Men, stop pressuring yourself to be ‘breadwinners’ – it’s hurting you and your mental health

Researchers from the University of Oxford Centre for Suicide believe that men are experiencing severe psychological distress caused by economic setbacks such as being made redundant, unemployed or incurring a significant cut in their income

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The Independent Online

It has been eight years since the financial crash first sparked chaos in 2008 and we’re still only just sifting through some of the remnants of the wreckage it left behind. One of the most unexpected and disturbing effects has emerged this week with the release of new research connecting economic success and self-harm in British men.

Researchers from the University of Oxford Centre for Suicide Research monitored self-harm rates in the UK and found that a noticeable spike has occurred in men from 2008 onwards: the time of the financial crash. No similar effect has been found in women. 

The researchers believe that men are experiencing severe psychological distress caused by economic setbacks; such as being made redundant, unemployed or incurring a significant cut in their income.

All too often, we fail to see the value of women’s work, which is why they are continually overworked and underpaid. But little attention has been paid to how men suffer under sexist capitalist models that overemphasise the importance of work to their identity.  

In British society, men are socialised to invest more of their self-esteem in the traditional idea of being a ‘breadwinner’ than women are. As a result they experience deeper distress when they consider themselves to be ‘failing’ to fulfil that role.

The study adds to a growing body of evidence that men can be trapped by sexist stereotypes that promote ‘toxic masculinity’. This destructive version of masculinity not only rests on the shaky foundations of self-worth based upon income and status, it also means that men cannot ask for help when they feel anxiety and depression.

In response to the research released this week, Stephen Buckley from the charity Mind told The Independent: “Issues such as self-stigmatisation, or the idea that ‘real men don’t cry’, can prevent men from accessing the help they need. Men often try and find ways of dealing with their problems independently rather than reaching out and sharing their problems.”

This means that stereotypes about being a ‘real man’ trap men in a double bind of toxic and troubling masculinity; they are not allowed to suffer emotional distress and if they do, even more stigma stops them from seeking help. Sexist stereotypes like this are fruitless yet deep rooted and all too convincing for vulnerable men who should be supported. As this research shows, its effects can be deeply damaging and have serious impacts on mental health.

This is not to say that women have suffered any less than men under the recession. Far from it, austerity cuts affect women disproportionately as they are more likely to be in low paid or part time work, or receiving benefits.

However, the research is another reminder that sexist stereotypes and gendered approaches to social roles, responsibility and the division of labour are deeply toxic and serve no one.

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