“A man who cries is not less of a man.
A man who expresses his emotions is not less of a man.
A man who asks for help is not less of a man.”
In recognition of men’s mental health awareness month, we’re focusing on the unique challenges faced by men, and the prevailing stigmas that prevent men from seeking support.
While the topic of mental health is becoming increasingly more open and approachable, societal beliefs concerning “what it means to be a man” often prevent men from asking for help.
Societal “norms” of masculinity that push men to be strong, dominant, and in control over their emotions often result in feelings of shame, isolation, and embarrassment when difficult feelings arise. Many grow up in households where males are taught not to show emotion or seek comfort when they’re feeling hurt, making it difficult for them to identify warning signs of greater mental health concerns.
Consequently, as men suppress their emotions in order to present as “manly” and “strong,” they may turn to substances and other maladaptive behaviors to cope with unwanted emotions.
- 1 in 10 men experience depression or anxiety but less than half will receive treatment
- Men are 4 times more likely to die by suicide than women
- Men account for 10% of patients with bulimia or anorexia, but men with an eating disorder are less likely to seek professional support
- An equal amount of men and women are affected by Bipolar Disorder
- Males in the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to develop mental health disorders than heterosexual males
Now more than ever, we need to break myths of masculinity that prevent men from expressing their feelings, seeking support, and forging new insights into their emotions and behaviors. We need to foster open and honest conversations around the topic of mental health, and allow the individual to define their core values and beliefs, irrespective of gender norms.
We sat down with Tina Regis, LMHC with HBH to learn more about the unique challenges faced by men, and the societal stereotypes that prevent men from getting help from a therapist. We also share simple practices that you can take to support the men in your life.
What societal stigmas prevent men from seeking mental health support?
Mental health stigmas are prevalent and impact individuals of all walks of life, regardless of gender. Men often face societal pressures to conform to traditional gender roles that discourage vulnerability.
Boys might be taught that men don’t show feelings of fear or sadness.
The phrases “toughen up,” “man up,” or, “men don’t cry” perpetuate the idea that men are not supposed to show difficult emotions.
As a result, the signs of more concerning mental health challenges, like depression, might be unclear or unnoticed, making it difficult for family members to intervene.
Other societal “norms” of masculinity, like being the breadwinner of the family or relationship, often prevent men from asking for help when they feel anxious or depressed, explained Tina.
“The self sacrificing that men commit themselves to, in order to fit the molds of masculinity can be extremely detrimental to their mental health and wellbeing,” said Tina.
The pressure to single-handedly uphold the financial well being of a family or relationship can be incredibly stressful to anyone, regardless of gender.
Spotting the signs of mental health challenges in men:
While men and women can develop the same mental health challenges, they may experience different symptoms and develop different coping strategies.
Men might experience the following symptoms of mental health challenges:
- Escapist behavior, such as spending excessive amounts of time at work or on physical activity
- Physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestives issues, and pain
- Controlling, violent, or abusive behavior
- Misuse of substances, such as alcohol and/or drugs
- Noticeable changes in energy levels, appetite, and/or mood
- Difficulty concentrating, feeling restless, or on edge
Both men and women can experience symptoms such as:
- Feeling extremely tired
- Withdrawal from friends and/or family
- Overwhelming feelings of sadness
- Persistent worry
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Lack of pleasure from activities usually enjoyed
- Self-harm behavior
- Suicidal thoughts
If you recognize these symptoms in yourself or your loved one, seek help from a trained mental health professional. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength and courage.
Seek emergency medical help if the person you’re concerned about is in immediate danger, or concerned about their safety in any way. Call the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
How do you support men with their mental health challenges in therapy?
“When I’m counseling men, I celebrate the individual in front of me,” said Tina. “Therapy is an opportunity to tap into our strengths, it’s not a treatment for weakness. I celebrate the client’s willingness to address their mental health and improve their lives,” said Tina.
Men might be more reluctant to share their feelings, for fear of being judged or misunderstood: a nonjudgmental space is always created.
“I directly address the fact that I’m a white woman. I’ve had extensive experience working with diverse groups of men, but I’m not going to sit here and say I understand exactly what you went through or what you’re going through. Trust has to be earned between the client and therapist, it is not given,” said Tina.
Tina helps men explore misconceptions of “typical male behavior,” like silencing their emotions and solving their own problems. Through breaking stereotypes of masculinity, men can tune into patterns of thought and behavior that no longer serve them.
“Therapy is a space for men to drop external appearances and expectations of what it means to be a man,” said Tina. “The goal is to show men that traditional norms of masculinity might not work in every situation, and it’s their choice to confront and replace them.”
Supporting men and getting help:
In order to be in community with each other, we need to show men that it’s empowering to share our emotions. We don’t need to struggle in silence.
- Check in on the men in your life
- Ask them how they’re feeling
- Remind them that you’re there for them to talk
Keep in mind that your loved one might not have the words to articulate their exact emotions.
Listen to what they’re saying, and how they’re communicating with you, without identifying, pathologizing, or reacting to their lived experiences.
If you’re concerned about your loved one’s mental health, encourage them to seek support from a trained mental health professional. Remember that your loved one might be reluctant to find a therapist and book their first appointment. Give them space and time to make their own decision, but remind them of your support.
Our team of trained mental health professionals at Handel Behavioral Health are here to support men of all backgrounds in their mental health journey. We offer online counseling services across the state of Masscahusetts. We also offer in-person counseling from our offices in Amherst, Franklin, West Springfield, and Wilbraham.
Contact us today at (413) 343-4357 to schedule an appointment with one of our clinicians!