Why don’t we talk about mental health in men more?
I’ve noticed a fairly sizable cultural shift in my circle of female friends and relatives lately. When I make a post on social media about anxiety or depression, the support I get from females going through the same thing is ever increasing.
Mental illness isn’t going anywhere, and women are finally recognizing that they are not alone. They’re speaking up more than ever before.
But what about men? Why do we not see men speaking up in as high of numbers? Are they not suffering as much as women? Or is there something holding them back from sharing their struggles?
In this post, I’m going to talk about the actual numbers of issues with mental health in men, about some toxic masculinity examples, and 5 ways we can nurture men’s mental health. Make sure to share this post with all the men in your life.
For all the men reading this who don’t feel brave enough to speak up: I see you. Your feelings are valid. And you are far from alone.
This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you click a link and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. See my Privacy and Affiliate Disclaimer pages for more info.
Also, I am not a doctor or mental health professional. Just someone who has lived with anxiety for many years who is passionate about sharing her experiences and tips for success. If you are in crisis call your doctor, then click here for some good mental health resources.
TW: This article does contain mention of death by suicide and suicidal ideation. Read with caution.
Statistics about mental health in men
According to the American Psychological Association, the amount of men who live with depression and anxiety (or another mental illness) is staggering, when you look at the population of the United States.
- 9% of American men have feelings of depression and anxiety every day. The current population of the United States is around 331,002,651 people (according to recent statistics). With those numbers in mind, that equals roughly 30 million men living with daily depression and anxiety. That’s equivalent to everyone who lives in the 14 most populated cities in the US. That is A. LOT. OF. MEN.
- Only 1 in 3 of those men take medication. Which is still a decent amount, but it means that around 20 million American men do not take medication for their symptoms.
- Only 1 in 4 have spoken to a mental health professional.
- 30.6% of men have had a period of depression in their lifetime, “when measured by a ‘gender inclusive depression scale’ that includes symptoms such as rage and risk-taking, according to a 2013 study in JAMA Psychiatry.“
- In this article it says that according to the CDC, American men are 4x more likely to die by suicide (despite women being more likely to attempt to die by suicide).
This is why talking about mental health in men is so important. Statistically, it is not very common for men to speak up for themselves. In this article, I am going to explore some of the reasons why and give some practical ways we can help.
Why don’t men speak up?
If issues regarding mental health in men are so common, why don’t more men speak up about it? Healthline shares an amazing list of things men wish other men knew about mental health, so I’ll summarize it below.
- Society tells men not to have feelings. For example, “Boys don’t cry,” etc.
- Men often don’t seek help because it is difficult for them to admit.
- Many men do not seek help because it can be a confusing process and they are insecure about looking weak or stupid.
- Finding a therapist can be complicated, and too daunting for many men to undertake. But it is worth it!
- They don’t often know that “getting help” can be a fluid concept, and has lots of options.
- It can be hard to talk about it, but it feels good once you do!
- Zayn Malik, Shawn Mendes, Pete Davidson, and Michael Phelps are among male celebrities to speak up recently about their own journey with mental illness.
- The feelings you get when you are dealing with depression and anxiety can be hard to understand. One of this blogger’s favorite ever singers, Shawn Mendes, wrote a song about it called “In My Blood,” where he says, “Help me. It’s like the walls are caving in. Sometimes I feel like giving up. No medicine is strong enough. Someone help me. I’m crawling in my skin. Sometimes I feel like giving up, but I just can’t. It isn’t in my blood.”
- Many men don’t realize how much hope there is out there, if they can just take that first step.
In the next section, I’m going to talk about an issue affecting mental health in men that is still, sadly, super prevalent: toxic masculinity.
What is toxic masculinity?
Like the Healthline article I cited above mentions, one of the biggest reasons why mental health in men isn’t spoken up about enough is the cliché advice: Boys don’t cry.
We’ve all heard some variation of that. Boys don’t cry. Real men don’t cry. Man up. Rub some dirt in it. Stop crying. Blah blah blah.
First of all, if you are a male and you have ever heard any of these things said to you, I want to sincerely apologize. I may not have been the one who said them, but I hope this article brings you comfort and allows you to see that those things are not okay. Your feelings of sadness, anxiety, etc, are all valid, and you are allowed to feel them.
Second, I want to talk about why we SHOULD cry. Crying has this weird stigma. It is weak. It’s ugly. It shows a side of us we need to keep hidden.In reality, crying is a very necessary biological function. There is a reason many people feel that it is a cathartic experience. It actually has a number of health benefits. Share on twitter
Mental health in men can actually be improved by having a good cry! According to my boo Healthline, crying has the following benefits for your body:
- It can potentially detox your body.
