Mental health is a topic that carries a stigma regardless of who we are, but the stigma associated with men’s mental health is more prevalent and is compounded by social and cultural pressures. We have a history of ignoring men’s mental health and teaching men that it is not normal to struggle or that if they do, that it means they are weak. This impacts how men with mental health issues perceive mental health; how those around them understand and react to it; and how or if men seek support for it.
It is time for that to change.
Men experience the same emotions as women, but they are often taught that they should suppress those emotions or keep them to themselves. Men are taught that it’s a sign of weakness to express their feelings or to struggle with mental health issues. We hear things like, “take it like a man”, or “man up”, but it’s time for us to recognize that suppressing these emotions is unnatural and unhealthy; and teaching young boys to do this is setting them up for failure. We need to normalize sharing emotions regardless of gender and encourage the men in our lives to seek support if they are struggling. We need to change the messages they hear. It is normal, natural, and healthy for a man to cry or to feel scared. It shows strength when we express and share our feelings and it shows strength to seek support.
The reality is men are just as likely as women to experience issues with their mental health. 10% of women compared to 11% of men struggle with mental health issues (teentalk.ca, 2017). However, men face higher rates of addiction than women and 75 % of suicides are completed by men (CMHA, 2007). Mental health issues can also present differently in men; they are more likely to experience physical symptoms related to their mental health such as headaches and chronic pain. This makes it harder for the individual, friends or family members, and even medical professionals to identify or recognize what is happening. In addition to this, men are not only less likely to access formal mental health supports, they are also less likely to reach out to friends or family members (teentalk.ca, 2017). This means a lot of men and boys are being left behind.
So, what can we do to help?
We need to encourage men to share how they are feeling and to reach out for support. We need to give them a safe place to do this and support them when they do. We need to validate men and their experiences by letting them know that we understand it is not easy to be a man in this society and that they have a lot of pressures on them. We need to include men in the discussions relating to struggles with parenting, abusive relationships, and childhood trauma.
We need to teach young boys and girls that it is important for men to show and share their emotions. We need to teach them that it is not a sign of weakness to seek support, but a sign of strength. It is important to make these conversations a regular thing, to normalize them, and to set the example for them.
Men’s mental health week is a great time to think about how we are taking care of the men and boys in our lives and what we are teaching them. These men are our fathers, brothers, husbands, friends, and sons……….. and they deserve to be supported.
Amy Shaw, MSW, RSW
CMHA.ca (2007). Men and Mental Illness. https://cmha.ca/documents/men-and-mental-illness
Teentalk.ca (2017). Men’s Mental Health Awareness Day. http://teentalk.ca/2017/06/13/mens-mental-health-awareness-day/