Recently I was posed the question of ‘Why is Bringing Awareness to Men’s Mental Health Important?’ As I sat with that question for a few moments, I recalled multiple conversations with men over the last couple of weeks – some clients, some family members, some colleagues, some friends.  Throughout all of these conversations some aspect of mental health was at least touched on by these men, even if in a light-hearted or humorous manner.

  • In one of these conversations, it was deep unhappiness in his relationship, and feeling frustrated by a partner wanting more ‘emotional connection.’
  • In another conversation it sounded more like anger with himself for ‘always being the angry ***hole,’ and in turn, always feeling misunderstood.
  • In another conversation, this man was expressing deep sadness that his marriage was void of sexual intimacy and he felt immense shame for having finally voiced a struggle with anxiety and depression and subsequently seeking medication to help with the anxiety and depression – then had to learn how to deal with the side effects of the medication that caused lowered libido and erectile dysfunction.
  • And in yet another conversation, a male confided that he had experienced trauma and abuse at the hands of a partner. He has struggled for years with shame, self-loathing, irritability and sadness, yet he hesitates to speak openly about these issues with anyone because the reaction many have to his experience is one of disbelief about his abusive experience, instead of empathizing with his lived experiences after the abuse.

If we care about the men in our lives, that must include their mental health. The possible impact on relationships, livelihood, overall well-being and even survival depend on prioritizing mental health for men.

In short, my answer to the question ‘Why is Bringing Awareness to Men’s Mental Health Important?’ is that it’s not just important, it’s imperative. It’s imperative to the lives of the men we know and love, it’s imperative they find a supportive and safe space to engage with their experiences in a holistic way. The conversation is imperative for our families, for our relationships, and even for our kids who are watching – maybe even idolizing – the men in their lives. The reality is that mental health and how one experiences mental health – especially men – are simmering beneath the surface for many, yet far too often the conversations are never had. If we care about the men in our lives, that must include their mental health. The possible impact on relationships, livelihood, overall well-being and even survival depend on prioritizing mental health for men.

Men Have Mental Health Concerns that Remain Unaddressed

While overall acceptance and normalization of mental health in general is better than it has been in previous years and decades, there is still a lot of work to be done to further awareness, understand effects and treatments, and normalize everyday conversations about mental health. This is especially the case for men, who like it or not, typically speak up less about their struggles with mental health, experience loneliness or isolation in their struggles, and often have lower awareness of how their mental health impacts their everyday lives and relationships.

In a 2015 study by the Priory Group, they found that 77% of the men polled have suffered with anxiety / stress / depression, and  “the majority of men claim their mental health is having a negative impact on their work performance, parenting ability and relationships in particular.”

In our couples workshops we touch on how difficult it can be for many men to be aware of what emotions or feelings they do have – and even less aware or confident in how to share those emotions with another person.  Think about it: what messages does society instill in men from a very early age? You likely don’t have to reach very far to recall messages you may have heard even as a young child. Messages like ‘be a man,’ ‘don’t cry,’ ‘man up,’ ‘you’re acting like a girl,’ and on and on. Toxic messages like these may have been said flippantly at the time, but the reality for many men is these messages became imbedded and forever shaped how they approach emotions, express those emotions, and even how they talk about their inner struggles with others.  How they internalize and deal (or don’t deal) with their emotions can leave lasting effects on not only themselves, but their relationships and families.

If this is the message that many men have been fed over the years, it’s no wonder that when depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and other mental health concerns are experienced, they often suffer in silence. It’s never been okay, normal, or perhaps even safe to express what they are feeling, much less disclose the extent of their inner struggles. For many men, admitting anything around mental health can be viewed as weak, let alone the embarrassment they may feel at reaching out for help from a counselor or a physician, or even telling their significant others or family members.

