Big Boys Don’t Cry, But Maybe They Should….Men and Mental Illness
Every time I see a commercial with a bumbling man child being supervised by a grown up woman, I cringe. Sure, it’s just a joke, but it’s so pervasive. . . “How many children do you have?” “Three, including my husband.”
Jokes are good. I love jokes. If there’s one thing I think the world could have more of, it’s laughter.
However, men with mental illness are much less likely to be diagnosed and treated, and they’re also more likely to take out their frustration and anger on someone else. There’s nothing funny about that. Men are also conditioned to avoid crying in public, so their problems are easier to overlook. It’s not just crying – if I’m angry I’m very likely to cry, because that’s just the way I am. This is true for many women, and as a result mental health professionals can see how upset we are, and that something is definitely wrong.
Contrast that with a likely male scenario: Man goes to doctor, keeps his emotions in check as he’s supposed to, because he’s a man. Doctor asks how he is. Man says he’s fine, maintaining his stoic expression. Doctor moves on. Patient thinks, “Can’t anyone see how much stress I’m under? How much anger I have?”
We expect men to be strong and invincible, even now in 2012, when we should realize that no one is, and that everyone is equally susceptible to mental illness.
The days when hysteria, once used in force when diagnosing women with mental illness-like symptoms, was the province of women are gone. Sure, some of us are still hysterical now and then, but it’s just likely that it doesn’t matter what gender we are. What does matter is how likely we are to take it out on someone else. As a woman, I’m more likely to internalize my pain, but a man is more likely to strike out at others.
And what does that have to do with bumbling men child? We have typically two extremes in our entertainment portrayals of men: the macho guy who can defeat any obstacle, or the bumbling man child. In real life, I know of no man who fits either one of those stereotypes. Perhaps that’s because in real life men are just people.
“Big boys don’t cry.” Maybe they should.
I have watched someone descend into schizophrenia and psychosis, and at a time when he had all of that on his mind there was also this, as he said, “But I’m the man! I should be taking care of you!” Many women feel that we should be taking care of things too, but many men feel an additional weight of being responsible for supporting themselves and their family, and the thought of being unable to work because of an illness can be overwhelming. What would people think if they didn’t do what was expected of them? Better to push those negative feelings down where no one can see them and hope they go away.
They don’t go away though. It’s not a useful strategy in the long run.
Who hasn’t heard anecdotes about men not wanting to admit they feel pain? Who doesn’t know a man who refuses to go to the doctor? To seek help would indicate weakness, and no one wants to be seen as weak, especially men, who may have their sense of self wrapped up in being seen as strong and tough. So instead they tough it out when they’re depressed, or angry, or even homicidal, or when they have no control of their emotions, and even when they know their own mind is lying to them.
Mental illness doesn’t necessarily explain mass murder, according to Melissa Thompson, sociologist and author of Race, Gender, and Mental Illness in the Criminal Justice System. Research shows that not all mass murderers are mentally ill, and mentally ill people are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. In fact, it’s more likely someone with a mental illness will be the victim of a crime, not the perpetrator.
But men are under-served when it comes to mental illness treatment, and men are more likely to become violent. Whether the perpetrators or the victim of crime, they deserve better. We all do.
Monique Colver, Air Force veteran and military wife, is the author of An Uncommon Friendship: A Memoir of Love, Mental Illness and Friendship. She can be contacted at: www.anuncommonfriendship.com
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