The Incredible Sulk: Why “Manning Up” Can Be Dangerous

By Carlos Po

My brother left for college this Saturday. My younger sister cried a bit, expressed how much she would miss him again and again, and repeatedly asked him when he’d be back to visit. She seemed utterly devastated by what she saw as a cornerstone of the family leaving the unit for good. And then there was me. Of course, I was a bit down that I wouldn’t have anyone to tell me about which teachers were chill, but for the most part, I didn’t have a strong reaction. In fact, I found it a bit unusual. Did I not react because I’m naturally a less emotional person than my sister? Or could there have been some other, deeper reason?

“I know a man ain’t supposed to cry/but these tears I can’t hold inside,” sings Marvin Gaye on “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Some people say that men don’t have feelings, but this is patently untrue. The truth is a bit more complicated. From birth, men are taught both by their parents and society that expressing emotion is wrong and “unmanly,” to contrast with the supposedly feminine ideals of emotional openness. Despite the fact that these gender stereotypes are outdated and, as we’ll see, potentially harmful, they persist to this day.

And what are the results of this lifelong conditioning? A study from St. Michael’s Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Science found that men with chronic physical conditions are 10% less likely than women to seek out mental health services. Psychologist John Vessey discovered that a full two thirds of all mental health visits were made by women. These findings suggest that men have some sort of mental barrier preventing them from seeking help.

Would James Bond lie on a couch for an hour and discuss his emotions with a therapist? Would Batman seek one-­on-­one counseling for post-­traumatic stress disorder? Would Indiana Jones ever go on a yearlong course of antidepressants? Of course not. They’re manly men, and they’d tough it out by themselves. Herein lies a major societal problem today. The idealized image of an emotionless, distant, testosterone­-laden man is incompatible with the reality that men get mental health problems just as much as women do. And “toughing it out” is never a valid cure for a mental illness; the UK Office of National Statistics reveals that men are three times more likely than women to take their own lives.

Guys out there, if you haven’t been feeling right lately, know that there’s really nothing wrong with seeking psychological help. Don’t be ashamed of your mental health. If you still need convincing, just imagine it as an extension of your body. Would you hide a broken arm or a sprained ankle from everyone out of embarrassment? Of course not. You’d go to see a doctor, who will take steps to treat and heal you. At the end of the day, mental health is no different, no matter what Marvin Gaye would have you believe.