For decades, we’ve expected men to appear strong. In advertising and popular media, the alpha male or “man’s man” is strong, silent, self-reliant, doesn’t express emotions, mocks those who do, and only receives comfort in a woman’s arms or at the bottom of several drinks. While it’s exciting to watch the adventures of these men on screen, the problem comes when men are pressured to emulate it. It affects what is socially acceptable and how people teach their children. By discouraging men from talking about their emotions we are encouraging men to not talk about mental health issues.
Ronald F. Levant, EdD, of Nova Southeastern University, argues that emotional problems men face in adulthood begin at a very young age. Levant lays out several claims.
- By age 2 boys speak less than girls.
- By age 4 they express fewer emotions on their faces compared to girls.
- Mothers encourage more emotions in baby girls while trying to limit “their sons’ emotional volatility.”
- Fathers encourage their sons to be tough by physically and verbally rough-housing them while being more emotional with their daughters.
- As children age, both parents are more likely to discourage their sons from expressing vulnerable emotions and to encourage daughters to do so.
- Boys’ male peers encourage unhealthy emotional development through interactions that praise toughness and emotional numbness and are “notoriously cruel” to boys who don’t conform.
All of these work to discourage men from being aware of their emotions, communicating, or reaching out for help. Even using anonymous online forums to share their struggles can be viewed as a sign of weakness. This is alarming and underlines the importance of changing what it means to be “strong.”
Celebrities Are Helping Men Talk About Mental Health:
- It’s a good sign that many celebrities are becoming comfortable sharing their personal struggles with mental health. According to Healthline, comedian Pete Davidson opened up about his battle with depression and borderline personality on Saturday Night Live.
- Zayn Malik discussed his experiences with anxiety and an eating disorder saying that “I’m definitely glad I got that off my chest, as anybody is when you feel like you’re keeping something from someone. You have to speak about it and clear up the air.”
- Olympic Gold-Medalist Michael Phelps has come forward. “I’ve probably had at least half a dozen depression spells that I’ve gone through. And the one in 2014, I didn’t want to be alive.”
- Kevin Love, five-time All-Star forward of the Cleveland Cavaliers, talked openly about his experience with anxiety and panic attacks earlier in 2019.
- Old and new hit songs that were written by the rich and the famous discuss mental health issues.
All this poses a question: If famous singers, Olympic athletes, successful comedians, championship athletes, and wealthy celebrity personalities all struggle with mental health issues, why should it be so shameful for the ordinary man? Clearly, no one is immune. The image of the stoic man drinking away his problems is entertaining but also harmful.
- For every 3 female suicides, there are 7 male suicides.
- Men are 3x more likely than women to struggle with addiction.
- Men are up to 4x less likely than women to seek professional help for mental help.
What Can You Do If You’re Struggling?
If you’re a man who struggles with mental health, the world can feel hopeless. You may be angry that there are so many feelings you cannot seem to control or shut down. The first thing to do is realize you’re not meant to shut these feelings down. Emotions are like steam. In the open, they pass quickly out of sight with little thought. But in confined spaces, they build and become steadily stronger. Everything on earth has a breaking point where it can no longer contain pressure. Acknowledging this is not a weakness, it’s wisdom.
1. Realize that you’re not alone. Start by going online. There are several forums where you can read other people’s struggles and stories.
2. Post your stories or struggles in these or other forums. Even if only a short version. Communicating and writing about struggles have a way of helping us feel “unburdened.” To return to the steam analogy, think of it as relieving a small part of that pressure build-up. Or seek out a friend, family member, or loved one.
3. Attend a support group. Many are built around the idea of anonymity. There are support groups for everything from Narcotics to Debtors. See here.
4. Educate yourself. Subscribe to an email newsletter or blog roll about mental health. Knowledge is power and knowing what’s going on when you’re feeling a certain way will help you feel more in control. And know that it’s not your fault or something you can stop. It’s called meta-cognition (“awareness of thinking”).
5. Share your Struggle with Others: As long as someone remains ashamed of how they feel, that shame makes them feel worse. Removing that from the equation makes you feel that much better that much faster. When you feel ready, open up to someone other than a close friend or family member. Own your struggle so that others might feel more comfortable owning theirs.
What Can You Do If Someone Else is Struggling?:
Don’t ignore it, reach out and listen. Try these simple conversation starters.
More Info: Mental Health First Aid.
Tree House Recovery for Men is an addiction treatment facility that fosters the ability to be vulnerable as a path to becoming healthy, happy, and sober. To get started call us today at (855) 202-2138. For more info see our reviews or success rates.