Men's mental health

Throughout human history, men have frequently been defined by distinct roles as hunters, warriors, and providers for their families, tribes, and communities, and many male-dominated cultures have traditionally given men a higher status than women. Male rulers and military leaders as well as largely male-led businesses, churches, and societies have played a significant part in contributing to cultural and social expectations of men. The roles of men were seldom questioned or debated and generally were not psychoanalysed.

Stereotypes of women as a “weaker gender” and of men as “protectors,” which can be seen frequently in literature, movies, television, and so on, have also contributed to the development of certain ideas that might be recognised as limiting or even harmful. In recent years, these ideas have increasingly been recognised as potentially problematic, as social norms and cultural expectations are changing. Many men have had to face the reality that certain ideas and behaviours considered to be traditionally masculine may be potentially destructive.

Some men may experience fear and shame related to preconceived notions of their roles and responsibilities. For example, a man whose employment income is not sufficient to provide for the needs of his family may experience feelings of frustration or emasculation stemming from the belief that he should be able to provide for his family. This may especially be the case when a spouse or partner brings in more income or has a higher-paying job.

In particular, one difficulty many men I have worked with have faced is how to respond to mental health issues. I have heard men disclose that the only way they feel able to communicate feelings of depression is through anger or irritability. Leaving them feeling unable to express deeper emotions of pain, or grief. This leaves many men with feelings of isolation, which in turn can increase the likelihood of drug and alcohol abuse, or the risk of suicide. Men may avoid seeking help until a point of crisis is reached, fearing that others will see them as weak.

Many of the men I work with have felt that the only way for them to survive is to try to be something other than themselves. However, often many report that after spending years trying to prove themselves, one of the bravest, and most healing experiences is being able to communicate the truth of their lives to another man.

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