Men and Mental Health: The Common Challenges
Feb 14, 2022
Mental health challenges are not reserved exclusively for women, and yet many mental health resources available are tailored towards women and children. Even as I prepared to launch Take Action Counseling & Consulting PLLC, I noticed as I scrolled through “mental health” logo designers’ portfolios, that all of these logos are very feminine in style. I went through at least 3 designers who were unable to offer a “masculine” mental health logo before getting someone to make the logo we use on our site. Men have depression too. Men struggle emotionally too.
Studies show that males are equally vulnerable to mental illnesses such as anxiety, mood disorders, or depression. However, many men with psychological disorders remain overlooked and undiagnosed, without the opportunity to receive proper treatment and heal. Research published by the world’s leading health authorities, such as the American Psychological Association (APA) or the Mental Health Foundation, shows that women are more likely to develop anxiety and depression than men. At the same time, men more often engage in substance abuse or antisocial behavior. In men, depression is often masked by irritability, anger, and aggression.
Studies show that men are more likely to keep their struggles to themselves for a long time without seeking professional help. It also seems that men are generally unwilling to seek support from family members or close friends, reaching for self-medication and substance use instead. At the same time, reports show that male suicide rates continue to rise alarmingly.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the suicide rate is highest among middle-aged white men, many of whom have kids and families. Men commit suicide three and a half times more frequently than women. Similar statistics are shown by the UK Mental Health Foundation and the World Health Organization (WHO).
So, what causes men to conceal and fail to address their feelings and internal struggles?
As kids, most men learn what is expected and how to behave while growing up. Unfortunately, the common male stereotype that says men should be strong and keep it in can prevent many men from opening up about their struggles and seeking mental health help. Western cultures and socialization processes emphasize masculinity, encouraging men to be independent and physically strong. Traditionally, a man is expected to be brave, be a provider, remain in control, and not show vulnerability. Internalizing such distorted beliefs in childhood can have a long-lasting impact on your mental health, self-esteem, and sense of identity. For example, masculinity norms and stereotypes may discourage you from assessing your inner self and addressing your mental health issues. Alternatively, they cause you to reach for unhealthy coping strategies. Furthermore, the gap between this idealized and realistic self can trigger addictive behaviors, anxiety, self-esteem and confidence issues, depression, and other mental health challenges.
The stigma attached to mental illness is one of the significant challenges we face today, making it difficult for men to seek mental health support. Most men do not feel comfortable discussing their emotions, especially in western societies where vulnerability is considered a sign of weakness and incapacity. The stigma around men’s’ mental health is deep-rooted in societal masculinity norms, cultural beliefs, and internalized self-perception.
Many dads have succumbed to years of societal messaging that says that fathers are not that important to a child’s development. Growing up, I can remember taking in the messaging that fathers are providers, breadwinners, and completely clueless as it relates to their children (besides discipline). This messaging has started to shift in recent years, as we have seen more stay-at-home dads or dads working from home as the primary care giver rather than the primary bread winner. This is a positive shift in the right direction, but there is still more work to be done. Many men face significant emotional and psychological challenges upon transitioning to fatherhood. A new parenting role requires you to adjust to a new routine, give up some old habits, and allow others to be dependent on you. Also, as a new father, you need to resolve parenting conflicts, adapt to changes in your relationship with your partner, and reevaluate your priorities. Suppose you and your spouse have differing parenting opinions, expectations, priorities, or sexual needs. In that case, you may start feeling confused, guilty, or resentful. As a result, you may struggle to support your partner in their transition to parenthood while neglecting your own needs and sacrificing your need for support. Furthermore, the increased financial needs of a larger family place a high level of income- and work-related stress on many fathers. All of these new challenges of parenthood can take their toll on a father’s mental health, confidence, and sense of well-being.
Common obstacles to mental health treatment, such as not getting enough information, lack of available mental health professionals, lack of specialized mental health resources specific to men or fathers, or financial barriers to mental healthcare, contribute to many men’s psychological challenges these days. In addition, a lack of mental health awareness or the belief that you can deal with mental health problems on your own can aggravate your symptoms and cause long-lasting consequences. Namely, mental illnesses are often hard to recognize. Your clinical symptoms may not be obvious. Therefore, you may go for a long time without recognizing signs of mental illness or dismissing them as tiredness, fatigue, irritability, or attitude issues.
Some of the most common mental health concerns men may experience include:
Postpartum depression and anxiety in moms receives much attention these days. Still, it seems that we tend to overlook the same mental health problems in fathers. However, one in four new dads in the US experiences perinatal depression. It is also estimated that about 18 percent of fathers experience postpartum anxiety. Unfortunately, most of the these mental health problems remain undiagnosed and untreated.
While men and women can develop the same mental health disorders, they can manifest differently. Potential mental illness signals in men may include:
Many men struggle with emotional distress these days. They do not know how to address their issues. Do not overlook the signs of distress, though. Most mental health problems can be successfully treated. Seeking mental health support is the best way to address your mental health issues, understand what triggers your suffering, and start the healing process.