It is an open secret that “Real Men” struggle with their mental health at different times. These mental health struggles can be intermittent or continuous, affecting their quality of life and overall well-being. Watch them tell their stories in the PBS documentary Men Get Depression.
What do we know about men and their mental health?
We know there are social and cultural norms that influence how men should think, feel, and behave. These influences affect how men see themselves in their societal roles and responsibilities. Many men are conditioned to believe that showing vulnerabilities are not “manly” or “resilient.” Therefore, to avoid appearing weak, some men use what they consider tried and true defenses such as:
They refuse to ask for help.
Denial of their emotions to not appear sensitive or, worse, being identified as emotional.
Project their unwanted and unpleasant emotions onto something or someone else to avoid dealing with unpleasant feelings.
Repress their painful thoughts and feelings.
They are intentional about not speaking about what they are going through; talking about their struggles is acknowledging they are vulnerable.
They usually learn to silence themselves emotionally after being shut down for sharing their feelings.
They self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to numb their feelings.
Responses to Men’s mental health concerns:
Sometimes amid their mental health crises, they are told to “man up,” “tough it out,” and “be a man.” Of course, the messaging is familiar; in response, men suffer in silence while presenting as stoic and self-reliant to affirm they can hold their own. Others are physically present in their immediate environment but unavailable emotionally.
They usually do not seek professional help to deal with their mental health concerns. They experience higher rates of suicidality. The stigma of not being “man enough” plays a role in men not seeking professional counseling. While it seems counterproductive to not seek help when needed, dismissing the reasons for not seeking help as irrational is foolhardy. More importantly, these reasons represent men’s reality, and their experiences shape this reality directly and indirectly.
Where do we begin to help men with their mental health?
It is difficult for many men to speak about their feelings. Why is this important to know? At first, men may seem resistant to sharing their personal stories, especially if they think everything they say is overinterpreted or overanalyzed because it is believed there is some hidden meaning in what they are saying or not saying.
Avoid reading between the lines and ask open-ended questions to elicit more than “yes” or “no” responses. Use reflective listening to gain insight and ask for clarification when needed. Tread lightly because every morsel of shared information comes from self-report, and if they are not talking, there is no way to gain insight into their thoughts and feelings.
Men prefer to try and fix their problems without input from others. Therefore, they may not readily display help-seeking behaviors. Consequently, promoting help-seeking behaviors is crucial to men's mental health. Man Therapy is an excellent resource for men's mental health empowerment.
Seeking professional mental health services
Mental health professionals, throughout their training, it is reinforced that helping a person in distress is a significant undertaking and individuals seeking counseling must be treated with the highest ethical standards. Many mental health professional training programs require students to attend counseling themselves so that they understand counseling from the perspective of the client and the professional.
In addition to attending therapy, mental health professionals are trained in counseling and psychotherapy's social and cultural foundations. Therefore they have an understanding of the cultural nuances of men seeking treatment.
Should you choose to seek professional counseling, it is essential to understand that there are many theories of counseling and psychotherapy. Therefore, not all mental health professionals approach the treatment of mental health issues in the same way. For example, interventions used by the therapist may be Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT), and … Reality Therapy.
Irrespective of the intervention, the work of the therapist:
A professional code of ethics guides it.
Your communication with the therapist is protected health information, which is confidential.
The therapist will complete an assessment, and the evaluation will facilitate your treatment.
The therapist will use therapeutic communication to bring awareness about your functioning.
The therapist will work with you to develop a treatment plan to address your presenting problems (your reason for seeking treatment). The treatment plan will be set on your goal for attending therapy.
Therefore, the therapist is not an expert on your life and will not “TELL” you what is appropriate.
The therapist’s role is not to persuade or convince you to do anything, but the therapist may make suggestions to you.
The therapeutic alliance (trust) you build with your therapist is crucial to your therapy. Your self-report is vital to therapeutic work.
The therapist does not consider you incompetent and incapable of solving your problems.
Mental health is precious, and we must make every effort to preserve it to maintain our functioning in our activities of daily living. If you are struggling with your mental health, please seek help.
Stay Naturally Curious
Sharf, S. R. (2004). Theories of psychotherapy and Counseling: Concept and cases (3rd ed.).Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.