What comes to mind when we think of culture usually entails diverse food, people, languages and clothing. But a society’s culture also impacts a person’s beliefs, norms and values. It impacts how you view certain ideas or behaviors. And in the case of mental health, it can impact whether or not you seek help, what type of help you seek and what support you have around you. Depending on where you live will determine the style of help and awareness behind mental health and the pressures people may face.
In Westernized society, there is a whole new way of approaching mental health. It is the true ‘modern world’. The psychological effects of COVID, social media, sexuality and more are significant topics in this culture. In some posts on this site, tackling big factors in life like social media is a very modern and newly researched thing that requires much attention. Sexuality has also developed into a more common and comfortable conversation, but it still has a long way to go. COVID and mental health are now a leading cause of such issues in people’s personal lives at home. This post is meant to engage in awareness and informative thinking behind this subject.
Men’s Mental Health
I’d like to specifically take note of men’s mental health and the extensive new research behind it. Mental health is different for every individual, but with the male gender and their certain experiences, it makes for a unique case. In terms of culture, it is even more in depth. The common phenomenon, especially today now, is that men need to open up more in order to help their mental health. They are supposed to be ‘strong’ and ‘manly’ and having ‘feelings’ does not combine well with those traits. These are just stereotypes and long-time ‘rules’ made up by different cultures and societies that have deeply implemented themselves into people. Women are made to be more nurturing and affectionate, whereas men are cold and stern. This makes a ‘perfect duo’ in terms of companionship.
However, this old mentality is far gone in the 21st century with how women’s roles and independence have adjusted and made a new name for themselves. So what about male roles? Gender roles as a whole is a deep sociological topic, but here, cultural anthropology is the goal to look at. Still, understanding why men started off this way through gender roles and norms can help further discuss the topic.
Culture can influence how people describe and feel about their symptoms. It can affect whether someone chooses to recognize and talk about only physical symptoms, only emotional symptoms or both. Westernized culture is considered individualistic. In an individualist culture, an individual’s uniqueness is important. People are encouraged to express their inner states or feelings, and to influence other people. However, Easterners construe themselves as fundamentally connected to, and interdependent on, others. This is called interdependent self-construction. In addition, individuals must adjust to the group so that society’s harmony is maintained. This is why Eastern culture is considered a collectivist culture. The difference is that individuals try to modify themselves and not influence others to fit in the groups they are in.
In addition, cultural differences are also found in physiological and behavioral aspects of emotion. Since much of mental health relies on people’s emotions and how they deal with them, these differences would make important signifiers for an individual’s reactions or symptoms. Research shows that Japanese participants, compared with American and European participants, report significantly fewer physiological symptoms. It is their reactions to emotions that really differ. This as well as arousal levels differ among cultures. For example, Westerners prefer to participate in more active sports than Easterners to elicit high arousal emotions. These high arousal emotions can be enthusiasm, activation, and excitement. We understand how Western parenting depends and surrounds the need for these arousal states in order to elicit valued emotions in their culture. Mothers in this culture tend to encourage their children to play games that increase emotional arousal levels, therefore beginning the process at a young age. Perhaps this could lead into how an individual adapts in society as an adult: Westerners always looking to satisfy their arousal states and Easterners knowing a life with less of it.
A Different Perspective
All of this speaks of mental health and emotion in a more technical way, but the obvious factor of cultural emotional differences comes with discrimination and treatment. When different cultures face unique struggles in society, individuals’ mental health can suffer as well.
Perhaps the emotions steer away from sadness and more into anger.
We live in a racialized society, where the perception of race matters profoundly regarding relationships, opportunities and access to housing, employment and services. Therefore, members of racial groups face additional barriers when it comes to receiving care. With the lack of support in certain communities, mental health will worsen. It is important to allow safe spaces for people to feel and communicate their emotions, but this is not always the case. It is a serious problem the US has been facing for decades and begs for change.
Masculinity and Social Connectedness
Most researchers examining men’s social connections and mental health or illness pay attention to sex differences, comparing the various types, quantities, and sources of social support between males and females. A common sex difference is that males place more emphasis on social connections that provide instrumental support, whereas females tend to seek more emotional support. This would naturally affect the types of relationships men have with other men versus men have with women.
Back to gender: gender is considered to be socially constructed as opposed to biologically determined. This fact brings upon arguments that are not always the easiest to solve. Does this mean almost all men will have difficulty expressing their emotions? Does this mean women will always carry the burden of being the ‘emotional’ one in a relationship? Definitely not, yet biologically speaking, on average, this can be the case. If this knowledge is taught second-hand by those in a culture or society, it will ink its way into kids’ minds and lead them to grow up with a toxic way of thinking. The facts show gender differences are there, but what if we tried to change them? What if we taught little girls that a boy being mean to you doesn’t mean he is ‘flirting’ or ‘likes you’? What if we taught little boys to not always ‘suck it up’ when they are emotionally challenged and instead value their feelings and provide support? This thinking is considered Westernized, and is not considered in every part of the world.
