Men and mental health: Similar rather than different
2021-10-26 | By Katarina Gaborova
Most likely as you are reading this, a man near to you will be struggling alone with his mental health–a concern often undiscussed and unaddressed. Here’s how we can all help.
It’s been strange year-and-a-half. We are still adjusting to the changes brought on by the pandemic. Some of us remain very cautious, while others not at all. One thing for sure though is it has touched our lives in different ways and certainly has had an impact on our mental health.
A big question
Recently I’ve been asked to deliver many online workshops, including coping with change, taking care of our mental health during a pandemic, or how to support ourselves through grief.
At the end of one of my workshops, a male participant electronically raised his hand and said, “it’s all great this information but I personally have been having trouble even recognising when I feel stressed. I only realise it because I act angry. Even if I am occasionally aware of it, I certainly do not want to talk about it, because as a man I am supposed to deal with it, not be a burden to anyone or appear weak. What are your thoughts on that?”
I was left with this huge question, and hundreds of thoughts racing through my mind.
The Priory Group in the UK delivers a range of mental health care services, and back in 2015 and 2018 they conducted a survey on 1000 males’ attitudes towards their own mental health. The man from the workshop was in line with their findings. According to the survey, 40% of men will not talk about their own mental health.
I was happy that this man decided to raise this issue openly and publicly, as statistically speaking, it’s a topic that benefits from an increased awareness. Especially, because according to this survey, it often takes suicidal thoughts or thoughts related to self-harm for men to talk and seek professional help.
Of the 1,000 polled men, 77% indicated suffering from anxiety, stress or depression. When asked about the biggest pressure on them, work scored as number one as the most significant source of stress, followed by finance and health.
Why don’t men talk about their mental health?
The survey also explored some of the most important reasons why men may not feel comfortable talking about their mental health. If I conducted a similar survey, I would explore some of the points further.
- 40% of those asked said, “I have learnt to deal with it.” My follow up question would be, “is that really so? or is that felt because of certain expectations of men by society?”
- 29% of the men asked felt too embarrassed to bring up mental health issues
- 20% felt the stigma related to the topic
- 17% did not even want to admit that they needed support
- 16% did not want to appear as “weak”
- 14% of them did not have a person to talk to in their surroundings
- 36% of men also indicated the burden factor on others, mentioned by the workshop participant. I would ask, “Have you ever checked with your loved ones whether it is like that or whether these are just assumptions that we were taught to believe for so long? Maybe it’s time to try a different approach and test it out?”
Society and stereotypes
The man expressed what very likely many others feel. It’s often unspoken about, and most likely a man you know may be struggling by himself with his mental health. I discussed the survey in the workshop, which would hopefully normalise some of his own feelings, as well as connecting concerns of other males in the virtual room that day.
There were, however, two other parts to his question. “How can a man recognise when he feels stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, sad, etc.? And why does it come out in a form of anger?” I felt the urgency and expectation from his side to clear this up and provide some answers.
To start, I answered, “for centuries culturally men were taught, point-by-point, not to feel, cry, or even find words to express themselves.” According to Psychology Today magazine, some of the stereotypically “feminine feelings” such as sadness or vulnerability may get converted into more “socially acceptable” feelings that can come out as anger or pride. These feelings may also get converted into physical complaints of headaches or backaches, and within society men can be judged as not being able to emotionally adjust.
How can every one of us, as part of society, help to change these narrow points of view?
Simply, by recognising that men too have feelings, and once they feel open enough to let us others enter their world, mind and heart, our role is to listen and validate them rather than judge or view these as signs of weakness.
Silenced but not silent
Why did this man feel challenged by even getting in touch, naming, interpreting or understanding some of the feelings that he may have been sifting through? Partly it could be because of cultural or societal expectations, or stem from his family’s way of emotional expression, or a lack of individual opportunities and experiences of expressing them freely. When feelings are silenced for way too long, there may have not even been opportunities to develop resources on how to handle them. Especially when they feel too overwhelming. For men, often the feelings get tucked right back where they actually wanted to come out from.
I talked with the man about the roles of sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and how to read our bodily signals because our bodies literally talk to us. What he was looking for was how to apply remedies if these feelings became too overwhelming–the logical, rational part of a ‘man’s world’ coming through as he needed to know how to fix it.
Taking the first step
I keep coming back to that workshop, as I think about his question and asking myself if my answers were sufficient to bring on a personal change. Perhaps I need to be satisfied that the most important change that happened in that room was his brave initial step to finally openly talk about it.