The buzzword of the moment, “toxic masculinity” has somehow managed to become aligned with a supposed need for men to cry more. There has also been an upsurge in discussions online and in the media which insinuates that men themselves are partly to blame for their own poor mental health, due to “suppressing emotions” and “not crying enough”.
In fact, you could be forgiven for believing that the “take away” from this narrative goes along the lines of “if men would just cry more often then there wouldn’t be so many males with mental health issues” (cue a giant buzzer noise). Wrong.
Sorry but #NotSorry – this is not an accurate assumption nor is it the solution to the complex, layered and interrelated issues surrounding our current male mental health statistics.
Why Do Some People Think Crying is the Answer?
Research by William H. Frey PHD found that women tend to cry an average of 5.3 times per month, with men only crying an average of 1.3 times per month.
Maybe some people look at the fact that women cry 5 times more than men and see this as a positive, cathartic release of emotion, and then also think that because women have lower suicide rates, maybe this is what men should be doing too?!
Although, at an uneducated first glance, this idea might seem to hold some reason; when you look at the science behind WHY men and women differ in the frequency of crying, you can hopefully look at the situation with a better understanding of how the different biological makeup, and thus hormone distribution between the sexes, has been shown in research to result in different ways of expressing emotion and thus coping with mental health.
According to several psychologists, who published their findings in the book “Emotional Expression and Health” this discrepancy in the frequency of crying between the sexes has been replicated across the world, regardless of the country; indicating different hormonal signals are at play.
Hormones Control Emotion Management
And indeed further research into the potential hormonal components responsible for these differences found that women have around 60% more prolactin than men (a hormone necessary for milk production); and also that emotional tears are very high in prolactin which has indicated to researchers that this hormone may make crying more likely.
Furthermore, Ad Vingerhoets, a psychologist who has studied this area in depth, states in his book “Adult Crying: A Biopsychosocial Approach” that testosterone has been found to inhibit crying. And as men have higher levels of testosterone, this is another biological explanation for men’s lower propensity towards crying. This theory was backed up by the fact that men receiving certain medical treatments which decreased testosterone levels as a side effect, were found to cry at higher frequencies than their male counterparts with normal male testosterone levels.
Furthermore, in addition to biological differences that have indicated why men cry less than women, cultural influences and gender socialization have also been found to contribute to “the crying discrepancy” between the sexes. Especially as gender socialization literally trains boys to cry less and girls to cry more, as these behaviors are positively and negatively reinforced for each sex from birth via social consequences, parental modeling, and gender stereotyping.
So as you can see, the fact that men cry less than women is not down to toxic masculinity or even a conscious choice on their part; it is the result of biopsychosocial factors mostly beyond their control.
That is why it is preposterous to cite “crying more” as a “fix” or “cure” for male mental health.
Male Mental Health: A More Complex Issue Than Crying
As someone who has worked with men experiencing addiction and mental health issues, I find it incredibly frustrating and disappointing to hear any kind of narrative that puts men in a position of blame, regarding their own mental health; and suggestions that male mental health is poor because “men don’t cry enough” does just that.
It feels like society is missing a sensitivity chip when dangerous inferences such as this are made, and that’s exactly what they are, dangerous and accusatory towards half of the population who clearly need and deserve better mental health treatment services; otherwise, we wouldn’t be seeing the devastating rates of male suicide that we do.
The statistics speak for themselves.
It’s practical action and improved services that will help to support male mental health; and not the basic and insulting suggestion that they “just need to cry more”.
While I absolutely agree that crying can be beneficial for all humans as it is in essence a release of emotion; it’s definitely not a “one-stop shop” to satisfy the needs of male mental health in our current world.
The fact is that male mental health is suffering at the hands of a society that doesn’t appear to be able to see, hear or fulfill their needs, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally.
There seems to be a lack of understanding of the male psyche within society and also amongst mental health professionals.
Men Need a Better Mental Health System
The research that has been highlighted in this article (plus much more) clearly demonstrates differences between male and female expressions of emotion, and thus mental health coping mechanisms; whether these are based on biological, cultural, or social factors, they also make the case for the different needs of men and women regarding mental health.
So why are we still treating men with the same mental health treatments as women? Today talking therapies and medication are still the most commonly prescribed treatment options for both sexes.
And while of course these treatments still have a lot to offer, evidence is telling us that it is not a “one size fits all” scenario when it comes to the treatment of mental health between the sexes.
Men need specialized therapeutic interventions that are tailored to the needs of masculinity, and that work in alignment with the specific needs of men.
Society Doesn’t Understand Men
Never mind the obvious need for better mental health treatment for men; we need to look at why men are requiring mental health treatment on such a scale in the first place.
When a plant is not doing well – when it’s not growing, turning brown, and starting to die; do we blame the plant? No. We look at the plants’ environment and at what needs of the plant are not being met. We might go through a checklist of:
- Is the plant getting enough water?
- Is it getting enough sunlight?
- Does it have enough nutrients in its soil?
- Is it in a place that’s too hot or too cold?
By addressing the plants’ environment and ensuring that its needs are met, guess what; the plant will begin to heal, grow, thrive and bloom!
This analogy applies to men within our society. We shouldn’t be focusing on men as the problem for male mental health or suggesting that they should cry more, there’s nothing inherently wrong with men, but if they are not growing, not thriving as they should, and if they are dying; then it’s their environment that we need to look at.
And the truth is that today’s society is not meeting the needs of men.
“Prevention is Better Than Cure”
So while men definitely need and deserve a higher standard of tailored mental health treatment, psychologists, governments, and health care professionals need to start studying why society is making men sick and identify what must change so that we can start addressing men’s needs and supporting them to thrive and flourish in life, before they even get to the point where they need treatment.
“Remember, The World is a Better Place, with You in it”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call 911, go to the nearest emergency room, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center, or text MHA to 741741 at the
Crisis Text Line.UK INFO: The CALM helpline is available 5pm – midnight, 365 days a year on 0800 58 58 58.