In the last several years there has been an increased focus on men’s mental health. With a focus on de-stigmatizing mental health in order to encourage men to seek support for their mental wellness. We know men are less likely to seek support for their mental health than women.
It’s common to believe this trend is a direct result of the perceived standards of masculinity. If you were to ask almost anyone what it means to be a man, you’d probably receive answers like strong, confident, brave, etc. These characteristics are seen to be in direct opposition to seeking mental health support which is perceived as weakness. Although this is something we’re slowly seeing change as more people are starting to question gender expectations and fight against the toxic ideals of masculinity. But we still have a long way to go.
Facts About Men’s Mental Health
Here are some specific facts about Canadian men’s mental health:
- Around 10% of men experience significant mental health challenges in their lifetime.
- Approximately one million men suffer from major depression each year.
- On average, approximately 4,000 Canadians take their own life each year, of those deaths; 75% are men.
- Gay men and trans men have a higher rate of depression, anxiety, suicidality, self-harm, and substance abuse in comparison to their heterosexual counterparts.
My Experience With Mental Health
Personally, I spent six months in intensive dialectic behavioural therapy (DBT) in my mid-20s followed by years of therapy to varying degrees. I live with anxiety and depression and am currently very open publicly about my struggles with mental health though I wasn’t always.
I’ve struggled with mental health to varying degrees my entire life, though I would probably say I started to notice it in my teenage years. By notice, I don’t mean I recognized I was experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression. I was a late bloomer and experienced significant insecurity and discomfort in my body and I cared too much about what people thought of me. So, I tried desperately to fit in and to be ‘okay’ (whatever that means).
At the same time, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and she passed away three years after I graduated from high school. So, on top of my own personal struggles, I was experiencing profound loss and grief I was unprepared to deal with at seventeen.
Being The Tough Guy
Despite everything I was going through I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I refused to admit I was struggling and put on a strong face. While simultaneously pouring my feelings into antsy poetry and contemplating why I should bother living. Of course, this made things worse, not better. I don’t recall anyone mentioning professional support even though I was perceived as a girl at the time.
It wasn’t until I entered a community where it was common to talk about our struggles that I started to open up. At that point, I’d finished my degree in psychology and even though I could admit I had some struggles, I was also able to convince myself I was strong enough to manage it myself. What changed everything was that almost everyone in this new community space had an experience with going to therapy (and wasn’t afraid to talk about it).
The impacts I experienced in therapy were profound.
What Can We Do To Help
Regardless of how we identify, we would all benefit from a more mentally healthy society. So, how can we support men’s mental health whether it be ourselves or the men in our lives?
Here are some things I suggest:
- Talk about mental health and wellness. Talk to the people in your life about your struggles and your experiences in therapy. We need to be reminded that we all struggle and need support and that therapy is a normal part of our lives, not a sign we’ve failed.
- Educate yourself on mental wellness. Educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues like anxiety and depression. You aren’t able to get support if you don’t truly know you’re struggling. Educating ourselves also helps us to be better prepared to support those around us.
- Don’t judge. This judgement applies to both yourself and others. Mental health is not the person’s fault and admitting you need help doesn’t mean you’re weak.
- Remember/remind you’re not alone. It’s easy to feel isolated and alone and it’s common to think you’re the only one struggling with this problem (even if you know that’s not true). It’s important to remind ourselves, and others, we’re not alone.
- Listen and ask what you can do. Always listen first. It can be hard to open up about our feelings so when we do, we want to be heard. Ask what you can do to help and avoid giving advice. Often it’s automatic for people, particularly other men, to attempt to fix the problem. Oftentimes these struggles are too big to be fixed in one conversation and focusing on a solution can take away from our ability to listen. Also, not everyone wants advice or they aren’t prepared for it at that moment. So, simply ask how you can support them and if they don’t know that’s okay too. In that case, let them know you’re there to support them if they need it (maybe suggest looking at solutions together when they’re ready).
We all experience varying states of mental wellness regardless of whether or not our symptoms ever reach a point of being considered a diagnosable disorder. We all experience sadness, worry, and stress to some degree and many, if not all, of us, could benefit from support in developing our emotional resilience. It’s my hope that we are able to talk more about mental health and see the value of therapy for everyone.
Originally published by Emory Oakley. Emory is a writer and LGBTQ+ educator who regularly discusses the intersections of queer identities and mental health.
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