Health, Psychology

Addressing The Unique Mental Health Needs Of Boys

Ogunbiyi Kayode


May 26, 2024

Dear Beamers,


Mental health refers to the overall state of one’s cognitive processes, emotional regulation, and behavioral tendencies, shaping the framework of their outward demeanor. When an individual’s mental well-being becomes uncertain, it may precipitate a condition known as mental illness. Mental illness, also termed mental health disorder, manifests as patterns or alterations in thought processes, emotional responses, or behavior, resulting in distress or hindrance to functioning appropriately. Hence, in alignment with our commitment to furnishing accurate insights across various spheres, this week’s newsletter endeavors to discuss the mental health realities of the male child.

We find ourselves amidst a global mental health crisis, with a particular demographic that remains notably underserved and inadequately studied: men and boys. Regrettably, discussions concerning youth mental health frequently overlook the well-being of boys.

Despite this reality, societal stigma and entrenched gender norms frequently obscure male mental health issues from public discourse. Presently, a noticeable gender disparity exists between boys and girls regarding their propensity to seek and receive immediate mental health assistance. Adolescent girls consistently exhibit a higher likelihood of disclosing mental health symptoms compared to their male counterparts, largely due to societal expectations that compel males to conceal or suppress their emotions when experiencing sadness or fear.

Indeed, young men exhibit significantly poorer outcomes in mental health assessments, including rates of suicide and substance use disorders, compared to their female adolescent counterparts. Teenage and young adult males possess a unique health risk profile distinct from that of young women and girls, necessitating tailored intervention strategies. However, due to concerns over stigmatization or fear of being perceived as weak, teenage boys and men often disengage from healthcare services, initiating a cascade of consequences as they progress into adulthood, resulting in reduced engagement and reluctance to seek the necessary support.

“A big problem that affects men and boys’ mental health is stigma. There’s a double standard when it comes to talking about feelings: girls are told it’s okay to share and show emotions, but boys are expected to be tough and not show any emotion. Why do boys get treated differently?” Says Igwe Valentine

As boys mature, while there may be no explicit directive to refrain from expressing emotions, the absence of encouragement in doing so often instills in them a sense of self-reliance. Unlike girls, who are typically socialized to nurture and care for their families from a young age, boys are conditioned to perceive themselves as protectors. Consequently, the expectation to internalize their struggles becomes ingrained, even at a young age, adding to their personal burdens.

When a boy exhibits symptoms of depression, such as feelings of hopelessness or sadness, he often lacks awareness of the appropriate response, potentially reacting with anger instead. This aggressive behavior may go unnoticed by the adults in his life, who may be more attuned to the needs of young girls. This unfamiliarity with the complexities of adolescent male mental health can lead to exacerbation or neglect of common signs of mental illness.

Dr. Abujade Sunday highlights the presence of diverse symptoms signaling forthcoming mental health challenges in young men. According to him,

“Some young men might show signs of mental health issues like being violent or aggressive, while others might act nervously, obsessing over things, feeling tired, or avoiding people. They might also have changes in their weight or appetite, do risky things, or have trouble concentrating. This list isn’t everything, but at least one of these things might happen if a boy is having mental health problems.”

Not only in Nigeria but also across cultures globally, there exists a tendency to prioritize girls’ mental health over boys’, representing yet another inequitable barrier to accessing care. The celebration of the female child is widely endorsed by international organizations and major corporations, evident in the recognition accorded to events like Mother’s Day and International Women’s Day. Conversely, there is a notable lack of acknowledgment for the contributions of men to society. Despite being the architects and custodians of numerous societal structures, both tangible and intangible, men receive scant recognition. Instead, they are often regarded as expendable vessels, appreciated only when deemed useful and discarded once their utility diminishes. This treatment perpetuates the notion that their primary roles are as builders and servant leaders, with little emphasis placed on their intrinsic value beyond these roles.

Frequently, the emergence of mental health challenges in male children and teenage boys can precipitate a myriad of long-term repercussions, significantly affecting a man’s quality of life in subsequent years and burdening him with a lifetime of adverse symptoms.

Within society, several mental health conditions occur among male teens across generations, often receiving inadequate attention or being left unaddressed entirely. Of these issues, suicide emerges as a particularly urgent concern affecting teen boys, with rates steadily increasing rather than abating. Tragically, many boys internalize a profound sense of personal and societal failure for not meeting the many expectations imposed upon them. This internalized burden can lead to a tragic outcome, as some boys view suicide as an escape from their perceived misery. Such a mentality underscores the profound challenges faced by young boys, worsened by parental and societal pressures that impose a multitude of standards and expectations from a tender age, promoting feelings of invisibility and marginalization when unmet.

