The issue of men and mental health is one that periodically finds itself as the subject of discussion. Magazines such as Time, Newsweek, Men’s Health, and of course, Psychology Today have periodically run feature stories on the topic. Most of the time it is the subject of a guy or several men who have been overwhelmed with a helpless state of fear, despondency, or some related form of irrational behavior that has managed to consume their psyche.
The end result is often a deep level of mental anguish, reluctance to acknowledge the problem, fear, or a great awakening of some sort on the part of the man, or men, in question. While such an admission, more often than not, is a positive revelation on the part of these guys, the fact is that mental health is still considered a silent crisis for many men.
The reasons for this vary. Many experts attribute this fact to the growing number of pressures placed on men in our contemporary society. Rapid transformations ranging from work, family, and personal life have taken its toll on a considerable segment of men in our current culture. Views on mental health within one’s community, such as the opinions of Black or Latino men, as well as pressures from the greater community, must also be considered.
Regardless of the reasons (and they are important to diagnose), the fact remains that many men (unlike women) are often apprehensive, and in some cases outright resistant, to seeking help to confront the issue.
For many men, doing so indicates they are weak or subpar, and raises a fear they will be viewed as insufficiently masculine in the eyes of their fellow male brethren and, in some cases, female counterparts. When it comes to emotion-related issues, men are taught to “wear the mask” and present a public face of power, confidence, and strength.
Consequently, the “I have it all under control. Everything is cool” persona is having a crippling effect on many men as they are falling further behind, and in some cases are dropping out of society in general. This is a situation that needs to be addressed, and men themselves can make such changes in their own lives.
Culture and Mental Health
Cultural and environmental factors can also be breeding grounds for mental illness. This is particularly true for certain groups of men of color. Oftentimes, Black men experience unique challenges that evade men of other ethnic groups due to the intense level of attention placed on their looks and bodies — and rarely on their mental or emotional intelligence.
Research suggests, and personal life experiences in my case demonstrate, that in virtually every aspect of life, Black men are expected to be strong, resilient and physically and emotionally fit. This is particularly the case as it relates to physical activities. Because of such cultural expectations, many Black men often forego therapy and instead resort to seeking out religion, church, barbershops, family and relatives, and other forms of community-based approaches to tackling such issues (“Black Men’s Mental Health Matters,” American Psychological Association).
Comparative research demonstrates that similar situations are common to Latino men as well. Given the fact that machismo is a dominating factor in Latino culture, many men who are members of this community are pressured to maintain their status as the family bread winner and exercise control over the supposedly more important aspects of family life.
Too many of us are afraid to ask for help. We fear doing so will make us appear weak, emasculated, and vulnerable.
Latino men who are unable to accomplish such goals often blame themselves and feel emasculated and stigmatized. Oftentimes, according to Luz Garcini, an assistant professor at the Center for Research to Advance Community Health at UT Health San Antonio, “In our Latino culture, we don’t talk about mental health . . . It’s equated with mental illness. For men, it’s very stigmatizing.” (“More Latino Men Dying By Suicide Even as National Rate Declines,” msn.com) Thus, rather than reach out for help, these men tend to retreat and suffer in silence.
The truth is that women are much more inclined to open up about their personal health and mental struggles, not just with one another, but with the larger society.
However, there have some been some male celebrities such as Prince Harry, Carson Daly, Chris Rock, Pete Davidson, Jay-Z, and Shawn Mendes who have gone public revealing their struggles with mental illness and the challenges it posed, as well as the steps they took to address and combat their struggles. It is undoubtedly safe to say that these men are hardly the only male public figures who deal with these challenges. The reason these gentlemen decided to open up about their situations was to send a message to other men that even though they may seem to have it all — money, fame, fortune etc. . . . That they still are human and are vulnerable. Moreover, their stories may inspire other men to acknowledge whatever warring factions reside within their minds.
As men, pride is often one of our greatest assets, consequently, it can also result in being among our greatest liabilities. Those of us who are in tune with reality are well aware of the fact we are not immortal. We realize we are prone to stumbling and falling short along the way. We are human. Too many of us are afraid to ask for help. We fear doing so will make us appear weak, emasculated, and vulnerable. Stop it! Accept the fact that all of us are in need of help at some point in our lives, and seeking assistance when you need it is not only acceptable, but also very practical.
The fact is clear, mental illness and social anxiety are disorders that can affect any man (or woman) at any point in their lives. Cultural pressures such as those described above, or even greater social issues such as racism, xenophobia, and homophobia, can exacerbate the issue. But none of us is immune to the possibility of enduring such an experience. What is important, however, is how we choose to confront such a situation. Some men tend to run away from or deny such problems. Other men can take a direct look in the mirror, confront and face such problems head on.
For those men facing such a dilemma, which path will you choose? The standard route of denial, or the road less traveled of confronting the problem. Your health and peace of mind may depend on it.