Be strong. Toughen up. Be a man. Every time you hear that, it reinforces the stereotype that men should not be “emotional” because it’s weak.
Several studies have shown that men seek help far less often than women, even though their rates of certain mental illnesses are the same or even higher. As a result, a man’s mental health issues can go undiagnosed and untreated. Movember seems like the perfect time to shine a light on this important issue.
Many men suffer in silence – and the consequences can be devastating. Fewer men are formally diagnosed with depression – yet suicide rates in men are three times higher than in women. Globally, on average, a single man dies by suicide every minute of every day. It is believed that this discordance between men’s low rates of diagnosed depression and high suicide rates is the stigma around men’s mental illness, which can impede men from seeking help and limit their self-disclosure about depressive symptoms and/or suicidal thoughts.
Studies have shown that the majority of men are ashamed to seek help for depression and suicidal ideation and believe they can independently overcome their mental health challenges. A 2018 Canadian survey reinforced these stigmatized beliefs, revealing that more than one-third of men and women surveyed endorsed the view that men with depression are unpredictable. Additionally, more male than female respondents said that they would feel embarrassed about seeking formal treatment for depression.
Men face unique barriers in accessing mental health support. According to the Toronto Men’s Health Network (TMHN), even the concept of “men’s health” is relatively new in Canada. Men’s mental health faces an even greater lack of awareness and attention. Here are a few reasons why:
Low priority given to men’s health issues in the research community. More funding and specialists in this area will help encourage ongoing research into male mental health.
Male and societal attitudes – that men need to “toughen up” and move on – have reinforced barriers to seeking help and in building support systems.
Low recognition of men’s roles as fathers and partners can foster greater feelings of isolation and stress.
Lack of social support from other men in talking about emotion health openly and honestly. There is often an embarrassment men have when speaking to other men about their feelings, which are often thought of as “un-masculine.”
A tendency for men to believe that they need to be the provider and cannot take time to look after their health (both mental and physical). In fact, data suggests that around 40% of men would prefer to try and hide any issues from their boss out of fear that it might negatively impact their career.
We need to encourage men to talk about their mental health. Addressing the barriers men face in accessing the mental health support they need starts with ending the stigma of asking for help. Here are some ways we can all – men and women – work towards doing this collectively.
If you have a partner, friend or colleague who does not seem himself, ask him about it. It can be a simple, informal “you don’t seem like yourself – is everything ok?”
Be empathetic and non-judgmental. It doesn’t matter if you wouldn’t feel the same way in his same position – just let him know you’re there for him.
Encourage him to seek treatment, and reinforce that this is not a sign of weakness. Mental health is as important as physical health, and effective treatments are available. Online psychotherapy options, including Beacon Digital Therapy, can reach men who may feel embarrassed about speaking to a therapist face-to-face.
Be patient. It might take a few attempts to get someone to open up and share. Give him the space he needs, but check-in regularly. This can be a text, call or distanced meet-up – just make it a point to keep him on your radar.
Normalize his feelings. If you’ve ever felt the same way, let him know. People often think they are alone in their feelings, and no one will understand. Showing that it is normal to not feel ok can help a person feel safer in expressing what they’re going through.
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