Are men more at risk of mental illness after a breakup?

A new study suggests they might be.

Heartbreak is universal. But it effects may not be.

A recent study by the University of British Columbia looked into links between masculinity and mental illness in experiences of intimate relationships and breakups. They found that many men had difficulty communicating their feelings during a relationship, and asking for emotional support post-breakup, and were also more likely to look to substances to numb emotional pain. They found that for many men, the end of a romantic relationship was often a predictor of further mental health problems.

man sad after breakup

If this sounds surprising, there’s a good reason why. Many of the depictions of heartbreak we seen on screen are female (think Bridget Jones, crying into a tub of Ben & Jerry’s). There are far less depictions of male heartbreak. This isn’t because men don’t experience heartbreak (it hurts us all). But rather because there isn’t a social script for masculine heartbreak - and masculine emotion in general.

More broadly, we live in a society that still associates masculinity with stoicism (’boys don’t cry’), and sees vulnerability as a sign of weakness. However, we know that when we don’t allow ourselves to feel, express and process our emotions, they fester, and often come out later in unhelpful or self-destructive ways. If we don’t process our emotions, we can’t move on.

This suppression of emotional experiences certainly contributes to the suicide crisis we see in men under 45, and is perhaps also why it might take a man (in a heterosexual relationship) longer to get over a breakup than his female partner.

Do you agree? Is this true of your experience?

Let us know in the comments below.


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