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

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If You've Ever Been Called Overly-Emotional Or Too Sensitive, This Is For You

Despite what they have told you, it's a gift.

Emotional: a word used often nowadays to insult someone for their sensitivity towards a multitude of things.

If you cry happy tears, you're emotional. If you express (even if it's in a healthy way) that something is bothering you, you're sensitive. If your hormones are in a funk and you just happen to be sad one day, you're emotional AND sensitive.

Let me tell you something that goes against everything people have probably ever told you. Being emotional and being sensitive are very, very good things. It's a gift. Your ability to empathize, sympathize, and sensitize yourself to your own situation and to others' situations is a true gift that many people don't possess, therefore many people do not understand.

Never let someone's negativity toward this gift of yours get you down. We are all guilty of bashing something that is unfamiliar to us: something that is different. But take pride in knowing God granted this special gift to you because He believes you will use it to make a difference someday, somehow.

This gift of yours was meant to be utilized. It would not be a part of you if you were not meant to use it. Because of this gift, you will change someone's life someday. You might be the only person that takes a little extra time to listen to someone's struggle when the rest of the world turns their backs.

In a world where a six-figure income is a significant determinant in the career someone pursues, you might be one of the few who decides to donate your time for no income at all. You might be the first friend someone thinks to call when they get good news, simply because they know you will be happy for them. You might be an incredible mother who takes too much time to nurture and raise beautiful children who will one day change the world.

To feel everything with every single part of your being is a truly wonderful thing. You love harder. You smile bigger. You feel more. What a beautiful thing! Could you imagine being the opposite of these things? Insensitive and emotionless?? Both are unhealthy, both aren't nearly as satisfying, and neither will get you anywhere worth going in life.

Imagine how much richer your life is because you love other's so hard. It might mean more heartache, but the reward is always worth the risk. Imagine how much richer your life is because you are overly appreciative of the beauty a simple sunset brings. Imagine how much richer your life is because you can be moved to tears by the lessons of someone else's story.

Embrace every part of who you are and be just that 100%. There will be people who criticize you for the size of your heart. Feel sorry for them. There are people who are dishonest. There are people who are manipulative. There are people who are downright malicious. And the one thing people say to put you down is "you feel too much." Hmm...

Sounds like more of a compliment to me. Just sayin'.

Cover Image Credit: We Heart It

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Buying New Clothes Every Month Has Been The Key To Helping Me Become Happy With My Body Again

Loving my body in new outfits has boosted my self image so much.


Being body-positive has been really hard for me to do throughout 2019, despite there being an overwhelming surge in body-positivity around me, whether through my friends and family or YouTube. I look in the mirror and what I see is someone I want to make a jean size or two smaller like in the past. That being said, I've slowly been coming around to accepting the body I have now, instead of bashing it constantly. A key way I've come to accept the body I'm in now is through buying myself something new every month, like a new T-shirt or a pair of jeans or sneakers that help me see myself in a positive light. When I'm in a new outfit, I feel invincible. I don't think about how pudgy my stomach is, or about the hair I have growing in random places, like my neck or on my nose (yes, not just in, but ON too).

My bank account tends to suffer as of recently because of this, but it's worth it when I can genuinely feel good in what I am wearing every day. I like to wake up and think about how many outfits I can put together, ready to post my #OOTD for Snapchat without caring what anyone thinks. I've let social media dictate how I feel about myself more than I care to admit. I see how perfect all the models are in everything they're wearing from brands I know and love, yet when I try the same thing on, it's a whole different ugly story.

I don't enjoy trying things on to avoid the shame I feel when things don't fit me right, or if something that I thought would flatter me actually makes me look like a sack of potatoes. Instagram has really hurt my body image a lot — enough to make me delete it for a week after one post sent me spiraling. Going through those bumps made me finally realize it's not my fault if something doesn't fit. Sizes range depending on the item, it's the clothing items fault, not mine. Now that I see that, it's easier to brush off something not fitting me as it should. I know my size very well in the stores I frequent the most, so it's easier for me to pick out things I know will look good and not have to worry about the sizing issue.

Buying yourself something new is not something you should limit to every few months or longer. You shouldn't be afraid to go out of your comfort zone price wise every once and a while either. Coupons exist, stories always offer you them when you first sign up to receive emails and even texts. You can be crafty and still get a high price item for less. If you treat yourself to cheap things, you won't feel half as good as you want to. Granted, sticking to a limit is important but there's no shame in going over the limit every once and a while.

I love shopping as much as I love country music and writing short stories — a lot. Yes, I get yelled at almost every time I get something new. I need to save my money for important things, like for my sorority or for medical issues that could suddenly arise, or for utilities at my house next year off campus.

However, my mental well-being is not something I can ignore.

I can't push the good feelings aside to save 30 or 40 bucks a month. I don't want to feel as low as I've felt about myself anymore. I'm tired of feeling sad or angry at who I am, and I want to learn how to accept myself as I am. Buying myself something new, like clothes, is what offers a positive light to view myself under.

Whether you treat yourself to dinner at your favorite restaurant, or to face masks, or to a new movie when it comes out — don't be afraid to do it. Put yourself first and you'll realize your worth and how much you've been ignoring it in the face of poor confidence.

My confidence isn't back up to where it used to be, but it's getting there.

It may not be the most cash efficient method of self-love, but my body positivity is better than it was a few months ago. Aerie and American Eagle have really helped me become happier with my body, and I can't thank them enough for being more inclusive for people like me who are learning to love themselves again in a new body.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel for all of us hoping to promote our own body positivity, and it could all start with a simple purchase from your favorite store after you read this.

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