Men have always struggled with the stigma associated with male mental health problems. Why is it crucial that we remove this stigma, and how will men around the world benefit from its removal? June was National Men’s Health Month, and we learned a lot about male mental health through online awareness. However, the stigma surrounding men’s mental health is a persistent and constant issue year-round. What did we learn in June from all of the social media campaigns spreading awareness about male mental health month?
It’s common knowledge that men often resist admitting weaknesses or vulnerabilities, especially when it comes to their mental health. Unfortunately, without acknowledging their suffering, they will not get the help they need. This is not to say that there aren’t any men who are open about their mental health struggles. Some men are very open about their mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD. However, as a trauma therapist and male mental health specialist, Hayden M. Lindsey states, “Women account for approximately 70% of the consumers of self-help material. Additionally, most mental health services are specifically marketed towards women and children.”
Lindsey also points out, “Women are diagnosed with depression at a rate that is twice as high as men. However, the reason for this is that more women are seeking help and more women are therefore being diagnosed.”
Why Are Men Less Likely To Go To Therapy or Open Up About Their Mental Health?
What’s the truth behind why men are less likely to open up about their mental health? Why are men less likely than women to seek treatment or go to therapy? The fact is, there are a ton of barriers men face when it comes to treating their mental health. Society sends men various messages: that vulnerability or showing weakness is not masculine, stigma surrounding male mental health problems, leading to men’s fear of being subjected to shame or ridicule. These are only some of the many barriers men face, and we will dive into these in this article.
Men’s leadership coach and host of the Laugh Your Cry Out Podcast Joey Dumont explains: “Men have been conditioned to see going to therapy as a sign of weakness, and we’re taught weakness is not an emotion that is masculine. Social narratives have taught men that while it’s okay to cry at someone’s funeral, crying because you’re having a tough day at work is supposedly not okay. Men attempt to be strong and stoic because they believe women are attracted to these attributes.” The truth, however, is that countless women are more attracted to men who aren’t afraid to show their vulnerability. And a man who has gone to therapy is a man who has done the inner work, which is very attractive.
UK-based mental health specialist Ray Sadoun explains, “Unfortunately, expressing emotion is not usually seen as masculine, and many men therefore suppress certain feelings instead of learning how to cope with them. While anger may be accepted among men, sadness is often seen as weak and shameful. This leads to an acceptance of aggressive men and a shaming of emotional men.” Male peer groups often shame their male friends or coworkers if certain emotions are detected. This only perpetuates the male mental health stigma.
Male Mental Health Stigma: Are We Making Progress?
While it is becoming more and more socially acceptable for men to be vulnerable and show weakness, the stigma surrounding male mental health is still prevalent. Another issue still prevalent is the stigma around men and emotions, especially emotions such as sadness, anxiety, and fear. We’re making progress in the sense that more people are speaking out about how it’s no longer “cool” for a man to act tough and internalize their pain and problems, but the goal is to see more men seeking treatment. We do not want men to be struggling silently because of social narratives that define what it means to be a man. The number of men going to therapy and seeking treatment is still way too low.
Men need advocates for their mental health. They need the people in their lives to advocate for them to get help and encourage them to do so. Men also need more social evidence that women are attracted to the vulnerable man, not the strong and stoic man. We’re starting to make progress here. Many women on dating apps, for example, will openly state that they’re looking for a man who has gone to therapy, or men who are openly vulnerable. This is their way of saying they’re not attracted to “toxic masculinity”, nor do they subscribe to social narratives that state men can’t show any weakness.
The Dangers of Mental Health Stigma
The fact that many men are taught that it’s weak to open up about mental health issues, or socially unacceptable to have such a weakness, is probably a big reason why more men commit suicide. Statistically, more men commit suicide than women. Since women are more likely than men to feel comfortable seeking help for mental illness, and women are less likely to bottle up their problems inside, it makes sense that less women commit suicide.
Suicide is one of the most serious examples of the dangers of male mental health stigma, and one of the many reasons we should work on removing that stigma.
Increase in Abusive Behavior
Another danger of male mental health stigma is that many men resort to anger, aggression or violence because they were specifically taught not to show their soft emotions such as weakness, vulnerability or sadness or depression.
In other words, another danger of men not treating their mental health problems is that their risk of becoming verbally abusive or physically abusive increases. With the absence of a healthy outlet to work out their mental health problems with a therapist, violence and aggression are quite common.
Take Kyle Fleming’s personal story, for example. Today, Kyle is a board-certified music therapist and owns Fleming Music Therapy. Kyle Fleming explains “I remember being taught explicitly that men do not have and/or shouldn’t express emotions such as sadness, because we’d be perceived as ‘feminine’, ‘soft’ and ‘weak.’ The danger of these social narratives men are taught is that men end up learning the more appropriate way to express their emotions is through anger, violence, power, and domination. I’ve seen this a lot, and it’s a real problem.” Men therefore often end up channeling emotions such as fear, stress or depression into anger and hostility. This is often at the root of many domestic violence cases.
Without a healthy coping mechanism such as therapy, or the help from a trained professional, some men even turn to substance abuse.
If any of these dangers make you anxious about the well-being of the men close to you, it’s time to start thinking about how you can do your part in removing the male mental health stigma.
How Can We Work To Remove The Male Mental Health Stigma?
