How Gender Stereotypes In Media May Harm Mental Health

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated April 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Free support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Gender stereotypes often have an impact on shaping society and the influenceable perspectives of the younger generations, particularly through the role of mass media in reinforcing gender norms. Media's role in society may shape an individual's beliefs about themselves and others versus the expectations they see portrayed, leading to negative effects on both men and boys and their female counterparts.

These stereotypes may affect how gender is treated in societal environments such as the workplace, legal settings, and mental health systems, perpetuating gender stereotypes in the media and hindering progress toward gender parity. Raising awareness of these issues among media professionals and promoting gender sensitivity can help create a more balanced representation of every age group and challenge traditional gender norms.

Are gender stereotypes negatively affecting your life?

Young people from childhood to adolescence may be significantly impacted by gender stereotypes online or in media. Other stereotypes or societal norms, like high school stereotypes, may also exist in the media.

These messages may create mental health issues among the younger generations, fueling concerns about body image, loneliness, eating disorders, depression, and violence against all genders.

The media can play a significant role in the perpetuation of gender stereotypes through the following platforms:

  • Advertising 
  • Television programs
  • News programs
  • Music videos 
  • Commercials 
  • Video games 
  • Social media 
  • Newspapers and magazines 

The media, through its pervasive news coverage and popular media platforms, can bombard us with gender issues and stereotyping that often become deeply ingrained in our society and day-to-day lives. For example, a fashion trend marketed on social media towards a female audience may be frowned upon if adopted by their male counterparts. Media professionals play a crucial role in challenging these negative values by promoting more positive effects.


Mental health stigmas related to gender

Mental health stigmas refer to negative beliefs or attitudes toward an individual or group experiencing mental health concerns. The news media, including news coverage and news stories, families, and social circles may perpetuate many stigmas associated with gender, sexual orientation, and mental illness within our society. 

For example, people, especially older women, may be embarrassed to seek therapy due to media communication drawing a tie between treatment and weakness or social embarrassment. These beliefs could prevent a vast majority of people from seeking care that would benefit them and offer relief from symptoms.

Mental health among men and trans-masculine genders

Men, women, and other genders may all be affected by mental health conditions and concerns. However, these concerns may go untreated in men. Studies show that men or those assigned males at birth may be less likely to seek treatment than those assigned females at birth due to stigmas and stereotypes about masculinity or gender. 

Certain friend groups, leaders, or environments may enforce ideas that masculinity is associated with strength and dominance, making it more difficult for some people to express their emotions and ultimately seek help. 

These societal trends may pressure masculine people to provide, "just get over" traumatic events, defend themselves physically, or treat women as objects. 

Many boys and men feel pushed or persuaded into these behaviors, even if they are uncomfortable with them. Even if it does not bring them mental wellness and fulfillment in the long run, they may keep quiet out of fear of social persecution. 

These types of toxic environments and pressures can lead to many concerns with mental health, including:

  • An increase in symptoms of depression or anxiety
  • An increase in substance use
  • Greater physical health risks
  • Relationship or interpersonal challenges
  • Violence
  • Homophobia
  • Discouragement over seeking help

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.

Regardless of what you were taught, you don't need to carry any mental health burden alone. With the help of certified professionals or loved ones and through opening up about what ails you, you may find strength in vulnerability and learn from your challenges. Reaching out for help can be brave. 

Mental health among women and trans-feminine genders 

Gender roles in the media may cause mental health concerns among women and those who identify with a trans-feminine gender. These concerns may include the following: 

  • Depression
  • Anxiety 
  • Body-image issues 
  • Low self-confidence 
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Fear of being harmed
  • Eating disorders 
  • Body dysmorphia

Women may be portrayed as dependent and submissive and are often sexualized within the media. Research shows that women are more likely to experience depression or anxiety due to harmful body image and sexualization stereotypes and may be more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), often related to sexual abuse. 

A recent study found that young children at the age of six associated being "smart" with masculinity and not femininity. Researchers completed this study by telling a gender-neutral story about an intelligent person, and when asked to identify the person from the story, the majority chose male characters. 

The study also found that belief in this stereotype may impact girls' activities and choices from the time they first enter school. For example, it has been established that women do not tend to go into fields of science and technology with the same frequency as male peers. This study suggests that these beliefs are shaped beginning in early childhood.

The media reinforces these stereotypes, sometimes unintentionally. For example, if most protagonists are male or masculine, it may put women in the role of supportive side-character or love interest and may breeze over feminine people's complexity.

If a female character is not portrayed as intelligent, flawed, analytical, brave, or strong but are portrayed as primarily sexy or one-dimensional, it can reinforce the stereotype that women are not complex human beings with their own desires, hopes, experiences, and thoughts.

When repeated enough times, these stereotypes may perpetuate the belief to young children and young adults that women are not as wise as men. Therefore, they may not see themselves as capable of certain activities or educational opportunities, leading to fewer women in specific career fields. 

Stereotypes may not only discourage women and trans-feminine people from applying to these types of careers. They may also be perpetuated by the individuals working in the fields. For example, a job hiring primarily men may not have maternity leave or see women as valuable assets to the company. 

Are gender stereotypes negatively affecting your life?