It’s also likely that by avoiding a conversation about mental health or acknowledging their struggles, men may present their symptoms in other ways. For example, anger, aggressiveness or lashing out can often be a more socially accepted manner for a male to express emotion than sadness, crying or softer emotions might be. I know it was true for the man I referenced earlier: he shared he is often misunderstood for his responses and rarely if ever questioned about what he might really be feeling or working through. It’s not that we love when men are easily angered, yell or express more volatile emotions – but the reality is that sometimes we expect – or even excuse – these kinds of emotions more often than we can accept the softer emotions from a male.

Shame Shrouds Mental Health Concerns for Men

As if it wasn’t already hard enough for men to acknowledge and discuss their mental health, there’s also another aspect of mental health we should note briefly. For the men that are okay discussing their mental health and do find the courage to reach out for help when needed, their struggle may not end there. They may find that even after seeking treatment – either counseling or medication, or both – that there are still adverse effects they may experience. For example, many SSRI and SNRIs (medications often taken for anxiety, depression or mood-related issues) can come with a lengthy list of side effects – including but not limited to, increased agitation, restlessness, decreased libido, difficulty reaching orgasm, or erectile dysfunction.  This seems particularly cruel! The man I spoke of previously who is in a sex-less marriage stated he often feels he has no choice but to emotionally withdraw and shut down because sometimes the pain of being seen as needy, whiny or too sad is too difficult for him to sit with for long. It should also be said that while there can be unfortunate side effects for some who choose the medication route, that is not a guarantee and should not be a reason one never reaches out to a physician. With the right assessment, dosage and monitoring, side effects can be mitigated for many.

If you are a man and struggle to find support for your mental health, please consider reaching out to someone today.  There are many options that can help you process your experiences and find hope and help to move forward. We have therapists that specialize in concerns men face, including emotional awareness and mental health issues, and would be happy to assist you in finding a safe space to explore what your experiences with mental health have been.  If you think you might need to discuss medication options, we encourage you to call your physician or a psychiatrist to discuss what might work best for you – or call our office and we will be happy to help you find someone that you can speak with.

For all of us, as with any mental health topic, including Men’s Mental Health, have conversations. Normalize all aspects of mental health: talk about it openly with friends and family members, encourage them to seek outside help when needed in the form of counseling or medication.  In the same study by the Priory Group referenced above, they noted the

top reasons men don’t want to talk about their mental health:

‘I’ve learned to deal with it’ (40%)

‘I don’t wish to be a burden to anyone’ (36%)

‘I’m too embarrassed’ (29%)

‘There’s negative stigma around this type of thing’ (20%)

‘I don’t want to admit I need support’ (17%)

‘I don’t want to appear weak’ (16%)

‘I have no one to talk to’ (14%)

By having these conversations, normalizing mental health and providing support for others, we can all be part of reducing the stigma around mental health, and reducing the reasons why men don’t talk about their mental health.

And a final piece of advice, if you have a man (anyone really, but for the purposes of this article, men) that does muster the courage to speak to you about their mental health, be the one that encourages the importance of these conversations. Listen with curiosity – not judgement – to their stories and struggles. Support them in whatever journey they may need moving forward. Encourage them to seek additional help (counseling or medication) and most of all, normalize the topics you’re speaking of as conversations we should all be having more often.

Safety and Support Provides a Way out of the Struggle

For those of you with men in your life that you suspect may struggle with mental health, what can you do? Hopefully you’ll start – or continue – this important conversation with the men in your life.  For some men, they have stayed silent too long and may have never experienced a safe or open conversation about mental health.  You could be the one that provides that for them, and you could be the one that encourages them that they don’t have to struggle in silence anymore.

Let Us Help the Man in Your Life

For help in finding a counselor to talk to, or a psychiatrist to consult with about medication, call 573-891-1330 or submit a request.

If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call 911 or your local emergency number, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

These conversations aren’t easy, and there’s no shame in hitting a few bumps in the road as you explore these emotionally charged and deeply personal topics. If you’re struggling to communicate effectively or find that you’re perpetually in conflict, our team of licensed counselors can help you learn tools to communicate and connect more effectively.

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