The mental health of men and boys is often overlooked, even though it can take a significant toll on their lives. When ignored, mental health issues can affect physical health and life expectancy. Untreated mental health conditions can lead to high-risk behaviors including substance abuse, gambling and other forms of addiction. Unheeded emotional problems can also cripple a man’s ability to fully function in society and within his family.
It is especially important to focus on men’s depression because it can lead to suicidal thoughts and attempts. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for males ages 10-34. It is the fourth leading cause in males age 35-54.
Common Barriers Men Face to Seeking Mental Health Treatment
Given the prevalence of mental health issues and the dangers of ignoring them, it is important to identify common barriers men face when seeking help. I recently privately surveyed a number of my male clients. I asked them what made it hard for them to seek counseling initially. Their answers were very representative of typical male barriers to receiving mental health services:
“Real men don’t ask for help.”
One client talked about the stigma of seeking help for mental health. He felt frustrated about his depressive and anxious symptoms because, “I couldn’t take care of it myself.” It is common for men to resist getting help out of a belief they should be able to handle it or it should just go away on its own.
“Strong men don’t have emotional problems.”
Another common barrier for men? The cultural beliefs men need to be strong, never show emotion and hide any signs of weakness. This is a crippling belief as mental health conditions can create feelings of vulnerability, fear, insecurity and weakness. Men who attempt to live by these stereotypes run the risk of suppressing their emotions. This can lead to ineffective coping. Problems with anger, over-working, substance abuse, or other forms of addiction can also occur. Men who isolate from others to avoid their feelings struggle internally and their relationships may also suffer.
“Faithful men shouldn’t need therapy or medication.”
A further hindrance to seeking mental health treatment is the belief a man is weak in his faith if he seeks mental health treatment. A common assumption runs something like this: “If I had enough faith in God or was living a moral life, I wouldn’t feel so bad.” This barrier can also include the idea that mental health issues are the result of personal sin or wrongdoing. A common belief is that repenting of sin will resolve the mental health problem.
This perspective minimizes the complexities of mental health problems. Mental health can be influenced by a number of factors including: chemical imbalances, distorted thinking, past trauma/abuse, relationship issues and even spirituality.
The reality is that mental health problems afflict many people regardless of their level of faith or spiritual commitment.
Men Who Overcome These Barriers Find Hope and Healing
Despite the many barriers that exist for those who struggle, there is still hope that men can overcome mental and emotional problems.
The same men who told me just how hard it was to begin therapy? They also discussed how counseling was not near as threatening as they originally believed it would be. Men often find a surprising comfort in having a place where they can openly talk about difficult thoughts and feelings they have kept inside for so long. Many methods, including both medication and counseling, have proven to be effective in easing distressing issues such as depression and anxiety.
Steven Runner, PsyD, is a psychologist at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services.