Written by V. John Nguyen, Ph.D.
Men, you can feel more than anger. You don’t have to ignore the lump in your throat during the chorus of “Tears In Heaven.” You don’t have to try to think of something funny to ward off tears when Spiderman gets turned into dust. And you don’t have to “get a snack” any time a contestant on American Idol has an emotional backstory. Your mental health is important, and you’re allowed to have feelings.
In my work with men over the years, I’ve heard many words used to describe emotional struggles. Words like unsettled, unfocused, and tired are typically used in place of sad, depressed, or guilty. As a matter of fact, most men that I’ve worked with will put more effort into tiptoeing around the use of these words than acknowledging them and possibly feeling some form of relief.
Recently, there has been a significant shift in society’s perspective on mental health. It’s no longer seen as a sign of weakness to seek help or openly discuss one’s emotional struggles. Despite this, many men remain reluctant to address their mental health issues even though nearly 1 in 10 men experience some form of depression or anxiety (“A Critical Look,” 2017). There are many reasons for this, and this blog post aims to highlight some of them.
Society has long perpetuated harmful stereotypes about masculinity, emphasizing traits like emotional stoicism, strength, and independence. These stereotypes have often discourage men from acknowledging their mental health issues, fearing that they might be perceived as weak or vulnerable. This stigma has resulted in a concerning trend where men are less likely to acknowledge mental health issues and seek help for their mental health concerns when compared to women (Whitley, 2017).
The Silent Struggle
Many men suffer in silence. Traditionally, men have been lauded for the ability to “man up” and succeed in the face of physical and emotional adversity. This pattern is perpetuated by the fear of being perceived as vulnerable or incapable. Reputation and staying within a well-defined role often supersede the need for effective emotional expression.
Suppressing one’s emotions and denying the need for help can have serious consequences. These consequences include increased stress, anxiety, and depression. In some cases, the emotional burden becomes too heavy to bear, leading to substance abuse or even suicidal thoughts.
Challenges Unique to Men’s Mental Health
While mental health challenges can affect anyone regardless of gender, men often face unique issues that can exacerbate their struggles:
- Societal Expectations: Men are frequently expected to conform to traditional gender roles, which can motivate them to hide emotions and maintain a facade of toughness.
- Limited Emotional Expression: As counterproductive as it can be at times, anger typically viewed as an acceptable emotion to express for men. Many men have been conditioned to believe that expressing emotions like sadness or vulnerability is unacceptable, making it difficult to open up about their mental health.
- Reluctance to Seek Help: Men are statistically less likely than women to seek professional health assistance, leading to undiagnosed and untreated conditions. Furthermore, men’s support systems are typically devoid of outward emotional expression.
Breaking the Stigma
Addressing men’s mental health issues requires a collective effort to break the stigma surrounding it. Here are some ways that we can work toward a more supportive environment:
- Promote Open Conversations: Encourage men to talk openly about their emotions and experiences. Check in on each other and leave room for conversations not considered commonplace. Friends, family members, and peers should create a safe and non-judgmental space for these conversations.
- Redefine Masculinity: Challenge outdated notions of masculinity that stifle emotional expression. Teach boys and young men that it’s okay to seek help and express their feelings.
- Encourage Professional Help: Promote the idea that seeking therapy or counseling is a sign of strength, not weakness. Mental health professionals can provide valuable support and coping strategies.
- Raise Awareness: Support organizations and initiatives that focus on men’s mental health. Participate in campaigns and events aimed at spreading awareness and reducing stigma.
Alasco, P. (2021, October 14). Men Have Feelings Too: Understanding Men’s Emotions. Bofill Psychological Services, Inc.
Whitley, R. 2017, February 6). Men’s Mental Health: A Silent Crisis. Psychology Today.
A Critical Look at Men’s Mental Health. (2017, June). Retrieved from https://www.mindwise.org/blog/mental-health/a-critical-look-at-mens-mental-health/