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  • Writer's pictureInka Tähkä

“Everywhere you get these models of what you should be like.” Men, masculinities, and mental health

Youth mental health has become a central topic of public discourse. However, the significance of social structures, such as gender norms, for emotional wellbeing remains understudied in Finland. Previous research on men’s mental health has shown that conformity to traditional masculinity ideals can cause men to undermine their health or lessen their likelihood to seek help. However, these studies often lack the perspective of men’s agency in reproducing and challenging these ideals. To address this gap in research, the first objective of this thesis was to examine what kind of masculinity discourses young Finnish men produce. By analysing these discourses, I studied how young men view the gendered expectations to be connected to their presumed mental health. My second objective was to analyse what kind of reactions young Finnish men have to the public mental health discourses. Thus, the context of this study is within the broader mental health and gender discourses in Finland. The study was conducted applying a thematic discursive approach to the open answers in a large questionnaire data about young men’s mental health gathered by Nyyti ry and the Family Federation of Finland in November 2020. Thematisation served mainly as a tool to organise the data, while the discursive approach allowed me to examine how the masculinity and mental health discourses in the data were constructed, and to analyse the ideas and practices within these discourses that shape social reality. Young men produced three lines of masculinity discourses, which highlight how the traditional hegemonic masculinity ideals remain strong in Finnish society, upheld with narrow representations of masculinity. These ideals were portrayed as restricting, limiting the actions of young men, and to create gendered conditions of opportunity to show weakness, ask for help, and talk about mental health. As a reaction to the public mental health discourses, young men produced critical discursive reactions, illustrating how the prevailing mental health discourses are insufficient in quality and quantity, too individualised, and seen as discriminatory towards men. This research indicates a need to address the structural, gendered expectations in order to widen the positions available for men in society and to find useful solutions to support the mental health of young men.


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