People increasingly value mental health while technology to provide mental health services has advanced. Digital interventions such as mobile apps offer various treatments and tools to improve mental health. For example, applications such as Headspace provide clinically validated meditation techniques, while others like Sanvello teach cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques to help people manage stress, anxiety, and other mental health challenges.

Despite the increasing availability of digital mental health apps, men are more reluctant than women to use them. But why does gender matter?

The "Mental Health is Feminine" Stereotype

My colleague Remi Trudel and I suspected that one reason behind men's reluctance to use mental health apps is that people stereotype the pursuit of mental health as feminine.

In many cultures, emotional vulnerability is associated with femininity. Boys are often taught to suppress their emotions and be stoic, while girls are encouraged to express their feelings openly.

Mainstream media and online social media platforms reinforce these stereotypes. For example, television and smartphone screens are full of traditional, one-dimensional perspectives of the strong and emotionless "masculine" man. This societal expectation can make it challenging for men to admit to struggling with mental health issues, which may be seen as a sign of weakness or femininity.

To see whether we were onto something, we conducted several studies testing whether people connect mental health app use with femininity. In one study, we asked about 100 American men to imagine that they have been using a mental health app to relieve stress and anxiety. We then asked them how much they would perceive themselves as feminine. As we suspected, compared to a group of men who considered their femininity without thinking about these apps, the men who imagined using a mental health app perceived themselves as more feminine.

Why Men Care More About Gender Norms

Our studies suggest that men tend to avoid mental health apps, in part, as a way to protect their gender identity.

Past research has shown that men are often especially motivated to live up to gendered expectations because they face harsher repercussions for defying gender norms. For instance, girls who act like "tomboys" tend to be accepted and even sometimes looked up to by others, whereas boys are socially penalized more for acting like "sissies."

This pressure compels men to avoid behaviors perceived as feminine, including seeking mental health support, to conform to societal expectations of masculinity.

Making Mental Health Masculine

If men avoid these apps because they feel like they violate rigid gender stereotypes, could we encourage them to use these apps more by targeting those stereotypes? To address this issue, we considered marketing interventions that present mental health apps in more masculine terms.

In one study, we asked more than four hundred men to read a quote on mental health by a celebrity: "I finally realized that owning up to your vulnerabilities is a form of strength. Making the choice to seek help is a form of strength." Half of the participants were told that the message endorser was Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, the actor and former professional wrestler who is famous for his strong and masculine image. The other half were told that the endorser was Shawn Mendes, a singer and songwriter who strikes people as less masculine than The Rock.

When Dwayne Johnson promoted mental health initiatives, men became more willing to use mental health apps, compared to when the endorser was Shawn Mendes. Moreover, the impact of the more masculine presentation was most pronounced among men who strongly adhered to traditional notions of masculinity.


Bridging the gender gap in mental health app use requires addressing the "Mental Health is Feminine" stereotype and understanding men's motivation to maintain their gender identity. By developing strategies that challenge stereotypes and present mental health resources in a more traditionally masculine way, we can encourage men to overcome barriers and embrace these valuable resources for improving their mental health.  

For Further Reading

Lee, J., & Trudel, R. (2024). Man up! The mental health‐feminine stereotype and its effect on the adoption of mental health apps. Journal of Consumer Psychology. jycp.1405.

Addis, M. E., & Mahalik, J. R. (2003). Men, masculinity, and the contexts of help-seeking. American Psychologist58(1), 5.

Jaewoo Lee is a doctoral candidate in Marketing at Boston University's Questrom School of Business. His research focuses on understanding the barriers that consumers face in pursuing mental health support in the marketplace.