“Men suffer a lot behind the mask of manliness.” —Vineet Aggarwal
Last week I went out for TexMex with my closest friends. While we enjoyed our chips and salsa, everyone went around the table giving little updates about themselves and their families. When we got to my newlywed friend she told us how coparenting with her ex-husband as well as her new husband was going. She was very open and honest about what a struggle it has actually been. We all listened intently and asked additional questions gingerly, seeking to understand and help. It all boiled down to her new husband struggling with his mental health amidst the major life changes he has recently made, and how this good woman was (and is!) advocating for him to get the help he needs.
This is a topic that has been on my mind for quite awhile now. As a therapist, I see many male clients in my office, most working through addictions and/or trauma. The majority of these clients have or have had mental health struggles AND have never sought support for their mental health. So, this post is directed towards the men in my readership, as well as, their partners, who may be wondering how to start the conversation to address men’s mental health.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, and that rate of suicide is highest in middle-aged white men. WOW. Did you also know that in 2021, men died by suicide 3.90 times more than women? Additionally, white males accounted for 69.68% of suicide deaths in 2021–the vast majority! Yet it does not feel like this is something society recognizes or addresses or even tries to remedy. The good new is that 94% of adults surveyed in the U.S. think suicide can be prevented. Studies have shown the best way to prevent suicide and self-harm is to talk about it and encourage those struggling to get the help they need.
To the detriment of all men in the United States, a very serious social stigma exists that strongly discourages men from discussing or seeking help for mental health challenges. Our society originated the belief that men are strong and tough and thus did not have mental health needs. Now, men fear they will be perceived as weak or less-than if they mention struggling with their mental health. This can lead to putting on a fake smile, isolating from friends and family, neglecting basic self-care and increased risky behaviors.
Supporting a loved one experiencing mental health difficulties can be challenging, but there are ways to help:
- Communicate. Be open and honest about the challenges you yourself have faced. It will be possible to break down stigmas when individuals challenge long-standing beliefs (like that mental health issues only plague women). In doing so, you will be creating an environment where it is possible and acceptable for the men in your life to discuss their mental health, and allow them to feel comfortable sharing their own difficulties with you.
- Pay attention. Men often experience mental health difficulties in silence. You may notice behavioral, emotional, or verbal changes in your friend or loved one that could be indicative of mental health struggles. Ask how they are feeling and if they have anything they would like to talk about. And if they don’t volunteer information the first time, do not be afraid to ask again. Express to them that sharing what they are going through will not change your perception of them, nor will you judge them…we are all human, right!?! By actively encouraging them to share any difficulties they might be experiencing, you will be normalizing discussion and helping to break the stigma.
- Change stigmas. Stigmas are only upheld when they are reinforced. Take a moment to think if there is something you are unintentionally doing that could be strengthening the beliefs that men don’t struggle with mental health. If you hear remarks along the lines of, “my boyfriend is so dramatic” or “my husband has been so moody; he needs to get over himself” express compassion that these men may be experiencing something that they can’t find the words to express. Teach your boys about emotions and self-regulation and expression. Start talking about these things when boys are young and it will impact the next generation of men!
Mental disorders affect men and women of all demographics alike. While it may be true that the prevalence of some mental disorders is lower in men than in women, other disorders are diagnosed at comparable or higher rates for men. Men are much less likely to receive mental health treatment than women and it is time to change that. Recognizing the signs that you or someone you love needs support is the first step. There is no shame in needing help! Even if that help is simply just talking about what you are feeling. Like getting your car’s oil changed, your mental health needs attention too…and this is perfectly normal! Some men may benefit from getting treatment; my door is wide open for those of you in the Dallas area. The earlier that treatment begins, the more effective it can be.
So, please, I urge you to communicate with the males in your life, pay attention to their behavior and be a safe place for them that may be struggling with mental health issues. Let’s work together to change the stigma about men and mental health–let’s encourage them to get help when needed and teach our little boys how to care for their mental health. Their overall happiness, success, and well-being is on the line!
Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- Cluff Counseling: ARE YOU AWARE OF YOUR MENTAL HEALTH?
- Cluff Counseling: DEBUNKING THE MYTH: MEN CAN HAVE ANXIETY
- Cluff Counseling: FIGHTING THE PHYSICAL BATTLE FOR MENTAL HEALTH
- Cluff Counseling: THE POWER BEHIND VULNERABILITY
- Cluff Counseling: PRACTICAL WAYS TO PRACTICE MENTAL HYGIENE
- Cluff Counseling: WE ALL NEED PEOPLE; WHO ARE YOURS?
- Cluff Counseling: WOMEN AREN’T THE ONLY ONES WITH EMOTIONS
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Men and Mental Health
- Vantage Fit: 21 Men’s Mental Health Quotes to Mark Men’s Mental Health Month
- Walker Center: Men’s Mental Health And Breaking The Stigma