“It is not the situation which makes the man, but the man who makes the situation.”
–Frederick William Robertson
Up until recent decades, mental health, in general, often came with a negative stigma, especially for men. Throughout evolution, men have been hunters and gatherers, fearless, courageous, and self-sacrificing. Having a mental health disorder was traditionally viewed as making one more vulnerable or less in control. And that runs counterintuitive to the way that men want others to perceive them. Perhaps that is just one reason why many men do not seek the mental health treatment they should.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention statistics, suicide rate deaths in 2017 were 3.54 percent higher for men than women. Additionally, Mental Health America estimates that over 6 million men are clinically depressed in the United States annually.
Self-Medicating Isn’t the Answer
And to mask the struggles of dealing with mental illness, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that as many as 62,000 men die of alcohol-related diseases, which is significantly more than their female counterparts, where the number is less than half, at 26,000. Once more, men are more than 2 to 3 times more likely to abuse drugs. And suicide and depression rank the leading causes of death in men. But even with such sobering statistics, men are still less likely to seek mental health services when needed.
According to Chat Owl professional Katja Berini, “As many men have in their subconscious mind the ideal picture of being invulnerable, leaders, strategic, unemotional, clever; it is not an option for them to seek help and confess that they have no solution at hand when it comes to emotional issues.”
The Stigma Attached to Male Mental Health
Many men see signs of depression as a weakness or flaw in their character. And, therefore, do not reach out to get the help they need. Even though we now understand that mental illness is not about a choice or weakness, instead of chemical changes that happen at the cellular level in the brain, we still see a lack of understanding among males. Mental illness is, in many ways, no different than having a physical illness like diabetes or cancer.
But men see it as a fault in their character or as an inability to maintain control of themselves. The prevalence of mental illness viewed as anti-masculine leads a lot of men to avoid the help they need. And to also keep it hidden, choosing, instead, to suffer in silence.
The Burden of Being Masculine
It isn’t just that men struggle emotionally with asking for mental health aid, there are social issues that might keep their accessibility rates low. Recently, the American Psychological Association found that some men have a difficult time making social connections. The clinical term to describe how men have a harder time emotionally attaching is “toxic masculinity.” It is the notion that men are raised differently from women. They are taught to be strong and heroic.
The role models they aspire to be like are movie heroes that are impervious to anything and completely self-sufficient. But unfortunately, that model is highly dysfunctional for the growing male who believes unrealistically that it is them against the world. And that to need someone, or anyone’s, help is a sign of weakness.
Research also shows that men are more likely to underreport feelings of depression. At the same time, traditional male traits might actually predispose them to an increased risk of depression. Often, instead of getting the help they need out of guilt and shame, men turn to self-medicating by using drugs and alcohol to cope. And since it is a maladaptive way to deal with the turmoil that is going on inside; drugs and alcohol only lead to further isolation, shame, and depression.
After centuries of defining what is masculine and what is not, how do we override preconceived notions and get past the point of labeling mental illness as a sign of weakness? Essentially, how can we foster the acceptance of mental illness in men, and get men to man-up about mental health?
Working to Override Stigmas
Men often fall into the misnomer that they are supposed to toughen things out whether they are experiencing physical or emotional pain. They are often concerned that if they reach for help or speak out, they will uncover themselves to be vulnerable.
And because weakness is the antithesis of what our culture considers “masculine,” they choose to deal with symptoms of mental illness on their own. Or, they want to deny that they have any symptoms at all. The only way to provide men the relief that they so necessarily need is to break down the stigmas that are keeping them stuck.
What men need to realize is that no one is immune to life stressors. And once they begin to see how talking with others will lead to more empathy, support, and camaraderie, it will become easier and more comfortable for future generations to overcome the stigmas that have been keeping men from an excellent mental health outlook.
At the Heart of Change is Education
At the heart of turning hearts and minds about the stigma of mental health is education. Once people, specifically men, understand the process of mental illness and the causes of it, they will likely stop equating it with weakness.
There also needs to be more instruction focused on how self-medicating through the use of alcohol and drugs is not only not a good way to foster good mental health; it is a slippery slope. The abuse of drugs and alcohol often leads to physical issues like gastritis, cirrhosis, and actual changes in the brain that only perpetuate and make their mental health status worse.
Also, at the heart of changing stigmas is perpetuating the support and encouragement of loved ones. All too often, we sit idle, watching someone dealing with an issue, and treating it destructively. Onlookers are afraid to step up and say enough is enough and have an open and honest conversation about what is really going on. They fear to voice their opinion about how things need to change. We, as a society, have to be fearless enough to love those in our lives who aren’t getting the mental health care they require, albeit male or female…and speak up.
When is it Time to Man-Up and Take Back Control?
If you, yourself, are worried about the symptoms you are experiencing or have someone in your life that you are concerned about, there are signs to look for. They can signal that it is time to take specific steps to find a healthier and happier new person. These behaviors are an indication that you might need to consult outside assistance:
- A change in work performance
- Mood changes
- Weight changes either gaining or losing weight
- Feelings of hopelessness, sadness or lethargy – or a loss in doing things that you once loved
- Physical symptoms like stomach upset or persistent headaches
If you notice these symptoms in someone you love, then it is time to man up and confront them. Remind them that getting the professional help they need to regain their health is not a weakness; it is one of the strongest moves you can make.
If you get resistance because meeting with someone in person is too intimidating, the professionals of Chat Owl are here to help. We can aid you in taking the first step to transform your life, to stop hiding your suffering, and to move beyond and forward to live your best life without fear of reprisal or stigma.
Men’s mental health issues don’t belong just to them; they belong to us all. Our fathers, our sons, our brothers, and our friends, deserve to be happy and healthy without labeling or stigma. The more people who come forward with courage, the more courageous it will become to get the help you need.
There is no courage in hiding or suffering in silence, and this New Year is a great time to create change in yourself, your home, and your community when it comes to men’s mental health.