Mental health among non-binary and gender-diverse individuals 

Although many individuals may be subjected to stereotypes based on their assigned gender at birth, non-binary or gender-diverse individuals who do not identify with any of the above gender labels may experience varying stereotypes or hurdles in various areas of life. 

In many individuals who are non-binary or transgender, gender dysphoria can be a concern. Studies show that those who experience gender dysphoria are more likely to have attachment disorders or experience trauma. 

Media may not cover the experience of gender dysphoria, pronouns, or what it means to be non-binary in a way that every individual will relate to. Some media may paint transgender or non-binary individuals as mentally unwell or unsafe individuals. 

However, research shows that being LGBT is not a mental health condition, and there is nothing "unwell" about it. Studies also show that hormones or gender-affirming treatment for non-binary or transgender individuals improves mental health, and one's correct pronouns being used can reduce the chances of gender-related trauma.  

How to overcome gender stereotypes

To bridge gaps and create gender equality, working on self-awareness and finding ways to overcome gender stereotypes within your own life and community may be beneficial. 

Become aware of your own biases 

Gender stereotypes are often deeply ingrained from an early age by the media, upbringing, and other factors. We may all carry our own biases and ideas. 

Consider learning to be aware of your biases around gender and the gender binary. This awareness may allow you to treat people with empathy and understanding, regardless of their gender presentation or identity. 

Emphasize accomplishments over physical appearance 

Complimenting someone's accomplishments rather than their physical appearance may be a way to start combating gender stereotypes. 

Society may often refer to girls or women as "pretty" or "beautiful" without acknowledging their intelligence. Regarding men, society may focus on physical strength or intelligence. You may consider complimenting a man's sensitivity, listening skills, or kindness instead.  

Be aware of gender marketing 

Clothing, products, gadgets, and children's toys often fall under gender-stereotyped marketing. Clothing may be a particular color, such as pink for girls or blue for boys. For toys for children, trucks and building blocks are often marketed to boys, while dolls and play kitchens are often geared toward girls.

Children can learn crucial social, emotional, and life skills through playing. If you have children, consider giving them a variety of toys to play with, so they can build a multitude of skills and experiences that aren't based on gender stereotypes.

Combat gender stereotypes at home 

Gender stereotypes are often created from a young age, and caregivers are often a child's model for gender roles. If you have children, consider conversing with your kids about gender, creating gender equality in your home, and teaching them about women's rights.

Giving parenting responsibilities and household chores equally to your partner, regardless of whether you are a heterosexual or homosexual couple, can promote a causal relationship between actions at home and gender-sensitive indicators. As your children age, it may be helpful to not assign duties based on gender and give equal allowances in such programs.

Make friends with people of all genders 

Stereotypes often exist based on assumptions of how society thinks a particular group should behave instead of seeing them as individuals. A possible way to challenge these gender stereotypes is by making friends with individuals from all genders and encouraging children to do the same. 

Studies show that children who develop friendships with individuals of another gender may have more positive attitudes toward that gender.

Use gender-neutral language 

Using someone's correct pronouns and other gender-neutral words may reduce negative stereotypes, break down the idea of a rigid gender binary, and encourage inclusivity. Make the change if someone asks you to use "they/them" pronouns when referring to them. 

Using job titles like fireman or policeman may insinuate that those jobs should only be for those of the male gender. Instead, referring to these individuals as firefighters or police officers may be more inclusive. 

You might also be urged to refer to those in the military as "military men" or "servicemen." However, you can use gender-neutral language by calling them "service people." 

How to get help when impacted by gender stereotypes 

It can be common for any gender to experience harmful stereotypes about their gender. Whether in the workplace, schools, relationships, or the criminal justice system, fighting against gender stereotypes may be emotionally trying and stressful.

If you are facing challenges or mental health concerns due to gender stereotypes, a licensed therapist may be able to help. A counselor may assist you in identifying the gender stereotypes that are affecting you and help you overcome them. They may also help you make peace with things that have happened to you due to stereotyping and help you develop solutions for coping and overcoming the stigmas related to these gender binaries. 

You might try online therapy if you're uncomfortable meeting with a therapist in person due to concerns about gender presentation or safety. Online therapy is often more affordable than traditional counseling, as well. Clinical studies have proven that online treatment is effective in reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Other studies have shown that online therapy is often more effective than traditional in-person counseling. 

If you're looking for support, you may consider an online therapy platform such as BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples. Online platforms may match you with a licensed therapist to best suit your needs related to gender stereotypes or other mental health concerns. 


Gender stereotypes may negatively impact people of all genders. Often, stereotypes in media operations can put us into categories instead of regarding us as complex human beings. By ignoring the infinitely complex nature of individuals, the media may push them into behaving in ways that may make them uncomfortable and unhappy. 

Many individuals feel lonely, lost, or confused about how to behave or feel. While gender stereotypes may offer a temporary answer, who you are may be much more complex. For example, World War II broke some gender norms as women took on roles traditionally held by men.

You may break free from harmful expectations and stereotypes with gentle care, education, and understanding. Consider reaching out to a counselor if you're ready to take the first step.

Does it seem like stereotypes hold you back?
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