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BANSAL: People must stop feminization of mental health issues

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Mental health has always had an extreme stigma attached to it. But, this stigma is even more extreme for men. According to studies, men are less likely to seek mental help than women are. One study done in the 90s showed that two-thirds of mental health patients were women. This trend goes way back — another study done in the mid 1800s supported this, showing that approximately 11,000 patients in a certain hospital were women out of the total 18,000.

Some believe that men are naturally less likely to develop mental disorders than women due to certain pressures that women face which men do not face. But, it is also true that men are more likely to be discouraged from admitting that they have any sort of mental problem. While mental health has been a taboo topic in many cultures for many centuries, it is especially taboo for men to admit that they have any sort of weakness. Mental health has long been associated with weakness and weakness has long been associated with feminine traits. The connotations that a mental health diagnosis brings simply do not match up with the stereotypical traits that define the societal norms for masculinity. 

Because of the expectations that men are held to and because of the association of weakness with femininity, men are generally less inclined to admit that they have any emotional problems. This is an issue that needs to be resolved. Renee Fabian said, “Men who are raped have a 65 percent chance of developing PTSD. Men are more likely than women to develop schizophrenia. And yes, men receive diagnoses of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, BPD, substance abuse issues and eating disorders as well. For men, many of these diagnoses clash with the idea of masculinity — there can be no signs of weakness. So when men should be empowered to reach out for help, they may be called a 'p****' or told to 'toughen up.'” The notion that men should not seek help and should be self reliant is ridiculous. This is not the way anyone would deal with a physical illness.

While this may not seem like a feminist issue to some, it certainly is. We need to stop associating weakness with femininity. Having emotions, dealing with them and healing yourself is perfectly natural. Having self-care issues does not make anyone less of a "man," it makes them human. We need to stop the degradation of supposedly feminine traits.

Another approach to this trend is that women are diagnosed with mental-health issues more frequently than men are. Because women tend to be seen as crazy, unhealthy or turbulent when they stray away from their structured feminine expectations, it is easy to wrongly diagnose women with disorders. “This issue isn’t new. It can be traced back as far as 1900 BC Egypt, and the use of 'hysteria' to sum up any woman’s health issue that deviates from expected gender roles continued well into the 1950s. The pejorative term typically was assigned by doctors who didn’t take women seriously,” Fabian said. When women portray any typically masculine traits, such as signs of aggression, they are dismissed as being mentally unstable. On the other hand, the expectation of women to be constantly overly emotional beings skews diagnoses. An anxiety disorder may be overlooked in a woman due to the idea that women are generally moody, dramatic or temperamental.

Gender roles permeate every aspect of life, mental health being just one of them. Men are unfairly expected to be self-reliant, refusing to let anyone know that they too have emotional troubles, in fear that they will be feminized. We need to stop using terms that degrade feminine traits to describe “weak” men. Associating femininity with weakness, hysteria or dramatism is dangerous. As Christina Vanvuren said, “First, we, as a culture, must stop using language and stereotypes that presents females as hysterical, emotional beings who are socialized toward co-dependency. We need to dismantle the stereotype that men are supposed to be strong and shouldn’t need to ask for help, as well as the notion that they don’t show their emotions (but, somehow tend toward anger more than women).” 

For the sake of treatment and the sometimes fatal repercussions that result from wrong treatment, we need to stop the feminization of mental health. Admitting depression or anxiety disorders does not make you weak, rather it makes you courageous for admitting to this in today’s society. 

Priyanka Bansal is a Rutgers Business School sophomore double majoring in business and journalism and media studies. Her column, “Call for Change,” runs on alternate Mondays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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