Breaking Barriers to Men’s Mental Health
Managing our mental health can sometimes feel like trying to navigate an impossible maze. This is even more complex for men who have the added pressures of navigating societal expectations and outdated stereotypes, which prevent them from reaching out for the support they need and keep them struggling in silence.
This blog is all about untangling those barriers, challenging toxic societal expectations, and shining a light on why even the most accomplished men struggle to reach out.
The Silent Struggle
Research consistently shows that mental health services are underutilized by men. Some studies suggest that only half of men struggling with anxiety or depression will reach out for support. Additionally, while research shows that 1 in 6 men experience sexual abuse (including childhood sexual abuse), these rates are expected to be higher because men are less likely to report or seek support. We also know that those who do speak up and reach out for support have often suffered much longer than they ever had to.
The silent struggle may effectively hide the symptoms from others but it poses significant challenges for men’s mental and physical wellbeing. When mental health is left untreated, men can experience:
- Worsening symptoms
- Impaired daily functioning
- Physical health problems such as cardiovascular issues, weakened immune system, and chronic conditions
- Relationship strain
- Substance abuse
- Social isolation
- financial consequences
- Risk of self-harm or suicide
- Poor concentration
- Reduced confidence and self-loathing
- Impeded sexual functioning and satisfaction
This is partially caused by the coping strategies that men are prone to which include overworking, risk taking, substance abuse, and suicide.
Research shows that substance use and risk taking behaviours are often used by men as a tool to mask their emotional problems. We know that suicide is often seen as a last resort by those who feel stuck and hopeless. Considering that 4 out of 5 suicides are attempted by men, the impact of this silent struggle is lethal.
It’s crucial for men to recognize that they do not have to to suffer in silence. Help seeking is not a sign of weakness. It creates an opportunity to find relief and to learn tools to create change that will improve their wellbeing. Help seeking requires courage and strength.
Toxic Masculinity: A Hindrance to Healing
You’ve heard it before:
- boys don’t cry
- don’t be a pussy
- be a man!
- tough it out
- show no weakness
These messages are so ingrained in societies around the globe and they reinforce the notion of toxic masculinity – a set of societal expectations about how men should behave.
From early childhood, men are conditioned to value and embody traditional notions of stoicism and unyielding strength. This is problematic because when dominance, emotional suppression/positive emotional expression, and avoidance of vulnerability are emphasized; seeking help can feel like an admission of failure.
No one likes to ‘fail’ and so many men choose not to speak up and seek the support they need.
Societal Pressures and Performance Expectations
High achieving men often face immense pressure to excel in their careers, leaving little room for self-care and emotional introspection which are essential foundations for mental well-being. By fostering a culture that values work-life balance, self-care, and emotional wellbeing, we can help men prioritize their mental health without sacrificing their ambitions. In fact, finding balance can further increase their success and productivity.
Vulnerability and Emotional Expression
Society dictates that men should be strong, invulnerable, and void of emotions (especially ones traditionally associated with ‘weakness’ such as sadness, despair, guilt, shame, and regret). This expectation hinders men from expressing their true feelings, seeking support, and embracing vulnerability and authenticity. By redefining strength to include emotional authenticity and encouraging open conversations, we can create safe spaces where men can freely express themselves.
Breaking Down Barriers: Lack of Awareness and Education
Misinformation around mental health difficulties and services poses a significant barrier for men’s help seeking.
It can’t impact me…
Additionally, men are less likely to see their difficult experiences as abusive. In a study that focused on sexual abuse, only 16% of men with documented histories of sexual abuse considered themselves to be sexually abused, compared to 64% of women with documented histories in the same study.
It is important for everyone to recognize that mental health does not discriminate by gender, location, or socioeconomic status. They are not immune.
They wouldn’t understand me…
Often, men don’t reach out for help because they don’t believe that the therapist would understand them: female therapists have never lived it, non-binary folks can’t relate, and men will judge them for feeling this way.
The reality is that your therapist doesn’t have to live it or know it to help you. This is the case for any issue that we may seek a professionals support with. We don’t know for certain that a dentist has themselves had a root canal, or that our physiotherapist has a wonky hip, but we reach out for support because these individuals have received training in the areas that we look for support with.
The good news is that there are clinicians that have specific training in addressing men’s mental health. There are also those with training addressing difficulties specific to men such as toxic masculinity, suicidality, and sexual dysfunctions (eg. erectile dysfunction, premature or dlayed ejaculation).
At New Moon Psychotherapy, we understand the unique challenges that men face and the unique needs they have in therapy. For this reason, our therapists have training in this area.
Your Mental Health Matters
If you are a man, or love a man, please remember that mental health matters. Reaching out for support is a sign of strength not weakness.
It is time for men to break free from the silence and create a new and realistic standard that allows men to experience life with vulnerability, connection, compassion, and emotional expression.