Mental Health Awareness For Men

Talking about the gender-specific challenges that create stigma for men, when it comes to addressing mental health issues.

When talking about Men’s mental health we need to address the barriers they face when it comes to seeking support. There is a huge mismatch between the numbers of males vs females that seek out therapy and mental health support. This is directly linked to the gender stereotypes placed on both genders by society, culture etc. Most males hear phrases like “Don’t cry”, “Walk it off”, “Man up” or “Be a man” when they are growing up. These phrases can be so harmful to a young boy as it teaches him that as a male he is not “allowed” to express his emotions, unlike his female counterparts. Emotion expression is viewed as “weak” behaviour and therefore a lot of young boys learn to hide from their emotions and engage in suppression as a result. Males are nurtured in such a way that emotional expression seems taboo. Meanwhile the only emotion society seems to accept from males is anger. Anger has been inaccurately labelled the “strong” emotion and thereby appropriately fits in to this pointless stereotype that society has created for males. 

“Boys grow up in a world inhabited by a narrower range of emotions”

-Dr. Gruber & Dr. Borelli

The negative impacts of emotional suppression have been proven time and time again through research. It has been identified that not nurturing emotional diversity in the youth, especially avoidance of strong negative emotions with the exception of anger, can lead to academic under-performance, participating in health-risk behaviours, severe depressive symptoms in adulthood, as well as engaging in physical violence as a form of expression. Scientists have speculated that due to a lack of emotion regulation there could be links between aggressive behaviours and constrained emotions. This seems probable considering that young boys are not taught skills of emotion regulation and therefore lack the practice creating difficulty with regulating their full range of emotions. Since anger has been one emotion that was not considered taboo growing up- this becomes the default form of expression.

“Emotional diversity is not just important for young boys but continues to be so as emotionally restricted young boys mature into adult men with more rigid emotional repertoires. Experiencing the full range of emotions may not only benefit young boys’ psychological health but have far-reaching benefits for society at large.”

Men are hesitant to reach out because they find it difficult to open up about their emotions. As the message reiterated from childhood is that of emotional suppression. Therapy or counselling aims at focusing on and deconstructing emotions, feeling them without judgement and instead looking at them curiously- this message is likely to go against the message most males received from childhood, which creates a sense of discomfort as it contradicts their cultural stereotype that men must remain “strong”. Additionally, as males are unable to talk about their feelings and explore them, they might find it difficult to identify symptoms of certain mental health issues, therefore unknowing that they could benefit from support. 

All these factors intertwined have brought us as a society to a point where our men are now struggling in relation to their mental health. 

“Surveys from around the world show that men everywhere find it difficult to open up about mental health, though they are significantly more at risk of attempting suicide.”

– Medical News Today

A big step that we as a society can take to end this “Silent pandemic” is to focus on better mental health education. Studies have shown the importance of using education to shift how men conventionally think about mental health, depression, and suicide. It has been further highlighted that these education programs can have a positive impact on reducing the stigma surrounding these topics. 

Experts have increasingly noticed that there are many factors that come into play when trying to understand the difference between the mental health experience of men and women. Some of these factors include biology such as hormonal differences, but biology does not give us the whole picture. Increasingly we are understanding that internalised gender stereotypes, coping strategies (e.g., substance abuse), clinical bias etc. plays a deeper role in who experiences mental health issues and how their symptoms formulate. Which is why education surrounding these topics need to be prioritised as a main step towards fighting stigma. 

If I am struggling, where should I start?

  1. Speak to a close friend; Especially if you are male speaking out about emotions might feel like the last thing you want to do. But try talking to a close friend, someone you don’t feel judged by and who could also provide you with some support and guidance on how to tackle things. 
  1. Reach out to a Psychologist/Counsellor- If you feel like opening up to those around you is tough try talking to a therapist. Maybe talking to an unbiased third party who is bound by ethics to keep your information confidential can help you create a non-judgemental space where you can share. Remember you don’t have to have a mental illness to schedule an appointment with a therapist. They help people navigate a full spectrum of troubles.
  1. Read and Learn- Try and consume more information surrounding mental health and in specific how gender stereotypes affect each gender. It would be helpful for you to challenge those thoughts and learn about what are the healthier ways of looking at mental health.
  1. Write what you feel- Journaling can be an amazing tool that you can use to learn more about yourself. Since exploring emotions is probably new to most of us, journaling helps you create a sense of self-awareness. This can help you stay in tune with your mental health and notice patterns, and if it feels like it is worsening you will be aware enough to seek out mental health support. 
  1. Bring it up- Talking about the importance of mental health in social settings, or with your close friend circle can be beneficial as it normalises the topic among your peers. This can benefit both them and you, as it helps everyone feel less alone, when they know that mental health struggles are common to all humans. 

“Mental health can be hard to think about. Identifying that you’re finding it difficult or that you might need help isn’t always easy — particularly for men. However, it’s best to speak out. Whether you open up to a friend or family member or consult your doctor, there’s help out there, and ways to help manage your mental health yourself, too.” -Healthline

Written by Sanchia Supramaniam