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U.K. Magazine Apologizes for 'Flippant' Comment About Men’s Mental Health

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Matt Sloan, The Mighty’s contributing editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.

Earlier this month, U.K. women’s magazine Grazia shared a stigmatizing comment about men’s mental health as a part of their regular “Chart of Lust” column.

The comment, which featured an image of a man crying, said: “A survey discovered 97% of women consider a man in tears to be strong, natural or healthy. We suspect they haven’t met the crying men we’ve met, but stats is stats, ya?”

The comment then garnered backlash after it was shared by Matt Haig, mental health advocate and bestselling author of “Reasons to Stay Alive,” in an Instagram post in which he accused the magazine of promoting toxic masculinity.

The magazine later apologized on Twitter, calling the comment “flippant” and stating: “it was not our intention to make light of the very serious issue of men’s mental health.”

“Grazia signed up to the Mental Health Media Charter in 2017 and remains committed to highlighting mental health issues in a considered and sensitive manner,” the magazine added in a subsequent tweet.

Suicide is the biggest cause of death in men under 35 in the U.K., while more than 6 million men are affected by depression in the U.S. Research has found that the suicide rate among American men is four times higher than among women. For all of these statistics, the struggle to conform to traditional masculine norms may be partly to blame.

And yet, magazines such as Grazia continue to carelessly promote the idea that crying is a weakness at best, and unattractive at worst. It’s noteworthy that Grazia includes this on a running “Chart of Lust” as a “joke” — the opposite of sexy.

We see this in the media time and time again. How many of you remember Bruce Willis’ guest appearance in the acclaimed sitcom “Friends”? Initially the strong, silent type, Rachel ends their relationship when, after her encouragement, he cries uncontrollably about a childhood trauma. I grew up watching this portrayal, never looking at how it affected me and my development.

I, too, was raised to believe crying was a sign of weakness in men. My dad shamefully hid his tears. I was harshly told to stop crying by my mother on countless occasions. Ex-partners ended our relationship because I was “too sensitive,” and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told to “man up” or “grow a pair,” as if stoicism was a masculine trait tied to one’s sexual anatomy. So, when women’s magazines like Grazia imply that it’s unattractive when a man cries, it reinforces the beliefs with which I grew up, along with the beliefs of so many other men and women. So long as our media continues to portray men crying in a flippant, often mocking manner, society never changes. 

Men are taught to hide their crying, their emotions and mental health struggles for fear of ridicule and mockery, and in their silence, their mental ill health festers. Those statistics will never change if men aren’t taught their emotions are welcomed — they need to know it’s OK to feel and OK to seek help.

The Mighty has been working with Movember this month to promote healthy attitudes toward mental health among men, seeking to help end the stigma that men don’t cry, that they need to “man up” and deal with the problems alone. November is typically men’s health month, with a growing focus in recent years on mental health in addition to issues such as testicular cancer. We hope men and women everywhere will feel emboldened by the campaign, share it with their loved ones, and know it’s OK to share their struggles with others.

Now, I’m in a relationship with someone who welcomes and embraces my sensitivity. I’m trying to learn to be accepting of my emotions and need to cry, but I’m still influenced by the stigma. I still feel shame and anger at myself for crying, and fear afterward that my partner will leave me for it or at the very least find me less attractive. If our #ItsOKMan campaign is any indication, I’m not the only one.

While Grazia’s content is not aimed at men, it can certainly influence the women who read their content. It may also, at some point, fall into men’s hands as it did with Haig. If our media continues to portray crying, sensitive, mentally ill men as undesirable and weak, men will continue to die by suicide rather than talk about their struggles, and our children will continue to be raised to believe this is the way things should be.

Let’s do better. It’s time to change the conversation and say it’s OK man.

Originally published: November 28, 2018
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