Many boys have experienced sexual assault, which has been linked to suicide attempts. However, the cultural stigma surrounding male mental health often prevents open discussion and leads to issues being suppressed. As a result, young men dealing with signs and symptoms of mental health conditions may feel isolated and disoriented. Finding the necessary mental health support and treatment can alleviate their struggles and improve their overall mental well-being, potentially preventing them from considering suicide as an option.

Anxiety disorders also serve as conspicuous indicators of mental health challenges in male children. These disorders entail excessive fears or worries that are difficult to manage, impeding an individual’s participation in typical recreational and social activities. Such pervasive concerns often stem from a tendency to overanalyze, possibly caused by unrealistic expectations imposed by perfectionistic or unsupportive parents or individuals. Hence, the affected individual may perpetually feel inadequate, unable to derive satisfaction from any achievement, and prone to focusing on perceived flaws even amidst praises.

Furthermore, the evident treatment disparity in teen depression between boys and girls emphasizes a significant issue. Depression does not manifest suddenly but rather emerges as a culmination of various life experiences. It represents a state of emotional numbness, wherein individuals become indifferent to both success and, particularly, failure.

The increasing spread of depression among male children is deeply concerning, as many boys today seem to have lost touch with themselves. Early exposure to fraudulent activities, substance abuse, and other detrimental behaviors further trigger their depressive tendencies. Moreover, when depression is linked to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it often stems from experiences such as witnessing death of a loved one, injury or surviving sexual assault, among other factors. In many instances, these traumas begin during childhood and adolescence, robbing the male child of joy, passion, and zest for life.

Aliu Mustapha believes that it is misguided to immediately attribute overt symptoms of bipolar disorder to masculinity, rather than recognizing them as indicative of a mental health condition. In his view,

“Some teenage boys show signs of bipolar disorder, where they have extreme mood swings. Sometimes, we don’t notice it because we think their behavior is just typical for boys, but it could actually be a mental illness. They might seem friendly one minute and then completely different the next. We blame their behavior on things like stress, but maybe it’s a sign they need to see a doctor about their mental health.”

This detrimental cultural environment results in adolescent boys being less inclined to confide in friends, teachers, parents, and mental health professionals regarding symptoms of depression, among other concerns. Lacking the conditioning to openly address such issues, young men often lack the right words to identify and articulate their experiences, hindering their ability to seek potentially life-saving mental health support.

From their earliest childhood years, boys contend with stigma, which persists throughout their lives. The reluctance of men to discuss their mental health stems from societal norms that punish deviations from traditional gender roles. Openly acknowledging vulnerability and seeking assistance can diminish a man’s perceived status in society, leading to the derogatory label of weakness. Consequently, men often choose to confront their struggles alone rather than risk being branded as weak.

There is a clear demand for programs that offer mental health treatment geared towards adolescents, young adults, and families navigating a spectrum of challenges, including the mental health issues affecting young men, which are frequently overlooked and stigmatized by society.

Initiating intentional efforts begins with identifying various signs indicating the onset of mental health issues in boys. These signs may manifest as decreased academic performance or disinterest in school among students, exhibiting aggressive or violent behavior, persistently experiencing feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or worthlessness, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities or hobbies, withdrawal from social interactions with friends and family, and alterations in sleep patterns, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep or sleeping excessively. While these signs do not necessarily indicate a specific mental disorder, they should be regarded seriously and promptly addressed, akin to other illnesses with related symptoms.

Below are Dr. Richard’s recommendations for enhancing your mental well-being:

“We’re all social creatures. It’s important to have good friends or family around you who are positive, open-minded, and supportive. Find a hobby you enjoy and make time for it, as it can really help your mental well-being.”

He added “Try to exercise regularly. Eat healthy foods like lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as much as you can. And try to limit things like alcohol, sugary snacks, and processed foods.”

Practically speaking, mental health entails effective mental functioning, leading to productive activities, satisfying interpersonal relationships, and the capacity to adapt to change and cope with adversity. Regrettably, a significant proportion of boys and young men in today’s generation experience mental illness at some juncture in their lives, with such challenges typically emerging during childhood or adolescence.

The prevalence of hypermasculinity within culture complicates the process for boys in establishing relationships, consequently contributing to a crisis of connection.

During adolescence, which has historically been a period marked by significant developmental milestones and intense emotional experiences, Nigerian teenagers, particularly boys, appear to be encountering unprecedented challenges. This emphasizes the importance of acknowledging boys’ humanity and treating them accordingly. After all, it should be recognized that boys, like all humans, have blood coursing through their veins beneath their flesh, rather than possessing metallic bodies composed of interconnected wires like robots.

Boys experience a range of emotions and may encounter periods of vulnerability and fatigue. Despite facing the pain and challenges of life, they often conceal their struggles behind a facade of a cheerful demeanor. This existence lacks true fulfillment; it’s merely an existence without meaning. It is crucial to prioritize the well-being, particularly the mental health, of our male children. They deserve an equal measure of love and attention, just as their female counterparts do, unconditionally.

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