Love Doctor's Blog

How Can Poor Mental Health Be Reinforced By Gender Stereotypes and Destroy Your Relationships?

Vulnerability is not only for women. I would hope that would be obvious. As a modern feminist, I’m so very, very tired of assigning emotions, actions or roles to genders. Sometimes I’m angry – like when another driver doesn’t use their indicators, or someone tries to make laws about my uterus, which is none of their fucking business. Likewise, sometimes, men are vulnerable. Assuming that this feeling only applies to women is reductive and unhelpful for everyone.

Mental Health Problems for Men

I’m not the first person to notice it. Charities and organisations that work with the mentally ill will tell you that firstly, a lot of men have mental health problems and are more likely to end their lives and less likely to express themselves and seek help. They’ll point to the assumption that men have to be tough, which is socialised at a young age, which solidifies and becomes difficult to challenge. Telling a boy that he shouldn’t ‘run like a girl’ is sexist and paints women as weaker, and telling him to ‘man up’ or ‘grow a pair’ when he cries, or is upset or hurt, tells him not to articulate or process his feelings and instead actively repress them.

How Can Mental Health Problems Impact Romantic Relationships? 

This can be a problem in relationships, too. If we assume a cisgender, heterosexual couple (and we’ll get to the LGBT+ in a minute) has a fight, the man will sometimes stonewall, or emotionally disconnect. He might walk away, or change the subject. This is frustrating for everyone, doesn’t resolve the issue and can mean that grudges form and grow out of proportion. Instead of stonewalling, take a moment to pause the argument, calm down (look at breathing exercises online, perhaps) and then discuss the problem in a rational manner, acknowledging the other person’s feelings and working together to find a solution to the original issue. 

Mental Health Problems, Relationships and The LGBT+. 

Although it might be more traditional to imagine arguments in a relationship where the woman is being ridiculous and the man is a strong, silent ‘fixer’, this is not the case – nor should it be. For a start, not all relationships have a man and a woman. As we, as a society, start to accept nonbinary and transgender people, we have to realise that gender roles are redundant and constrictive. Now, I can sit down with my transgender friend, who was assigned female at birth (AFAB) and transitioned and use his new name and pronouns, and consider what his take on masculinity might be.

As he was perceived as female during his youth, he was probably told the same things as me: women are weak and vulnerable, men are tough and strong. Now he’s living as a man and will have a fascinating and unique insight into how women are told to treat their mental health (have a bath and do a facemask! Self-care!) and how men don’t even get that much instruction.

What To Do if You Think you Have Mental Health Problems 

So, since the information is pretty sparse, here’s what I’ll recommend. If you have a family history of mental health problems, you are more likely to develop them. If you’ve lived through a traumatic event, you might have PTSD. If you find yourself struggling to contain your anger, losing interest in your hobbies, not being able to sleep or eat, turning to alcohol to cope with your problems, having panic attacks, or spending all your time worrying about things – you need to speak to a doctor. That is not an exhaustive list – although those symptoms are common for depression and anxiety.

If you ignore the problem, it won’t get better, and can even start to affect your physical health. Your doctor might tell you to take some medication, which is fine. It might take some time to find the right type of pill, but that’s ok. You might find it useful to speak to a therapist, which is much more common than people realise. Recovery isn’t always easy or straightforward, but there are people who can support you. Reach out to friends, family members or your spouse/wife/girlfriend/partner/whomever, and explain what’s going on.

How To Support Someone Who is Mentally Ill. 

If you don’t have a mental health problem, it’s still a good idea to be educated on what to look out for in others. Feel free to donate to a charity or organisation that does research or offers support. Remove words like ‘crazy’ and ‘insane’ from your vocabulary, because they demonise people who really need help and compassion. Challenge the assumptions you make about gender, vulnerability and illness. Perhaps read Andrew Reiner’s book Better Boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity That Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency, or something else that deconstructs and analyses toxic masculinity. 

Conclusion 

Sorting out your mental health is one of those things that will improve every aspect of your life. It’ll improve your physical health, your relationships, help fight useless stereotypes, enrich your inner life and give you a sense of peace. For all of those struggling, I wish you support, and I hope you’re able to get what you need. You deserve it. 

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