Men’s Mental Health

Seeking support during challenging times in life can bring on feelings of shame, guilt, and even anger. You might experience self-judgment or worry that people in your life might find out that something is wrong with you. This is especially true for men brought up in a world where feelings are taught to be suppressed, where phrases like, “suck it up” or “be a man” are ingrained in us at a young age. But what if there is an alternative? What if there’s a way to be true to yourself while also working towards feeling better?

What Does It Mean to “Be a Man?”

Being a man can mean different things to different people. It’s likely that your concept of manhood is influenced by your upbringing as well as by your surroundings which include movies, TV, music, and other media. Common beliefs around being a man include being a provider, remaining strong in the face of adversity (or having courage), stoicism (or not showing emotion). If these beliefs don’t resonate with you, there are likely others that do that affect how you see yourself and the world around you. Some of these concepts may have served you in your life and may even be central to your identity as a person. Not fulfilling them may feel like a challenge to you and your identity.

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

We are surrounded by rules and beliefs, even if we don’t always realize it. Though we may think about beliefs in terms of religion and upbringing, everyone has beliefs that affect how we interact with the world. Some might call it a code or a way of being. They are essentially messages that we learn, either through experience or being taught. Many of these messages start when we are young and can persist, especially when we are rewarded for following them.

For instance, you may have received the message that manliness is defined by how well you can control your environment. This idea could even extend to what you think, feel, and what others around you do in response to your actions. It can be flexible but also might be rigid – I must maintain control, for instance. Perhaps this rule works for you in some instances but it’s likely that it is not without problems. Problems may even be exacerbated when you try to apply this specific rule to certain areas outside of control. The more you try to control what you think and feel, the less control you have. When the rule can’t be followed, you have a choice – do you continue to try to follow the rule or do you change the rule?

How does following your rules work for you?

Compassion Means Courage

Compassion is defined as moving towards physical, mental or emotional pains in attempts to relieve this pain. Compassion is an act of courage. Kristen Neff, one of the creators of Self-Compassion, uses the example of a firefighter practicing compassion when they rush into a burning building to rescue those inside. They are seeking to alleviate suffering, even when it is scary or painful.

Compassion can be applied both to others as well as ourselves. When we practice compassion we are saying this pain or distress is here rather than listing all the reasons why we or someone else should feel differently. We can show kindness in the face of this feeling as a means to heal like applying a bandage rather than denying its existence or fighting against it. Pain is a part of life and when we allow pain, we say, it’s okay, even if I don’t like it or want it.

If you scoff at compassion, ask yourself why. Is it because it’s different than what you’re used to and therefore perhaps scary in some way? Also, what’s the risk? What do you stand to lose by trying compassion? By stepping into compassion in the face of these thoughts, you are already practicing the courage it takes to try something different. Research has shown compassion as a helpful way to reduce shame, anxiety, anger, and guilt and increase feelings of contentment with life. However, the only way to know if it works for you is to see for yourself.

Can Men Ask for Help?

Coming to this page at all may have been a struggle as handling issues on your own is a common male belief – “men don’t ask for help”. You may try to resolve any challenge presented to you on your own and it’s likely you’ve had some success. However, sometimes an extra set of hands is needed. It’s human to seek out others when there is a problem. It’s what has kept us alive for all this time. Working together is how we’ve built civilizations and staved off extinction. We are made to collaborate.

It doesn’t come without risks. There is a very real social stigma attached to men who seek help for mental health challenges. Messages like, “save that for someone who really needs it” or thoughts of weakness. You’ve likely had experiences that reinforce these beliefs.

At the same time, you probably know somebody, either personally or through some other means, who looked for help and got it. If you think about your own life, the same is probably true. Hiring an electrician or a lawyer or an accountant is trusting someone with expertise to help. The same rule applies here. A mental health professional can work with you to organize your experiences, make sense of them, and join with you to align with what is really important to you in your life. You might find that not only can you focus less on problems but more on what brings you happiness and makes life worth living. You might ask less, “what do I have to lose?” and more, “what do I stand to gain?” What can be done if you reach out for support?

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