Is 'Traditional Masculinity' Harmful To Mental Health? New Guidelines Spark Debate | KERA News

Is 'Traditional Masculinity' Harmful To Mental Health? New Guidelines Spark Debate

Jan 14, 2019

The American Psychological Association sparked a fierce debate last week when it issued its first-ever guidelines for psychologists working with men and boys. The list of 10 guidelines suggests that men who ascribe to "traditional masculinity" may suffer negative consequences to their mental and physical health.

Though the document notes cultural and generational differences in ideas about masculinity, it identifies “anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence” as common features of masculine ideology. 

The APA points to higher rates of suicide and cardiovascular disease among men, as well as a shorter life expectancy than women. It notes that 90 percent of homicides across the United States are completed by men and that men are most at risk of becoming victims of violent crime. The guidelines also note that men can be hesitant to express vulnerability and less inclined to seek therapy. 

Shortly after its release, the document went viral, drawing criticism from conservative commentators and some mental health professionals. While some critics say the guidelines are simply too vague, others say they "[pathologize] masculinity."

The APA has issued a clarification since its initial publication, saying "it is the extreme stereotypical behaviors—not simply being male or a 'traditional male'—that may result in negative outcomes." For example, "when a man believes that he must be successful no matter who is harmed… that man is conforming to the negative aspects associated with traditional masculinity."

Guidelines like these are not enforceable in the way of medical standards, but they can serve as reference guides for mental health professionals. The APA has previously issued guidance for working with specific groups including women and girls, older adults and transgender people.

Bonnie Cook, executive director of the nonprofit Mental Health America of Great Dallas, is supportive of the guidelines and expects to see mental health care providers embrace these new ideas. 

"We're not saying it's not ok to be a man," Cook says. "We're saying it's not ok to be a man that can't express any feelings of anxiety, depression and hopelessness due to our societal expectations." 

Here's the full list of APA guidelines for men and boys:

  • Psychologists strive to recognize that masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural and contextual norms.
  • Psychologists strive to recognize that boys and men integrate multiple aspects to their social identities across the lifespan.
  • Psychologists understand the impact of power, privilege and sexism on the development of boys and men and on their relationships with others.
  • Psychologists strive to develop a comprehensive understanding of the factors that influence the interpersonal relationships of boys and men.
  • Psychologists strive to encourage positive father involvement and healthy family relationships.
  • Psychologists strive to support educational efforts that are responsive to the needs of boys and men.
  • Psychologists strive to reduce the high rates of problems boys and men face and act out in their lives such as aggression, violence, substance abuse and suicide.
  • Psychologists strive to help boys and men engage in health-related behaviors.
  • Psychologists strive to build and promote gender-sensitive psychological services.
  • Psychologists understand and strive to change institutional, cultural and systemic problems that affect boys and men through advocacy, prevention and education.