Mental health treatment and care have come a long way in recent decades. For instance, there are now many medications that have been developed to effectively treat conditions like depression and anxiety, with very few if any side effects. On the other hand, in some ways, there is still a lot of work to be done to eliminate the stigma associated with mental health symptoms and conditions.
One of the most tenacious stigmas associated with mental health affects men. Even today, many men have been raised with the goal to “be strong.” Accordingly, many of these same men view suffering symptoms of mental illness as a weakness, a weakness they don’t want to admit to anyone, including a healthcare provider.
This is unfortunate because both men and women suffer from mental illness, and because mental illnesses are so treatable. It’s a frustrating conundrum for doctors who know that most men wouldn’t hesitate to come visit their clinic if they were suffering from bronchitis or a fractured bone; they’d come in and get the treatment they need to help them return to optimum health. If only they viewed mental healthcare the same way, they could visit their healthcare provider, undergo treatment, and–more times than not–feel better.
But, it’s not just about feeling better. From the perspective of healthcare providers, it’s about saving lives. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, men die by suicide nearly four times more than women. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, but it is preventable. With professional mental healthcare treatment and a focus on self-care, improved mental health could most certainly lead to a decline in the suicide rate.
Too frequently, men struggle with mental health symptoms alone because they do not want to appear weak. They tend not to talk to others about their struggles, which can further intensify their symptoms, and they don’t inform their healthcare providers. Moreover, many men suffering from mental health symptoms are sometimes inclined to self-medicate using alcohol or illicit drugs, which only exacerbates a serious problem.
Men have their reasons for not reaching out for mental healthcare; we’ll explore the most common reasons here. Then, we’ll discuss why breaking free from stigmas and taking on one’s mental health with appropriate care is so crucial for men, their families, and communities.
Why Don’t Men Seek Mental Health Care When They Have Mental Health Symptoms?
Men, as a group, are notoriously lagging behind women when it comes to self-care. Improving self-care, however, can lead to improved mental health. Men, wonderful and lovable as they are, may have their reasons for not seeking mental health care, but it’s not always reasonable. Hopefully, we can convince them to abandon these reasons and actively manage their mental health in the most optimum ways.
Men Don’t Want to Ask for Help
To be in a position of asking for help is to acknowledge one’s own vulnerability. How can one be strong if they’re vulnerable? Unfortunately, asking for help, admitting one is experiencing emotional difficulties, or having to rely on someone else conflicts with the message of strength that so many men are raised with and strive to live by. They feel that they have to “tough” out their emotional battles because to do otherwise feels like surrender.
This inclination to equate help and vulnerability with weakness is a serious gender issue that plagues men all over the world, and it manifests itself in all sorts of unhealthy and, sometimes, downright toxic ways. The most astute generals admit to the weaknesses of their armies, they spend months examining vulnerabilities. They take steps to shore up those vulnerabilities. It would be most conducive to healing if men realized that vulnerability, even mental vulnerability, is part of the human condition—and it has nothing to do with strength and everything to do with health.
Men Have Responsibilities
Adults have responsibilities. Many men, particularly men who understand that their income is essential to their family’s wellbeing, point to their responsibilities and job as reasons for not taking time to deal with their mental health issues. They worry that they will not be able to provide for their family or maintain their obligations if they enter treatment for a serious mental health condition or an addiction that is in some ways related to their mental health problems.
Men and women fear being unable to care for their families. However, just as a physical health problem can stop a person in their tracks, so, too, can a mental health crisis. Both physical and mental health problems are normal to an extent; the human brain and body get sick sometimes. When they do, we have to deal with these issues so they don’t become worse and prevent us from doing exactly what we want to do: provide for our families. It’s better to tackle a mental health issue by seeking help sooner rather than later.
“I Wouldn’t Know What to Say”
Another reason men avoid meeting with a mental health care provider is because they don’t know what to say or how to talk about what they’re experiencing, and the very ideal of communicating their struggles is off-putting to them. Because they don’t have a “history” of discussing their emotions, they don’t feel confident about discussing these things with a stranger—even if that stranger is a mental health specialist.
What these men should remember is that mental health care providers train for years. They spend considerable time learning how to obtain the information they need in order to effectively treat their patients—even male patients! A psychiatrist or psychologist can manage the conversation; just answer their questions honestly and the proper care will be forthcoming.
Men Have It Under Control
Many men tell themselves that they have their problems under control. There’s no need to ask for help because they’re handling it. Sometimes they may handle it with immense temper flare-ups. Sometimes they may handle it with a few beers every evening or a couple drinks throughout the day. Sometimes they handle it with hardcore drugs like cocaine or narcotics.
To have a mental health problem under control is to manage it in healthy ways. Self-medicating isn’t healthy. Handling a clinical mental health problem without a doctor’s input isn’t healthy. Too often, men have a false sense of the control they actually have over their mental health.
Treatment Is Self-Care
Looking a problem squarely in the eye and contending with it appropriately is a sign of strength. Although stigmas continue to exist when it comes to mental health, men can actually help their families and communities break down their stigmas by calling for an appointment with a mental healthcare provider or entering a behavioral health rehab when they become overwhelmed with their symptoms.
Many men are doing just that. No man could accuse Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson of being weak. He has come out publicly to discuss his own experiences with mental health disruptions, hoping to break down these unhealthy and unhelpful stigmas and encourage men to seek treatment when they need it.
Tips to Improve Your Self Care
In addition to seeking treatment when it’s needed, men should also remember to perform some self-care to ensure that their mental health is on track. Various activities and lifestyle habits can support mental health. Men should consider incorporating some of these ideas into their lives to help them maintain positive mental health and overall well-being:
- Practicing mindfulness and meditation
- Exercise (jogging, cycling, walking)
- Spending in time in nature (hiking or gardening)
- Eat a nutritious diet
- Attend a support group
- Avoid negative coping methods like alcohol or drugs
With optimum self-care activities and mental health care treatment when needed, men can maintain positive mental health. By refusing to let the stigmas bar them from the help they need, they can more quickly deal with their condition and get it under control with therapy, medication, or both.
Sometimes men develop mental health conditions that will require lifelong control. Sometimes they have clinical episodes that require attention. Whether the matter is temporary or lasting, it’s important for men to understand that they can cope with their condition well and go on to lead a fulfilling, happy life. Proper condition management is key, and that can only begin with a talk with one’s healthcare provider.
If you’re struggling with a mental health problem or experiencing symptoms of a mental health disturbance, contact FHE Health. With professional help, you can manage your condition.