There have been studies, specifically spoken about in the journal article “Masculinity, Social Connectedness, and Mental Health: Men’s Diverse Patterns of Practice” that target this. The article states,”Connell’s theory of multiple masculinities (Connell, 1995) has offered health researchers a promising way of moving beyond seeing men’s health problems as the inevitable consequence of a socialized male role, but as something influenced by the dynamic social practices and resources men use to configure gender”. The studies say that men felt ‘embarrassed’ and ‘weak’ for wanting to speak to their family about personal mental health issues like depression and anxiety. There are other articles on Yoair that tackle this broad subject of masculinity and gender roles.
How it affects Heterosexual Relationships
So, if men do not feel comfortable going to family for help and support, who do they go to? Some, no one. Since we are speaking about social relationships and connectedness, a relationship between a man and woman romantically is a necessary factor to be involved. Some men rely on the safety and privacy of their intimate relationships with female partners for talking about their emotional difficulties. In doing so, these men maintained a hegemonic pattern of masculinity in public while seeking emotional support from women in private. It becomes tense within
that relationship now because of the heaviness female partners may face now for their new role: mother.
Have you heard of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theories? One of them comes into play on a less dramatic note. The affection, support and emotional connectedness that men can lack growing up in a family seeks to be replaced and filled by a female partner in a romantic relationship during adulthood. This has become extremely normalized when perhaps it shouldn’t. The media likes to speak of men’s mental health and normalize accepting it, but it takes more than that to reverse centuries of biological and societal implementation.
More on Traditional Stigmas
Although stigma concerning mental health issues is increasingly being debated and challenged in many countries, it remains a powerful deterrent to help-seeking for men. I’d like to look at a Russian Federation study done with male patients suffering from depression. On this site, there are more resources to explore depression as a whole, so be sure to check those out.
The study touches on eastern European and Russian societies once again. The common attitude in these regions is that most people have a strong bias against psychologists and psychiatrists, but not towards specialists or any system of detection. This is compounded by masculine stereotypes concerning self-reliance, which may deter men from seeking help. As discussed earlier, these norms can be anti-femininity, toughness, and emotional control. But not everything involved in the healing process of males and their mental health is based on environmental influences. Much of this can also be internalized. The study shows that men felt guilt for seeking help from peers and family. Therefore, there is a clear link between prevailing masculine ideals and the reluctance/ambivalence that make up only 20% of the client population who drop out of treatment prematurely.
Back to environment triggers: Those who work in male-dominated work environments may also encounter masculine norms that inhibit displays of vulnerability. . Moreover, men may feel pressure to prioritize work commitments over family time and personal well-being. These are industries like construction and other STEM fields. There is a difference in a female-dominated workplace compared to a male one simply in the interactions, expectations and socialization. Some consider men who work with mostly other men to be labeled as ‘traditional’ compared to men working with women to be labeled as ‘modernized’ and ‘woke’. This is a changing concern in the millennial generation of workers, but it could always be a particular thing in society, no matter how much progressive times change.
Another industry of environmental impact on men is sporting culture. Continuing data from the Health Evidence Network Synthesis Report:
“In a qualitative interview study of eight elite varsity football players in Canada (mean age, 22 years), participants’ reluctance to disclose their mental health issues was linked to protecting their status, popularity and performance within the team, with those reporting such issues being viewed as weak, fearful of competition and compromising the team spirit and success” (source: Health Evidence Network Synthesis Report, No. 70. Gough B, Novikova I).
This is a significant fact to enclose because of the stature of boys growing up in sporting culture, ultimately leading to this issue. Much of men’s mental health begins in childhood, and sports players also begin their career and habits as a young boy.
Family Issues and Support
This is another leading factor to men having difficulty mentally and emotionally. During tough periods in a person’s life like family instability and divorce, the male partner in a relationship can face emotional struggle due to the lack of support while being ‘alone.’ Like we mentioned earlier, many men rely on their female partners for stability and emotional support. A key factor is the loss of social support and emotional connectivity. For example, one study indicated that 19% of divorced or separated men reported a drop in social support compared to 11% for women. The reason why is because women have more social circles to rely on for support compared to men after a divorce. Now, this can happen anywhere in the world, not just the Western regions. But, with divorce rates (in the USA) at 14.9 divorces per 1,000 marriages, this is a common issue specifically in the Americas.
Cultural Significance in Anthropology
On a concluding note, cultural anthropology is a huge factor in this discussion. It ties into a sociological perspective as well, but I hope you can appreciate the delicate nature of mental health as a cultural phenomenon just as much as a psychological one. It is a topic that relates to many fields of study and can possibly never be truly understood. Every year there are new statistics and studies done, so there is always more to learn and more people to give support to.