How Does Mental Health Affect Masculinity?

By Pyerse Dandridge
Author: Subprime Felon: Inside Federal Prison Camp

The identity of men can be seriously influenced by incarceration in correctional facilities. This can often have an effect on their mental health. Prisoners are forced to submit themselves to authority. They often have no control over what they do, must contain their natural emotions, and must let go of their inherent need for power. When core characteristics of masculinity are taken away, mental health issues often result.

While behind prison walls, men often feel an incessant need to present a hyper-masculine identity that wouldn’t be as necessary for outside society. The general norm for American men is to present an identity that includes: restraining emotions, dominance, independence, competitiveness, and winning. The need to present this identity, especially behind bars surrounded by only men, makes the need for masculinity even more necessary to posture. This on-going feeling to ensure that one does not appear weak, gay, or emotional in any way can lead to increased anxiety when one is constantly over-exerting themselves to appear a certain way to inside society.

It is a constant struggle for some men who are incarcerated to deal with the line between who they are and how they view masculinity, versus what they believe others feel are masculine qualities and norms. It is reported that incarcerated men who conform to the notions of others against their own often experience higher anxiety and depression disorders; as well as other poor health conditions. It is hypothesized that outside support does have a positive influence on the adverse effects posturing a hyper-masculine exterior can create. Support allows for real interaction with those who care and have a love for these men; despite any traditional or implicated ideas on masculinity. It is also reported that this type of interaction can aid in mental health outcomes and allow these men to have a sense of the world beyond the society they are locked in.

While incarcerated, men are forced to strip much of who they are to conform to the rules and authority. Anyone who must conform to a new way of life completely different than their norm will face some form of anxiety; some emotion that will alter who they are; if only slightly. Is it fair to say that these men deserve whatever negative repercussions occur as a result of their crime; even down to the core of their masculinity, or should society accept that they’ve paid for their crimes and deserve ongoing treatment and rehabilitation post-release?