From External Pressure to Internal Discovery: Reflections on Men’s Mental Health

By Cole Smith, Crisis Counsellor at Eastside Community Mental Health Services and Josh Shelley, Student at Eastside Community Mental Health Services.


In our world, success is judged by the external: what we accomplish, how much we make, what we do. These perceived expectations have a strong long-term effect on the mental health of those who identify as men. The journey towards understanding and embracing men’s mental health requires a shift from the external to the internal. The root of toxic masculinity lies in the suppression of emotion, the illusion of strength at all costs—even at the cost of your mental health. If today’s man looks out into the world and can only find exaggerated and unrealistic male standards, the solution must lay inward. 

The recent uptick in toxic male communities can be attributed, at least in part, to comparisons. Males comparing themselves with other males hijacks the individual’s definition of masculinity, creating an uncomfortable dissonance between one’s true feelings and perceived societal expectations. The exploration of one’s true self is hindered by a predetermined construct that weighs on us every day. On paper, society’s ideal man will vary greatly from the best version of oneself, how can every man fit into a perfect cookie-cutter definition? Every man is different, this is an important fact to embrace and accept.

Many men link their gender to their identity in very strong and profound ways, and if you are never able to live up to the bombardment of external influences, your very identity is being attacked regularly, destroying your self-worth. More fluid and nuanced definitions of a man are required, and this of course relies on internal work. Are you a confident man or are you confident in yourself? You can see how forever linking your self-image to society’s gender ideal can be a slippery slope. Acknowledging the struggle is the first step towards healing. Fringe communities have emerged as havens for men seeking understanding, rationale, community, and connection. In these spaces, men are encouraged to embrace their suffering and share their perspectives openly. Breaking the silence surrounding men’s mental health is a powerful move toward dismantling the notion that they are not allowed to suffer.

Raising awareness regarding the intricacies of men’s mental health is crucial in fostering understanding and removing the stigma surrounding the topic. By shedding light on the internal struggles that men may face, we can begin to understand the rise of toxic masculinity while empowering the modern man to challenge intrusive expectations and embrace self-empathy. Vulnerability is not a weakness, it is the gateway to a strong definition of oneself, resulting in a concrete identity that is defined by the individual, in all their experiences and perspectives. Education and emotional awareness initiatives can play a pivotal role in reaching out to men who may be silently grappling with their mental health, assuring them that seeking help is a courageous step toward self-discovery and healing. As we collectively amplify our understanding of men’s mental health issues, we contribute to a more compassionate society that supports individuals in their journey toward authentic self-expression and emotional well-being.

The path to stronger mental well-being for men involves a shift from external pressures to internal self-discovery. By working within ourselves and redefining masculinity based on personal values and beliefs, men can break free from toxic perceptions, fostering a healthier mindset and embracing the full spectrum of their emotions. The true acceptance that the best version of oneself deviates from societal expectations is powerful and liberating, paving the way for a more authentic and resilient modern man.