Study links sexism to poor mental health in men

June 28, 2017 Providence Health Team

It’s easy to think that men who view themselves as playboys or believe they have power over women have big egos. But more likely to have mental health problems? That’s the finding of a study that looked at the mental health of men who behave in ways associated with traditional masculinity.

These men also are less likely to get help for mental problems, according to the study, published by the American Psychological Association,

Traditional masculinity

For their work, the authors reviewed data from 74 earlier studies involving 19,453 men. They focused on the following behaviors and values, which they defined as conforming to society’s expectations of traditional masculinity:

  • Playboy behavior, or promiscuity
  • Power over women
  • Desire to win
  • Emotional control
  • Risk-taking
  • Violence
  • Dominance
  • Self-reliance
  • Pursuit of status
  • Disdain for homosexuality
  • Primacy of work

Mixed but interesting findings

These behaviors and values were linked to mental health in varying degrees.

The study’s most striking findings:

  • Playboy behavior, power over women and self-reliance were most closely linked to poor mental health and conditions such as stress, depression, substance abuse and trouble functioning socially.

    The authors singled out playboy behavior and power over women for special attention. “The robust and unfavorable association between conformity to these two norms and mental health-related outcomes underscores the idea that sexism is not merely a social injustice, but also has deleterious mental health-related consequences for those who embrace such attitudes,” they wrote. “For instance, heterosexual men who adhere strongly to norms associated with sexism might struggle in their relationships with women, leading to poorer mental health.”
  • Placing a high value on work wasn’t associated strongly with good or poor mental health.

    “Perhaps this null finding reflects the complexity of work and its implications for well-being,” said the study’s lead author, Y. Joel Wong, an associate professor at Indiana University, Bloomington. “Although an excessive focus on work can be problematic for one’s health and interpersonal relationships, work and career can also be an important source of meaning in life.”
  • Risk-taking was associated with good and poor mental health.

    Unhealthy risk-takers may have drug or alcohol problems, engage in unprotected sex or drive drunk. Wong suggested that healthy risk-takers may be “more willing to seek out opportunities to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zone (e.g., by trying out new hobbies) that provide opportunities for self-actualization.”

Reluctant to seek help? Think it over

The upshot of the study seems to be that sexist behavior can hurt all of us. Unfortunately, the men in the study who conformed most to sexist norms and had poor mental health were the least likely to seek treatment.

If you or a man you know suffers from a mental health condition—for any reason—give treatment some thought. This recent blog post explains how to choose a mental health professional. And you can find a Providence licensed mental health professional in your region here.

Get help to feel better.

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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