It’s no secret that men struggle to seek help for their mental health. The fear of being seen as weak or not ‘manly enough’ is real. I refused to see a therapist until I was twenty-eight, preferring to struggle in silence because I believed that is what men do. For me, the social conditioning implied that ‘manning up’ was to figure out the solution to my problems, and sharing was akin to complaining or ‘playing the victim.’ Other men have internalized unhelpful patriarchal messages in their unique ways. I recently discovered that a male friend of mine refuses to meditate because doing so would, in his words, make his genitals shrink. Considering this, it’s no surprise that men are less likely than women to seek help, and if they do seek help, they do so much later than women.
Studies have shown that men are just as likely as women to struggle with depression. It’s time for men to accept this reality. If you are a man or care about a male figure in your life, here are some tips for prioritizing your mental health:
1. It’s okay to feel all of your emotions
Boys don’t cry. This a destructive phrase that many men, including myself, have heard throughout our lives. By discouraging sadness, men learn to mourn in silence. As a result of this silence, feelings of loneliness and isolation can compound and may lead to depression. Over time, men may also learn to suppress sadness altogether. This can lead men to express their sadness with a masquerade and/or ‘masculine’ emotion like anger. In relationships, this can lead to poor communication as the anger directed at partners often seems displaced or unwarranted. No one benefits from suppressing sadness. Instead, it is important to encourage men to feel and express all of their emotions to live healthier and more fulfilling lives.
2. Learn to explore how you are feeling
In my experience, men are socialized to communicate ‘rationally’ and without ‘feelings.’ Over time, this may lead to dissociation from the body to disconnect from emotional experience. To combat this and reconnect with the body’s innate emotional intelligence, I recommend using mindfulness and/or a feelings wheel. Mindfulness can help identify emotions without judgment. This can help one discover what sadness or anxiety feels like in the body because these experiences vary from person to person. For some, sadness feels like a sinking feeling, for others it may feel like a contraction in the chest. Whatever it is for you, it can be useful to discover your emotional experience through mindfulness practice.
A feelings wheel is a great intuitive tool to help identify felt experiences in the present moment. It is easy to use and can help explore what resides behind anger, sadness, and fear. I still use this tool when I struggle to identify feelings or when emotional overwhelm consumes my attention. I recommend checking it out here.
3. It’s okay to communicate how you feel
It is not a weakness to demonstrate vulnerability to your friends and family. It requires great strength to share how you truly feel, especially when you find yourself consumed by sadness or pain. When you open up to those close to you, they too, are more likely to share their difficulties with you. This can result in forming deeper connections in your existing relationships and ultimately these strong bonds will get you through the tough times in life.
4. It’s okay to seek help
While our family and friends may have the best intentions and wishes for us, they may also run their course in their ability to provide help and support through challenging times. In these instances, it can serve to seek professional help. In my experience, many are afraid to see a therapist because of being perceived as ‘crazy’ or ‘weak.’ The truth is that therapy can benefit anyone curious to learn more about themselves or anyone looking to heal from past emotional trauma. Going to therapy does not define who you are or say anything about you other than the fact that you dare to work on your mental health.
5. Be kind to yourself
Life will bring its fair share of challenges and you will find yourself overwhelmed, at times, even after years of working on your mental health. Rather than berating yourself for feeling anxious or sad, remind yourself that experiencing difficult emotions is a part of life. It takes work to learn to be gentle with ourselves because of the conditioning to focus on what’s going wrong rather than what is going right. Treat yourself like you would treat an adorable pet because you deserve the same amount of love and attention as any alive being.
I hope these tips offer you some help on your mental health journey. I wish you ease and strength as you continue to move through life.