Boys don't cry (and other lies about mental health)

Have you ever been told to ‘man up’ or heard the phrase ‘boys don’t cry’ thrown around? It might sound like banter on the surface, but statements like these can actually be really harmful. By implying that ‘real men’ should bottle up their feelings, it can make it seem like expressing yourself is a sign of weakness.

Newsflash: it’s not.

The idea that men should be tough, strong and not show their emotions is what we call ‘toxic masculinity’. It’s ‘toxic’ because it’s harmful: there is no one way to be a man, and thinking that you can't express yourself or your feelings can lead to emotional and mental distress.

Whether you’re male or female, talking about your feelings is important – especially if those feelings are impacting on your mental health. We spoke to Ben, Marshall, Samantar and Lee about how opening up helped them to improve their mental wellbeing.

Let’s recap:

Talk truthfully

We’ve probably all felt down at one point or another in our lives, and we’ve probably all felt insecure about expressing these feelings too. Opening up is a really hard thing to do and can make you feel super vulnerable.

But feeling like this doesn’t make you weak. Deciding to speak about how you feel actually takes a lot of guts – you are taking the first step to feeling better and that’s a brave move. As Lee says:

"It’s very easy to think that because you’ve expressed your feelings you look weak to everyone else. And, it’s not true, but it’s an insecurity I think most people have."

If you’re feeling down, talk to someone you trust like a teacher, relative, counsellor or friend. And don’t just say what you think you should say. Don’t follow a script. Be true to yourself and your emotions. This helped Marshall:

The moment that I felt like I started to gain a lot more clarity, was when I opened up to my mum.

If you are struggling to find someone you trust enough to talk to, you can find advice, information and the numbers for support lines online. The Samaritans, ChildLine and The Mix all have support services you can call or message if you need to talk.

Keep active

You may not feel like it, but doing exercise can help to boost your mood if you’re feeling low. It’s good for your body and your mental health. When Samantar felt low and asked his older brother for advice, he said “‘Go to the gym, release the anger, release the stress’. And ever since then,” says Samantar “my head started getting clearer.”

Exercise shouldn’t replace talking about your problems, but it can be an excellent way to release pent-up emotions safely.

Stay safe

If your negative emotions are lasting a long time, feel so severe that they impact on your everyday life, or you think you might be depressed, you should seek professional help. Your GP will be able to give you advice and refer you for the support you need.

There are also organisations out there which offer more information and support on depression. You could start by looking at CALM, ChildLine or Young Minds.

Depression and other mental health problems affect different people in different ways and can often go unnoticed. If you think that someone you know might be depressed and want to know how to support them, you could visit Mind or CALMfor more information.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help – there are so many people out there that are feeling the same and so many organisations designed to help you, but if you don’t express that people don’t know what’s going on inside you.

You don’t know what’s going to happen; one minute my brother was there the next minute he wasn’t… I’d say, stop lying and be expressive to the people around you.

It’s so powerful conversing with someone, you learn how to articulate your emotions, you learn how to say how you feel.

The biggest lie that we tell ourselves is that no one wants to hear it, we think they’ve got their own problems going on and no one wants to hear what’s going on with me.

Where to go for more support

There’s lots more advice and guidance on the Bitesize Support pages. Have a look at our mental health collection to get started.

You could also explore the advice on Young Minds, ChildLine and The Mix.

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