international day of the boy child

Fostering Healthy Masculinity, Mental Health and Well-being

In a world where gender equality has become an important point of discussion, the struggles and challenges experienced by boys are sometimes overshadowed amidst the spotlight on girls’ issues. Traditional gender stereotypes often portray girls as more emotionally expressive and in need of protection. This contrasts with the expectations of boys, that are encouraged to be stoic and independent. As a result, girls may be more likely to seek help for mental health issues, while boys may feel pressure to suppress their emotions and tough it out. This leads to underreporting and underdiagnosis of mental health issues among boys. Why is it crucial to invest in the mental health of boys? Let’s explore the significance of fostering healthy masculinity and well-being in boys as we commemorate the 2024 International Day of the Boy Child.

eflier with a boy smiling representing the boy child on international day of the boy child.

Over the years, stakeholders, corporate organizations, non-governmental organizations, and individuals have been tirelessly advocating for an inclusive workforce and empowerment for girls. Yet, amidst these efforts, who is actively supporting the empowerment of boys? Challenges affecting the female child received considerable attention in societal discussion, while those of the male child are often unrecognized.

In a 2014 national survey conducted by the National Population Commission on Violence Against Children, findings revealed that one in four males had been sexually abused. Despite the growth in these statistics, it is surprising that cases of sexual violence against males are underreported and underdiscussed. This is because there is a general pervasive misconception that males are the perpetrators of sexual violence. Also, societal norms often imbue males with a sense of power and dominance, leading them to see vulnerability as a weakness rather than a natural aspect of being human.

From an early age, boys are socialized to believe that independence is paramount, instilling in them that a man should always handle things alone. Encouraging men to never seek assistance undermines their emotional well-being and fosters fragility in their ego. This expectation, rooted in the societal notion of “You are a man,” perpetuates unhealthy masculinity. Consider a scenario where a boy who just lost his father is told to “be strong” and not cry. Such an act will deprive him of developing emotional intelligence and can have lasting impacts on his mental health.

Young Men sharing their thoughts on roles assigned to boys by the society

Boys encounter a multitude of societal expectations, ranging from conforming to conventional masculine standards, to hesitating to show vulnerability or seeking help for mental health issues. Healthy masculinity isn’t about suppressing emotions and rigidly adhering to gender stereotypes. Instead, it involves embracing a diverse range of qualities and behaviors that nurture self-esteem, empathy, and resilience.

It is essential to encourage boys to express their feelings openly, reach out for assistance when needed, and foster authentic, respectful relationships with others. Healthy masculinity promotes the concept that boys can express their emotions freely without fearing a loss of their masculine identity. It’s crucial for boys to develop a balanced understanding of masculinity. Those who are in touch with their emotions tend to enjoy greater life satisfaction and self-esteem, while also experiencing lower rates of mental health issues like depression.

Family plays a significant role in shaping healthy masculinity and addressing mental health challenges in boys. Parents or guardians serve as primary role models for boys. Positive role modeling of healthy masculinity, emotional openness, and seeking help when needed can greatly influence boys’ perceptions and behaviors. Conflict, instability, or abuse can contribute to mental health challenges in boys. Exposing the boy child to family stressors, which include separation/divorce, financial problems, substance abuse, and trauma, can increase the risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. The family is expected to provide emotional and practical support, advocating for their loved one’s needs, and creating a supportive environment.

How can we promote  mental health and foster resilience and well- being in boys? 

  • Encourage open conversations about emotions within families, schools, and communities. Teach boys that it’s okay to feel a wide range of emotions and provide them with healthy avenue for expression.
  • Challenge harmful stereotypes of masculinity that discourage boys from seeking help or expressing vulnerability. Encourage boys to reject rigid gender norms and embrace their authentic selves.
  • Integrate mental health education into school curricula and community programmes. Teach boys about common mental health conditions, how to recognise signs of distress in themselves and others, and where to seek help. 
  • Ensure accessibility to mental health services that are affordable, accessible, and culturally competent. Boys should be empowered to seek help when they need it, knowing that doing so reflects strength, not weakness.
  • Also reduce stigma around mental health issues through education, open dialogue and increased awareness. Normalise discussion about mental well-being to create a supportive environment for boys to thrive.

As a parent, school, stakeholder, or member of society, investing in boys’ mental health involves prioritizing resources, programs, and initiatives that support their emotional well-being and address specific challenges. We need to challenge stereotypes dictating boys’ behavior and redefine masculinity, encouraging emotional expression and seeking help when necessary.

Breaking down these stereotypes not only benefits boys but also contributes to healthier relationships and a more empathetic society. Boys should learn to recognize abuse and speak out when abused. We must foster environments where boys feel comfortable discussing their health concerns. Furthermore, policymakers should invest in comprehensive health education programs addressing both physical and mental well-being.

Let’s break the silence, eliminate stigma, and pave the way for a healthier, happier, and more resilient generation of boys. The health and well-being of our boys are essential to the future of our society, and it’s our collective responsibility to ensure they receive the care and support they need to thrive.

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