By: Michaela Patoilo
In the wake of recent news and media coverage, the stigma surrounding mental health has become a hot topic of conversation. True, the beginnings of more open discussions about mental illness are in the works, but one especially vulnerable group is generally being left out of these outreach efforts. Men.
Even though suicide rates have been increasing across the board, men still account for well over half of all completed suicides. Women attempt suicide more often, but men tend to use more lethal and violent means, nearly eliminating the potential for survival. These facts alone highlight the need to address the stigma men feel surrounding mental illness and why it is so important for them to seek help anyway.
Perceived Factors Behind Masculine Stigma
- Weakness – Even though traditional gender roles have begun to shift, men still receive the message loud and clear that society expects them to be tough. This “protector” mentality means that a lot of men feel the need to hide any perceived “weaknesses” they may have. Efforts to appear “tough” can be dangerous and prevent men from seeking the mental health treatment they need.
- Lack of Control – Another obstacle keeping men from seeking professional help is the idea that men should have complete control over their emotions. The media and messages that men encounter daily praise macho men who can be a rock for those around them. Bottling up emotions for the sake of appearing emotionally stable can actually have lasting negative effects on one’s mental health.
- Emasculating Language – Boys grow up surrounded by language telling them to “Man up!” and “Boys don’t cry!” The language in our society often gives men the idea that talking about their feelings makes them feminine and any show of emotion should be reserved for women. These messages can come across as emasculating and may leave those who need help, especially with managing mood disorders, questioning their worth as a “real man.”
- Feeling Like a Failure – When men internalize hypermasculine expectations, they set themselves up to feel inadequate by comparison. If men don’t feel like they fit into the mold of an unshakable, unwavering tough guy, they may feel like they are a failure as a husband, as a father, or even as a man. The shame often associated with these feelings keep many men from asking for help, even when they need it, for the sake of saving face.
- Waste of Resources – Even beyond the more societal roadblocks to seeking mental health treatment, many men are under the impression that seeking treatment won’t help. They may believe mental health treatment isn’t necessary in the way medical treatment is and thus they are going to be wasting their time and/or money. The stereotypical perception of talk therapy, with a therapist asking people “How does that make you feel?” as they lay on a couch, often bars men from looking into mental health treatment options. What some men may not be aware of is that not all mental health therapists practice in this stereotypical way. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a very action-oriented, strategy-focused, and collaborative approach which might appeal to men who aren’t comfortable with traditional models of psychotherapy.
Despite common misconceptions keeping men from seeking the treatment they need, it is extremely important for men to get psychological help. As men become more willing to talk about their mental health, developers can increase the effectiveness of interventions and suicide prevention efforts. Since they are often overlooked and underrepresented in mental health efforts and research, men represent one of the most psychologically vulnerable populations. By decreasing self-stigma through education and disseminating more comprehensive information about mental illness in men, significant strides can be made to redress men’s negative attitudes toward psychological treatment and encourage them to seek appropriate help.
What Can We Do?
- Normalize Vulnerability
If we want the men in our lives to talk openly about their mental health, we should hold safe spaces for them to do so. Try asking your friend or husband/son/father/neighbor how he is REALLY doing and give him the chance to answer honestly and uninterrupted. Withholding judgement and truly listening (even to what they might not be saying directly) reassures men that they can express their emotions without being afraid of backlash.
- Start Young
Since societal masculinity standards are most often internalized at a young age, it is important for change to begin the same way. As adults and role models, we should make an effort to teach our young boys that asking for help is not weakness and being unemotional does not make them any more of a man. Teaching children to verbalize their feelings and take care of their mental health early sets them up to take care of themselves better as they grow into adults.
- Help Them Get Help
The best way to make sure men are getting the mental health treatment they need is to make the process as easy for them as possible. If you notice a man in your life might need professional help, talk to him about it. Understand that he will most likely be hesitant to take the first steps, but you can support him by offering to accompany him to the appointment or even set it up for him. Reducing logistical obstacles makes the process a little less nerve-wracking and increases the chances of someone following through.
For more information regarding the barriers preventing men from seeking psychological help, please visit: