Tough guys, sad minds – Cultural barriers to mental health treatment in men
“What a tough guy!” “Suck it up, dude.”
Such ubiquitous statements may be indicative of a culture surrounding the machismo that is not conducive to mental health. Depression affects six million men each year in the United States but plenty do not receive treatment.
Jill Berger, Ph.D., with Nova Southeastern University, studies masculinity and cites the Marlboro man as a representative of the “masculine ideal” facing American men. The Marlboro man is unemotional, independent and tough, needing help from no one.
“I don’t think that it’s biologically determined that men will seek less help than women,” says Glenn Good, Ph.D., a professor with the University of Missouri and frequent counselor for men, “so if that’s true, then it must mean that it’s socialization and upbringing: Men learn to seek less help.”
John F. Greden, executive director at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center, believes men don’t talk about their problems due to the nebulous definition of masculinity.
“Men have a more difficult time acknowledging, describing or owning [mental illness] than women do.” Greden said, “Men need to recognize that this is not something they can just snap out of, and it’s most certainly not a sign of weakness.”
In response to this problem, Lindsay Holmes, healthy living editor at the Huffington Post, started ShameOver, a conversation about mental health problems facing men and ending the stigma surrounding mental illness of this group.
The psychology community is maintaining their own dialogue as well. President of the American Psychological Association, Ronald F. Levant, Ed.D., has dubbed men unable to express their emotions well as having “normative male alexithymia,” which means “without words for emotions.”
Properly expressing certain emotions can be difficult for people of any demographic.
Susan Heitler, Ph.D., writing for Psychology Today, finds expressing emotions in a health way can bring people together while destructive dialogue can hurt relationships. She recommends starting talks with an “I feel…” sentence, such as “I feel sad.” Some individuals make the mistake of maintaining accusatory tones when talking with others. This can shut down healthy interactions, Heitler believes.
Some masculine men may resort to expressing anger in lieu of other, more vulnerable emotions. Heitler asks people to slow down and show feelings beneath the rash actions. Yelling or screaming only alienates the sad person and people around him or her.
Sovereign Health Group works to increase healthy dialogue in patients through an example set by mental health professions. Unpacking depression and other mental illnesses is easier with therapy. Call us today to learn more about how we can help.
Written by Nicholas Ruiz, Sovereign Health Group writer