Men need help too, and that’s ok.
It is relatively common to see women seeking support and discussing problematic situations, rather than seeing men delving into the depths of struggles (Ellis, 2018).
There is the (outdated and untrue) societal construct that it is not ‘manly’ to talk about problems and feelings, and that anger is the only acceptable emotion for men to express.
The truth is men also need some help, they are human beings after all! As a human being we have many different things that happen for us, to us, and our levels of relating, problem solving, understanding, expressing and processing are all varied.
The Stigma around Men Needing Help
The stigma attached to men seeking help is often the largest barrier to accessing support.
The fear of or the perception that seeking help for mental health is a sign of weakness, unfortunately stops a lot of men from accessing the support to get through a rough time. There can be a sense of shame and guilt for some men about asking for help, which also acts as a barrier (McCusker & Galupo, 2011).
What we know about mental health is that it can be a chemical imbalance (not something that you had a choice in). So if it is a chemical imbalance which has resulted in some depressive traits then it could be looked at as a physical condition, much like diabetes etc.
However a lot of men will worry that their mental health will be judged as a personal issue, a lack of personal fortitude, an inability to be strong and provide, and that it is burdensome to discuss problems, thoughts and emotions.
This can be even more difficult to do when you have been taught (by family, friends, society) to hide your emotions and ‘get on with it’.
Strength: We hear a lot these days about people being ‘strong’. But what does that actually mean?
Is strength someone who goes through life with no struggles?
Someone who struggles through unnecessarily (for longer) and doesn’t ask for help?
Is it someone who falls down and continually gets back up, learning from that experience and using that as part of their story to continue on in their life?
Strength is immediately linked with physical capability and the association that someone who lifts heavy weights is stronger (physically, mentally, emotionally). It’s hard to imagine that being strong means opening up and being vulnerable (with trusted humans in your world); yet there is so much strength in vulnerability!
Toxic Masculinity: We move from strength into masculinity and even further to toxic masculinity.
When you think about masculinity you perhaps have a particular image in your head of how that seems to be represented to the masses. Masculinity is thought of as someone who has the traditional characteristics of a ‘man’ (Grewal, 2020).
Some may think about men who are very muscley, have facial hair, aggressive/assertive (to be protective), in control, powerful, courageous etc.
We can imagine these people having lives in which they do not struggle with depression, anxiety, low self-worth and the like. And we might imagine that they have no struggles in life because they have everything that we (might) want to have, and that is our idea of happy and success.
The trouble with that is that we have constructed a narrative about someone, and we may be completely wrong about them, yet we aspire to achieve this level … that is ultimately unattainable because it’s not real.
We are not likely to put our hand up to say we need help, reinforcing that unhelpful thought and belief we may have that we are not “as strong” as we hoped (or in comparison to a particular person), letting our self-esteem take a hit.
We live in an amazing time where people (even celebrities) that we might not have considered, are opening up about their own life and mental health struggles.
If men are unwilling to ask for help, this can lead to their struggles becoming more, worse, compounded, harder to process, and they may begin to use alcohol or drugs as a maladaptive coping strategy. People (not just men) turn to these means of coping to numb the pain and mentally escape, however the problems are still there at the end of the day.
Smashing through the Stigma
Many men grow up or are lead to believe that they should be tough enough to solve their problems, don’t cry, don’t be vulnerable, don’t talk about feelings (only happiness and anger are acceptable emotions to express) and a whole bunch of other notions which are not helpful.
We are all human beings in this world trying to do our best. It is so important to understand that there is so much more to other people than what we see, as they don’t feel safe letting you see it.
No one is immune to stress, everyone has conflicts, problems within the home environment, work environment, things that they have experienced previously that stays with them and there is a multitude of people feeling that they aren’t good enough, and living their lives in a way to avoid judgment from others rather than for what makes them happy.
So maybe you have struggled through and tried to support yourself and solve some of the problems, however things aren’t getting better. When do you know that it is time to seek some support?
You know it’s time to reach out, when you experience some of these (but not limited to) signs:
- You feel low for 2 or more weeks
- Lacking ability to focus/concentrate
- Fear, worry, guilt
- Mood changes (extreme high and low)
- Withdrawing from friends, family and activities you usually enjoy
- Feeling significantly tired, low energy, change in appetite, disrupted sleeping patterns
- Difficulty or inability to cope with daily stress or problems
- Onset, change or increase in alcohol or drug use
- Sex drive changes
- Feeling more (excessively) anger, hostile, violent
- Thoughts of self harm or suicide (Hicks, 2005).
Where to Find Help
Speak with your GP, internet search a clinician who has experience with the concerns you have, so that you can be matched up as best as possible.
It is also important to remember that as a human being, you may not click with some clinicians and that is OK, it happens. The best thing you can do is let them know that it’s not the right fit and try to see someone else until you feel it is right.
There is so much more awareness around mental health, a multitude of people accessing the support and yet some still struggle with stigma.
As a society, we have the power to smash that stigma and encourage those (men) in our lives that we love to seek assistance, that it is safe, and they are supported by those in their immediate world.
Feedback from Men
Some feedback I have had from males who have sought help and the barriers they incurred or know of due to their social circle are as follows:
- Feeling like a brat because the problems weren’t that bad in the bigger picture, but even the small problems need help and he was glad to have support to work through those.
- The inbuilt provider and protector role being challenged, the idea that he needed to be seen as ‘strong’ or society may perceive that he would not be fit to provide and cope with others’ stress as well as his own. The concern that speaking about his struggles, that he would be seen as a burden to the person that he wanted to talk to. That he has a ’fixing’ mind (like many others) and that it is hard to cope when something (emotions/mental health) cannot be instantly fixed.
- That he is self aware, understands his mental health struggles and feels that the stigma is decreasing which is good to see.
- Difficulty with not being able to tell everyone what is happening for you and the stress to convey a ‘normal’ attitude when in specific company, when actually things are really difficult.
- Growing up with the belief that you don’t ask for help until you need it, but unsure where that threshold is.
Author: Aleah Haffenden, B Soc Wk, Grad Cert Suicide Prevention, AMHSW.
Aleah Haffenden is an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, working primarily with young people (aged 15 and up). She takes a client-focused approach, using a mix of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), tailored to their specific needs.
To make an appointment with Aleah Haffenden try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422 or M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129.
- Ellis, K. A. (2018). Identifying and addressing barriers to men seeking help for depression. British Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 7(3), 130-136.
- Grewal, A. (2020). The Impact of Toxic Masculinity On Men’s Mental Health.
- Hicks, J. W. (2005). Fifty signs of mental illness: A guide to understanding mental health. Yale University Press.
- McCusker, M. G., & Galupo, M. P. (2011). The impact of men seeking help for depression on perceptions of masculine and feminine characteristics. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 12(3), 275.