I’m sure that at some point in your lives you have heard the saying, ‘Man up’ .I remember hearing it many times as a child from family members, friends, and even teachers! However, it wasn’t something that I gave much thought to growing up – I guess I just accepted it as the norm.
Another similar saying that you may have come across is; ‘Big boys don’t cry’. You can almost picture the little boy who has fallen over and scraped his knee. He is crying in pain and his father says to him; “Come on, son, big boys don’t cry”.
Although these sayings may seem harmless and very normal to us, they are part of the bigger picture that we are talking about today. As society, we convey the message that men should ‘Man up’ or be a ‘Big boy’, which can mean that we, as men, find it very difficult to show any weakness or vulnerability.
Tough Guys, Sad Minds…
So, how does this stereotype fit with men and seeking out mental health support? Quite simply it doesn’t appear to. The ‘men should have a show no weakness bravado’ that we see in the media and through these stereotypes, does not appear to sit well with seeking out mental health support for men, as it may be seen to be in conflict with the role that society expects of them.
Indeed, with superhero men in the media often portrayed as invincible, powerful, human beings that never show weakness, along with the constant message to ‘Man up’. This can lead to men developing the belief that ‘real men’ or ‘masculine men’ should not be struggling. Men, are therefore, essentially brought up in fear of thinking or talking about emotional problems, and often repress their emotions, or shy away from expressing their struggles for the fear of being seen as weak or not masculine.
When it comes to seeking out mental health support when we need it, we are not getting the support that we really need.
In the US, an estimated 6 million men were living with depression last year, whilst 12.5% of all men in the UK were suffering from one of the common mental health disorders in 2017. Do these figures seem high to you? If you are saying yes, then I would agree. However, the worrying thing is that it is believed that these figures do even come close to representing the true extent of the problem.
The number of men who are suffering from mental health may not be represented in suchfigures, as they are simply not reaching out for the help that they need.
A survey by a mental health foundation found that, in 2017, only 28% of men sought help for their mental health problems, and only a quarter of men had spoken to friends or family about what they were going through. They also found that 35% of men waited more than 2 years to disclose their mental health problems to friends and family.
Worryingly, it has been found that men are four times less likely to seek mental health support than women, and are four times more likely to die from suicide. Unfortunately, suicide is now the biggest killer of men under the age of 45, with middle-aged men found to be more vulnerable to mental health challenges, substance abuse and suicide.
Shame, embarrassment, fear of treatment, concerns about confidentiality, not believing that theyneed help, and wanting to handle it on their own, are some of the main barriers that men face for accessing mental health support. Unsurprisingly, given these figures, it has been found that 46% of men stated that they would be embarrassed or ashamed to take time of work for a mental health concern, compared to 13% if it was for a physical injury. In addition, 38% of men showed concern that their employer would think badly of them if they took time off work for a mental health problem.
Asking For Help is NOT Showing Weakness…
I think it is fair to say that we, as a society, are slowly challenging the stigma attached to mental health. In recent years, campaigns, such as; ‘Movember’ have been launched, whilst celebrities such as; Prince Harry, Prince William, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and a number of others, have spoken openly about their mental health struggles. But it does feel that there is more work to be done, especially considering the recent statistics highlighting that men are still often not accessing the mental health support that they need.
We therefore need to further challenge the stereotypes and myths that it is weak to ask for help!
I believe that we can all challenge our beliefs and develop new healthier beliefs, such as:
- Depression is an illness, not a sign of weakness;
- Reaching out for help and taking control of your mental health is the best course of action, we don’t need to cope on our own;
- All humans, including men, feel sadness, this does not mean that feeling sad is not manly;
- A sign of real strength is acknowledging and facing the challenges that arise, this does not mean that you are not a ‘real man’;
- To help depression or other mental health problems, takes skill and strategies, simply suggesting someone ‘snaps out of it’ does not usually work;
“I don’t feel right, but I’m not sure I’m mentally ill”…
Perhaps another barrier inhibiting men from accessing support for mental health is a lack of awareness that they are struggling with it! It’s true that men can experience different emotions to women and sometimes may not realise what they are feeling, just that they don’t feel right. This is because men often repress their feelings and symptoms as opposed to showing sadness or crying.
As a result, men can therefore also exhibit symptoms that are ‘masking their feelings’, such as;
- Irritability and anger;
- Substance abuse;
- Risk taking behaviours.
Access the support that you need, and talk to a friend or someone you trust…
I feel that there is a bigger picture that we need to look at, in order to truly challenge the stereotypes and stigmas related to mental health. I believe that we need to look at parenting; how we bring up our boys, such as; reducing critical and ‘Man up’ talk.
However, ultimately for now, men need to feel able to engage with support for mental health, and the first step towards this treatment is the individual feeling that they can talk about how they are feeling.
For this to happen, we all need to work together to help challenge the negative stigma and stereotypical views of masculinity, that are stopping them from doing so. We need to be kind and supportive to our friends if they don’t seem themselves, something as simple as offering to go for a drink or walk with them and being there for them can be a huge support. And if you feel that you are struggling with mental health, remember that there has never been a better time to reach out for support. The first step can often be the hardest, but it can lead towards getting better.
If you feel that you may benefit from talking to someone about any of these issues, why not book a free initial appointment with Thomas via firstname.lastname@example.org or +34693554925, or share this post with a friend. Together we can overcome this.