myself out there again and it's going great!

Look out world! Here I come!

9. I'm discovering new foods I've never had before!


Another great resource that comes with the WW Freestyle app is unlimited healthy recipes! I'm trying new foods for low points and feeling healthy and satisfied.

10. Its given me so much more energy!


If only two weeks with the program has given me this much energy I can't wait to reach my goal!

Related Content

Facebook Comments