- It activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which can help you feel more relaxed.
- Crying releases feel good chemicals that can dull feelings of pain.
- It improves your mood.
- It signals to people that you need support.
- Crying can help you process grief.
- It can help restore emotional balance.
So, men, if you feel like you need to cry, DO IT. The haters are missing out!
3 classic toxic masculinity examples
I also wanted to share some classic toxic masculinity examples that might help you understand not only what this phrase actually means, but what its implications are for mental health in men.
According to Medical News Today, toxic masculinity can be seen in the following ways.
- Manliness is allegedly a finite and black and white list of personality traits. If you do not exhibit these, or you go off script, you are therefore not a man. Hmm. Men “are” stoic, virile, strong, and they can take care of themselves. This is a perfect example of how toxic masculinity is infecting our culture. And it is a very common reason why mental health in men is not talked about more.
- “Man up” is another example of toxic masculinity that I touched on earlier. This phrase is still common despite advances in thinking about gender politics and mental health in men. It’s said way too damn much.
- “Boys will be boys” is a 3rd example I wanted to share. While it relates more to gender politics than to mental health specifically, it is another example of how damaging toxic masculinity can be. It is often a phrase used to excuse foul locker room talk and inappropriate touching.
5 ways we can nurture men’s mental health
So what can we do? How can we ensure that we are nurturing mental health in men? Keep reading to find out my five best tips for each scenario- whether you are a man reading this, or a person wanting to learn to be more supportive.
If you want to be more supportive, try the following:
Practice active listening
One way to nurture mental health in men is to practice active listening. But what does that mean?
According to Indeed, active listening is a multi-step approach to communication that is really helpful in a lot of different situations. It involves truly focusing on the person speaking, understanding what they are saying, and responding considerately.
NOT ACTIVE LISTENING:
Husband: I’ve really been struggling lately at work. My boss has been micromanaging me and I hate feeling out of control.
Wife: That sucks.
Husband: I’ve really been struggling lately at work. My boss has been micromanaging me and I hate feeling out of control.
Wife: I’m sorry. They’re really riding you, and it’s making you feel like you aren’t in control of your day to day routine? That makes a lot of sense.
Active listening involves:
- Paraphrasing what they said to you
- Asking open-ended or probing questions
- Affirming what they’re saying (“I agree,” etc)
- Be empathetic
- Sharing your own experiences
- Recalling things they have shared with you in the past (“The other day you said it helps when you…” etc)
Be open minded
If you notice that a man is struggling emotionally, and they are trying to open up to you, be open minded. That involves ditching all the toxic masculinity examples I mentioned above.
What do you do if your two year old son comes to you with a scraped knee? Ideally, you hug them and kiss them and tell them it’s okay.When a male loved one comes to you with a problem, take them in your figurative (or literal) arms and be supportive. It doesn't matter how your parents dealt with things in the 70s/80s. It's 2020 and we are dealing with things NOW. share on twitter
(See statistics above about the amount of adult males- some possibly raised in the 70s/80s- dealing with mental health issues.)
Put yourself in their shoes
This is a really important life skill in general, and can be very useful in nurturing mental health in men.
Sometimes people come to us with problems, and we don’t know how to respond because it’s something we’ve never been through.
Using the example from the section about active listening, let’s put that into context.
Man: I’ve really been struggling lately at work. My boss has been micromanaging me and I hate feeling out of control.
If you have never been in that exact situation, and don’t know how to help, take a moment to picture what it would be like. How would you feel having a boss breathing down your neck all day long? Or if you felt like you were losing autonomy over your day to day tasks?
Another great tip is to respond to them the same way you would to a female friend. Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to speak to female loved ones about their emotions? We need to put males on an equal playing field if we want the gender disparity in the mental health world to cease.
Ask them how you can help
Another great way to nurture mental health in men is to ask them how you can help. Remember earlier when I said that one of the main reasons men do not seek help is that it can feel daunting and they don’t want to feel out of control?
Well, it can be helpful to ask them how you can help them. This allows them to have their feelings of loss of control validated by keeping them in the driver’s seat. Since not all mental health tips work for every person, you suggesting a bunch of random things that YOU found helpful might feel frustrating to them.
Validate their feelings
Doesn’t it feel great when we are venting and the person listening makes us feel understood? Well, the world needs to learn to do the same for men! Period period, as my dear grandmother would have said.
If you are a man wanting to take control over his emotional health, here is what you can try:
Starting a journal is a great way to improve mental health in men. For a lot of people, journaling still feels a bit woo. And I get it. It seems strange that writing down how you feel can have a therapeutic benefit. But listen up…
Journaling helps! Sometimes, when we have a lot of complicated emotions, they can be hard to process. Taking 5 minutes a day to write them down and get them outside of your brain can help you to make sense of them. Even if it feels weird, I often find that when I read back over what I wrote, I have some kind of huge breakthrough.