There are many ways you can make a difference if you agree that it’s crucial to remove the stigma associated with male mental health problems. For example, if you’re a parent, you can raise your sons to freely express their emotions, and even if you aren’t raising a boy, you can raise awareness online about male mental health. Below are some more details and examples of how you can help remove the stigma:
Raise Your Sons to Freely Express Emotions
Mental health specialist Ray Sadoun says, “To reduce the stigma attached to men seeking help, we need to raise our boys to freely express their emotions. For example, plenty of young boys are discouraged from crying when they should feel comfortable doing so. If we raise our sons and daughters to be in touch with their emotions, they will feel more comfortable being open about their feelings and seeking help.”
Any father who sees his son crying and makes him feel like a sissy or tells him the classic, “Boys don’t cry!” line, is perpetuating the harmful male mental health stigma.
Unfortunately, many of today’s parents are still reinforcing the backwards narrative that their sons need to toughen up, “man up” or not show any weakness.
If as a parent you learn to normalize your son’s emotions without judgment, support them when they express emotion and encourage them to open up about how they’re feeling – you’re being part of the change. All parents raising boys should do this.
Be Cognizant of The Way You Speak to Men about Emotions and Mental Health
Common expressions such as, “Man up!” or “Suck it up and be a man!” are often stated when a man shows weakness, fear, sadness or vulnerability. We all need to be more cognizant of this language. It’s important that we not only avoid saying these stigma-perpetuating idioms ourselves, but call others out when you hear them using these expressions.
The context of “Man up” or, “Be a man about it” comes from the social narratives of gender inequality that men need to display toughness in the face of adversity. In reality, it is perfectly acceptable for a man to show weakness or emotion when times are tough. It illustrates a different kind of strength when a man is able to bravely show his emotions or be open about his mental health struggles. We need to see more of this kind of man.
Remind Men That It’s Okay to Need Help and They Need Not Solve All Their Own Problems
Men are often taught to handle their own problems, and figure everything out themselves. Social narratives layered with gender discrimination tell men that they should be “man enough” to handle their own problem. They’re falsely taught that they should be able to tolerate whatever is thrown at them, while staying tough and strong.
David Grammer, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in Los Angeles, explains: “There is a stigma in our culture against men getting help. Men that seek help are often seen as weak and incapable. It is expected that men are able to tolerate anything that is thrown at them without getting ruffled or having any emotions. This leads to many men suffering in silence, putting up a wall to hide their feelings, avoiding close relationships, and/or turning to substance use.”
Mental Health Specialist and advocate Hayden M. Lindsey says, “Most of our upbringings taught us men to avoid vulnerability at all costs lest we be viewed as weak or dependent. There is stigma around any kind of help-seeking (I’ve even met men who are shamed for having someone else change their oil), but there is a special kind of stigma around mental health help-seeking. It runs counter to everything we’ve been taught about what a man should be – strong, stoic, independent, invulnerable. I like to say that strength is not the absence of vulnerability, but rather the courage to accept and work with it. I wish the world had more of this kind of strong man.”
Normalize Men’s Struggles and Normalize Going to Therapy
David Grammer of Grammer Family Therapy explains that it’s crucial we all continue to normalize male mental health, men’s struggles, and normalize going to therapy.
Yes, this conversation has already started. It is so important, however, that it should be discussed and advocated for much more frequently.
To the men reading this: I’d encourage you to take notice when a male coworker, friend or family member looks down or seems ‘off’, and encourage them to open up about their current mental state. Even if they say they’re okay, if you can tell something is not okay, press them and encourage them to share. Perhaps share a story of your own, about your mental health struggles, whether it’s depression or anxiety or something else. Support men in your life to open up, and when they do, encourage them to get therapy by normalizing it and advocating for it. As David Grammer says, “Just acknowledging that a man is struggling without any judgment is a huge help. Men identifying with another man’s struggles is important as well.”
To the women reading this: Keep encouraging men in your life that it’s not weak to be vulnerable, and it takes an especially strong man to be vulnerable and open about his struggles. Mention how many women find this quality attractive, and don’t actually enjoy spending time with men who refuse to show weakness and only ever displays their stoic or strong side. Give a man in your life the nudge to get therapy, even by giving him a therapist’s name and number, or book an appointment on his behalf.
Encourage Men to Develop Their Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Vocabulary
Perhaps more men would be comfortable being vulnerable and open about their mental health if they knew how to communicate their problems. If you want to advocate for a man in your life who you care about and want to see getting better, teach them more emotional vocabulary. Help them learn how to communicate their struggles. This is especially important with children.
Any man has the capability to further develop their emotional intelligence and learn how to identify their emotions, triggers, and pain points. Since many men have a fear of looking stupid or inept, if they do not know how to communicate how they’re feeling, they’ll often stay silent.
Raise Awareness Online
It’s wonderful to see all the social media posts about men’s mental health during the men’s mental month awareness week and national awareness month in June. However, we need to see more awareness being raised online all year round.
Whether it’s women posting to social media that they’re attracted to vulnerable men who are open about their struggles, weaknesses and mental health, or men sharing their mental health struggles openly, we need to see more.
Men could definitely share their personal mental health struggles online more often, which would encourage other men to do the same and open up about their emotions.
Give a Man in Your Life the Gift of Preventative Health
If reading this article has tugged at your heartstrings and made you want to do more for the men you care about, what can you do? One gift that surely helps open up the conversation about men’s health, in general, is the CircleDNA Premium DNA Testing Kit, which is complete with detailed health reports. Think about getting this for your brother, father, son, husband, or friend. You can go over the report with a man you care about and encourage them to take steps to take care of their future health.