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Men’s Mental Health - A topic not so often discussed

Although there is a growing awareness of the importance of taking care of one's mental health, there still seems to be a stigma surrounding men's mental health. It has been found that although mental illness is more common in women than in men, men struggling with mental illness are less likely to receive mental health treatment or diagnosis (NIMH, 2023). It has also been reported that the suicide rate for men is four times higher than for women (CDC, 2018). In addition, men are more likely to engage in substance use as their mental health deteriorates (NIMH, 2023).

In the United Kingdom, November is Men's Mental Health Awareness Month, also known as Movember, while other countries, such as the United States, recognize June as Men's Mental Health Awareness Month. But it's an issue that should be important no matter what month it is, and as the numbers above show, there still seems to be a stigma around it.

One of the underlying issues when it comes to men's mental health is this prevailing image of men needing to be "manly," which includes the belief that men shouldn't show emotions and talk about their feelings. So asking for help, which means relying on others and admitting that you are struggling, can clash with masculine "ideals".  Especially if these ideals are part of their identity or if they are trying to live up to these societal beliefs. This can reduce their ability to recognize and express their feelings to themselves and others. And it can lead them to ignore or suppress their feelings, or to feel shame or embarrassment when they realize they have problems, leaving no room for emotional healing or reflection.

Therefore, it is crucial to break down these stigmas and provide a supportive environment for men to express their feelings and seek help without judgment, so that men can embark on their mental health journey. It's about teaching them that mental health is as important as physical health and that seeking help does not make them less of a “man”.

The first thing we need to "normalize" is that it's okay for men to have problems. It's about showing them that it's normal to go through ups and downs in life and that it's okay to seek support from others when they're going through difficult times. Talking about problems has been shown to reduce stress, strengthen the immune system, and reduce physical and emotional distress (Pennebaker, Kiecolt-Glaser, & Glaser, 1988). It may be too intimidating and embarrassing at first, but opening up and sharing about feelings and emotions takes practice. Therefore, online mental health support may be a good option in the beginning, as it allows for anonymity and a sense of self-directed help.

We also need to change the societal notion that "feeling" is a sign of "weakness”. It's okay to feel, especially the "negative" emotions, because we can't choose which emotions to numb, and we end up numbing them all. And what is life if we don't allow ourselves to feel it? The truth is, the more diverse our emotional world actually is, the more resilient we are to the challenges life throws at us. Knowing what emotions we are feeling and what triggered them makes it easier to understand and respond appropriately.

It's also important to realize that the importance of mental health extends far beyond individual experiences. It affects families, relationships, and even entire communities. As more men open up about their mental health struggles, it can help other men find the courage to do the same, breaking the cycle of men struggling in silence and creating a positive ripple effect that spreads compassion, understanding, and resilience. By embracing their emotions, men cultivate healthier relationships and build a strong foundation for future generations.

So it's time to break the chains that hold back discussions about men's mental health. We cannot afford to let stigma and stereotypes prevent men from seeking the help they need. It's important to create an inclusive society that values emotional wellbeing for all.

Sources:

CDC. (2018, November). Suicide Mortality in the United States, 1999–2017. Center of Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db330.htm

NIMH. (2023, May). NIMH » Men and Mental Health. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/men-and-mental-health

Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Psychological Science, 8, 162-166.

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