Traditional norms of masculinity

Traditional gender roles place expectations on men to be the sole breadwinner in the family. Gender equality progress and profound changes in the labour market may have given greater prominence to dual-earning family models, with men encouraged to embrace more caring masculinities and roles (EIGE, 2019c), but the conventional vision of the male provider can affect men’s sense of self-esteem (Gough and Novikova, 2020).

Reducing the burden of mental disorders on individuals and societies, including suicide mortality, requires greater encouragement of those in distress to seek help. Men are less likely to seek help for mental health than women[1]. Young men are among the least likely to ask for help from friends or medical professionals for mental health problems (Biddle et al., 2004; Oliver et al., 2005).

Lower levels of health-seeking behaviour are shown to be related to social construction and cultural representations of masculinities (Baker, 2019; Brown et al., 2019; Gough and Novikova, 2020). Men’s conformity to traditional masculinity norms can affect their health behaviour in multiple ways. These include an inability to recognise depressive symptoms and displaying atypical symptoms such as violence, anger and substance abuse, as well as reluctance to seek professional help except as a last resort and a reluctance to use therapies if considered unacceptable, for example medication (Seidler et al., 2016). WHO argues that men who adhere to traditional masculinity norms, including self-reliance, emotional control, anti-femininity and toughness, are more likely to avoid talking about and seeking help for mental health issues (Gough and Novikova, 2020). Such norms and attitudes are often reinforced at work, particularly in male-dominated sectors, where displays of weakness are discouraged, competition between peers is encouraged and violence is sometimes condoned.

Common factors affecting help-seeking behaviour include a preference to handle the problem by oneself, little perceived need and low mental health literacy (Andrade et al., 2014; Schnyder et al., 2017). Stigma surrounding assistance, causing internal shame and embarrassment, hinders people across all population groups from asking for help. It may disproportionately affect minority groups, young people, men, and those working in the military and health (Clement et al., 2015). As highlighted in Section 9.1.2, fear of disclosure and cultural norms and stigma around mental health explain why men, and some more than others, are less likely to seek help (Gough and Novikova, 2020; Han et al., 2018; Magaard et al., 2017).