Here is a free journal page PDF you can print to get started!
If you want to really dive in, Amazon has some great journal options available!
Yep, baby steps are not just for babies. One HUGE way men’s mental health can be improved is taking things one small chunk at a time. In a man’s mind, it’s possible that they’re super overwhelmed. “I’m feeling depressed, and I need to fix my depression, and that involves way too much effort.”
Okay. I get it. Let’s break it down a little.
- I’m feeling depressed. What does that mean for you exactly? Take some time to accept the things you have been feeling and honor the fact that they are totally valid.
- Once you’ve done that, think about what you want your life to look like. What would “fixing your depression” and getting help mean for you? Would it involve you having more energy? Feeling angry less often?
- For instance, if you want more energy, think of some logical things you can do to make that a possibility.
- And so on and so forth.
Remember: it’s a journey. And a really really long one.
Talking to a mirror
If you find it hard to talk to a doctor or loved one about how you’re feeling, try practicing in front of a mirror. That can be a way to sort of “get your script together” for when you do feel ready to talk to someone else.
I understand if this feels silly or embarrassing but it is an important part of the baby steps we discussed above. So give it a try today, and see how it feels. You can even take notes as you go, in case you spontaneously say something you want to remember for later.
Read about other men who have spoken up
I recommend doing as much reading about mental health in men as you possibly can. There are lots of celebrities who have been brave enough to speak up recently, so start there for some inspiration. Sometimes it can be helpful to hear a message of hope from someone who, in our eyes, has made it and found success in some way. Not sure why, but that can resonate more than hearing it from a random person in the grocery store.
Click the link to see 20 celebrities who have recently spoken up about mental health in men.
Manage your expectations
If my husband is any indicator of a common thought pattern in men, he is very results oriented. He gets a goal in mind, and doggedly pursues it. He sometimes struggles to find success in the journey itself, and only celebrates when the goal has actually been achieved.
While thinking like that is admirable, sometimes you have to manage your expectations. If your goal is to overcome depression and get some quality of life back, keep the following in mind:
- This won’t happen overnight. Not to be a downer, but I have lived with depression since I was 9. I’m now 34. There is no cure.
- You can absolutely 100% feel better, but it takes trial and error. What works for me might not work for you, and vice versa.
- Drinking or drugs are not the answer. You need to find a healthy practice that can give you long term results, rather than short term pleasure.
- You are not less of a man.
Here are some books recommended by Amazon that you can check out if you are in need of some further reading on mental health in men. Click each picture for more info.
We can no longer ignore men’s mental health
Suicide is not some imaginary thing that people talk about but doesn’t actually happen. It is happening at alarming rates, and it happening to men all around us. Check out these statistics about mental health in men- specifically, suicide- from the AFSP.
- In 2018, over 48,000 people died by suicide in the US, and 1.4 million people attempted to die by suicide.
- The highest stats occurred in white middle-aged males.
- In 2018, men died by suicide about 3.5x more than women.
- White males made up for 69.67% of suicide deaths in 2018.
- In 2018, firearms accounted for 50.57% of all suicide deaths.
- Black populations in 2018: Death by suicide made up about half the overall U.S. suicide rate. And black men were more likely than black women to die by suicide.
- Hispanic populations in 2018: Suicide is also in an upward trend with hispanic males dying by suicide more frequently than hispanic females.
In the LGBTQIA+ population, we see the following trends in young people:
*the percentage of students who reported having felt sad or hopeless ranged from 19.3 percent to 29.0 percent among heterosexual students, from 28.8 percent to 52.8 percent among lesbian and gay students, and from 47.2 percent to 62.9 percent among bisexual students;
*the percentage of students who seriously considered attempting suicide ranged from 9.9 percent to 13.2 percent for heterosexual students, but from 18.8 percent to 43.4 percent among lesbian and gay students; and
*the percentage of students who attempted suicide one or more times ranged from 3.8 percent to 9.6 percent among heterosexual students, but from 15.1 percent to 34.3 percent among lesbian and gay students.10
I also ran a poll on my Twitter account and 100% of the men who responded said that they have felt pressure to not seek help or speak up because of their gender.The perfect takeaway from this? Be kind. Have some empathy. And never ever discourage males from expressing their feelings. Share on twitter
If you have experienced these gender biases in your own life, feel free to share in the comments. I would love to hear from you. Please do not feel called to share bigoted/hurtful comments. This is a safe emotional space for my readers, and those comments will not be approved.