Group Of Male Sports Fans Tailgating In Stadium Car Park

Cultural Stereotypes for Men Contribute to Health Risks

Many men today have grown up hearing messages like “toughen up,” “walk it off,” or “be a man” when faced with an emotional or physical problem.

They’ve been pushed to conform to a traditional view of what being a man looks like in American society: strong, stoic and unemotional; dominant and in control; fiercely independent; tough and aggressive when provoked or questioned.

These traditional views of masculinity are ingrained in our culture. Most Americans believe words like “compassion” are a negative trait for men, whereas it’s considered a positive trait for women, according to a recent Pew Research center survey. Being “protective,” was viewed as a positive trait for men, and “emotional” was seen as a negative trait for men, according to the same survey.

But these types of stereotypes can be incredibly harmful when it comes to physical and mental health for men.

Conforming to these societal expectations can damage a man’s ability to safely express his thoughts, feelings, fears and traumas. Instead, many men are afraid to be vulnerable and “bottle up” their emotions. By dismissing their own needs, individuals can feel stressed, depressed, anxious or even angry and resentful. Over time, this stress could affect an individual’s physical health as well.

It can also lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, like substance use.

Men use tobacco products at higher rates than women, which carry significant risks for cancer and complications for other health problems.

Additionally, alcohol use is one of the most preventable risk factors for cancer – yet men are almost two times more likely to binge drink than women, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This type of excessive alcohol consumption can fuel aggression and risky behaviors like driving under the influence and physically assaulting another person – which could lead to accidental injuries or death.

Men die younger than women in the U.S. and across the world. While there are biological reasons for this phenomenon, experts believe social factors play a huge part. In addition to riskier health behaviors, men often avoid doctors: half of men surveyed by the Cleveland Clinic said they get regular checkups at the doctor. The same survey found 72% of men would rather do household chores than visit the doctor.

While the stigma of being vulnerable may be keeping men from seeking the health care they need, it’s also holding them back from a healthy life.

It is important to recognize when these traditional stereotypes no longer are in your best interest and to question their validity. Sometimes it is helpful to critically evaluate what your beliefs truly are and how ones that do not fit that mold may be working against you. There are many ways you can rethink the basis assumptions about yourself and how you treat important others in your own life. Things like reading self-help books can be a first step. Going to a self-help group might be another.

Insurance plans such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network have digital wellness tools that can help you appreciate a different view of self and thereby improve your outlook. BCBSM also has Virtual Well-BeingSM programs that you can fit into a busy day that can help you walk your own path through personal assumptions and help you have more positive outlook.

If these steps are not fully helpful, seeing a therapist either virtually or in-person might help you to see some truths.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network can help members find an in-network mental health professional by calling behavioral health access lines listed below:

PPO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-762-2382
  • A free and confidential resource that’s just a call away when you need immediate support. Behavioral health professionals answer, 24/7.
HMO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-482-5982
  • Connect with a behavioral health clinician if you need help finding a mental health or substance use provider.
  • Behavioral health clinicians are available for routine assistance from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For urgent concerns after hours, clinicians are also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Learn more about mental health and options you have as a member to seek help at bcbsm.com/mentalhealth.   

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