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

These Are 4 Proven Ways That Vaccines Cause Autism

Stock up on those essential oils.


Let's just start with the first (and main) point.

1. They don't.

Susan in your anti-vax group is not a scholarly source (despite her hours and hours of Google research).

2. But in case you still believe Susan...

Maybe you'll believe Autism Speaks who says, "Scientists have conducted extensive research over the last two decades to determine whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The results of this research is clear: Vaccines do not cause autism."

3. And if Autism Speaks still didn't convince you...

Feel free to take a look at this comprehensive list of studies that all say that there is no relationship between vaccines such as the MMR vaccination and the development of autism.

4. But here's what you should know...

There have been a few studies lately that have shown that autism develops in utero aka before a baby is even born AND before a baby can even receive vaccinations.

Vaccinations have prevented COUNTLESS deaths and illnesses. Vaccination rates are continuing to fall and do you know what that means? Measles will make its way back. Whooping cough will come back. Rubella, mumps, and polio will come back and there will be no way to stop it.

So, now that you know that vaccines do not cause autism, you're welcome to go tell Susan from your anti-vax group that as well as tell her that the Earth isn't flat. But, don't forget to mention it to her that her essential oils and organic foods are not keeping her children safe from the measles or tuberculosis.

Vaccinate your children. And, besides, even IF vaccinations caused autism, wouldn't you rather have a child with a developmental disorder rather than a child who died from the measles?

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

Being Sick In College Is A Real Struggle

Being sick in college is definitely not as fun as having a sick day in middle school or high school.


Something that I have had to deal with multiple times these past two semesters is being sick while in school. It can be a real pain especially depending on what type of sickness it is. I have had tonsillitis, mono, and I'm pretty sure I also had the flu.

Being at school and away from home can make being sick worse because there is nobody to take of you such as your parents. Another thing is having to make the decision to get the rest that your body needs in order to feel better or staying on top of your assignments to avoid falling behind. My parents will always tell me to get a good night's sleep so my body can feel better the next day. However, sometimes I will feel more stress if my work isn't getting done and I feel like I'm falling behind and leaving things to get done in the last minute.

Currently, I am sick now and the past few days haven't been easy, but I still attended all my classes so I wouldn't miss any material or assignments that were given. I usually end up feeling the worst at night when trying to fall asleep, and by that time the doctors are not present at the student health center. Even though my health is important I usually don't like taking too much time out of my day to go to the health center to see a doctor. Some days I don't really have much free time before the evening.

I don't believe I have been over-exerting myself, but I don't want to just stay in my bed all day and sleep, even though that may be what is best for me. Most professors will be understanding if I email them and provide them a doctor's note as well, but I also just got back from a conference where I had to miss two days of classes next week.

I have been trying to keep hydrated so that way my body can fight the sickness. Also, I have been told if you stay hydrated you can flush the virus out of your body quicker.

Eating can also be a pain when you have a sore throat, for the past couple of days I have tried to have some soup in order to help. Most meals I would have to force myself to eat something of substance in order to give my body some type of energy in order to get through the day. It's also never fun not being able to breathe out of your nostrils. If it wasn't my nose being stuffed, then it would be constantly runny so there was no winning that battle.

Looking back, I probably should have done a bit more work over spring break in order to get ahead in the case that something like this would happen. I wanted my break to be exactly that, a break. After not being home for a few months I just wanted some time off to relax.

Related Content

Facebook Comments