Written by therapist Pete Marlow
Mental health statistics show a large number of men prefer to suffer with mental health issues rather than ask for help. A leading cause of death among men is depression and suicide with men dying by suicide at a rate that is over 75%, which is four times higher than women. There are also double the number of alcohol-related deaths among men as women, and men are 2-3x more likely to misuse drugs. This all points to the fact that men are far more willing to turn to unhealthy behaviors as coping mechanisms that could eventually kill them, rather than reach out for help. All the while, their mental health worsens.
Rules for how to behave, “like a man,” are communicated through parents and other family members, the media, coworkers, and spiritual leaders among others. Here are some rules that have led to a worsening stigma around mental health, including depression, for men. If you have heard these spoken and unspoken rules, then you are not alone.
Emotional Expression Not Allowed
Expressing emotions, such as fear and sadness, is considered by society to be a feminine trait. For troubling reasons that I don’t have time in this post to discuss, this is seen as a sign of weakness. Men of all ages are expected to display a lot of aggression and violence (“boys will be boys”), which means that for men, anger is the only allowable emotion. This is why so often, emotions such as sadness, shame, and embarrassment tend to come out as anger in men.
Every Man is an Island
This is the lie that men are to “handle” their mental health issues on their own. The belief is that there’s no reason to bother others with your problems. I will often ask male clients if they have ever felt comfortable with sharing how they’re feeling with anyone else, including their wives or parents, and they will respond they’ve not wanted to, “burden others,” with their mental health struggles. Men do not believe they can share their load with other people, so they attempt to fix the problem on their own, without the proper tools to know how to do so.
This is an unspoken rule which states that men are to be the, “head of the household.” This leads to an inordinate amount of pressure on men to always portray themselves as, “having it all together,” since they are the person everyone else is counting on.
Dangers of Not Treating Mental Health Concerns
My heart aches for men who feel trapped by these rules. I have heard from so many male clients that they’ve waited years before coming to meet with a counselor. Sometimes the thought discussed earlier in this post, that they are, “being a burden,” extends to our therapeutic relationship, and they worry they are burdening me. So, they put off coming to meet with a counselor, or even talking to a trusted friend or family member. Left untreated, depression leads to increased social isolation, reduced enjoyment of activities, trouble sleeping, heart disease and other physiological issues, higher risk for harmful behaviors, and consistent feelings of low self-worth and guilt. This is tragic because it’s treatable.
The rates of men seeking mental health counseling are even lower among Black, Latino, and Asian populations. Research shows that in particular, the Black population is more likely to have a favorable view of mental health services, however, statistics show this does not result in higher rates of this population seeking these services. Some of the lack of men from these populations seeking counseling can be attributed to less access to these services as well as discrimination while receiving mental health services, or cultural differences.
Benefits of Mental Health Treatment
It is important for any man hesitating about meeting with a counselor to remember that mental health issues are in many ways just like any other physical ailment. How more likely would you be to seek immediate medical attention if you discovered a suspicious lump on your body that you suspect could be cancer, or have been dealing with a bad cold for two weeks that turned to pneumonia? You wouldn’t feel shame about seeking treatment.
There are also many positives that come with being more open about your mental health struggles with others. Everyone struggles with responding to stress in a healthy way. Being able to have open and honest conversations with others about how you’re struggling with it can bring about vulnerable conversations that build feelings of closeness with others and support.
If you want to learn more about meeting with a counselor, don’t hesitate to give us a call! We would love to talk with you about whatever mental health issues you’re dealing with and help you work towards developing a more vulnerable and healthy way of coping with them.