MEN AND MENTAL HEALTH
The developments in our understanding of mental health are evident from news articles and striking statistics of depression and suicide in our society. These statistics may shock us, they may even call us into action to develop awareness, understanding and interventions to help improve services that those suffering from mental health issues face. However, as much as these efforts are vital and impactful, populations within our society are still left behind when it comes to mental health care. For me, the stand out group is men.
As a counselling psychologist in training and as a man, I have a developing understanding of the dichotomy of in-depth emotional understanding and masculinity. It can be hard, it can be volatile at times, but it must be understood if we are to tackle the growing issues of men’s mental health. In my own opinion, it is this understanding of what it means to be a man, masculinity and the stigma surrounding men and seeking therapeutic help that are the most prominent barriers to understanding men’s mental health better and developing treatment that is both applicable to men and effective in outcomes.
WHERE I FEEL WE ARE NOW
Mental health fascinates me. Largely due to the number of people it effects and the lack of a full understanding we possess regarding it. In part, I feel this lack of understanding stems from the stigma that surrounds mental health and men’s mental health primarily. Seeking therapeutic assistance or admitting you experience mental health difficulties still holds with it perceptions of weakness and inabilities to cope.
On the contrary, I feel that reaching out for such services and confronting mental health issues is one of the strongest and bravest steps a person can make, however out society chooses to view it differently. The fact that men are more likely to suffer from mental health issues and much less likely to seek help than women should call us into action. We lack an understanding of the subjectivity of mental health. Depression may affect someone in different ways than others, it may be sparked by a different set of circumstance. With this subjectivity comes a lack of understanding of how mental health affects people. I can think of no other group where mental health has a lack of understanding or is stigmatised more than men’s mental health.
So far, our developing research and understanding of men’s mental health stem from our understanding of mental health in general. In order to enhance the understanding of men’s mental health, we need to understand the two entities, mental health and men. The issue is so advance that as I write now as a 27-year-old man, over the next 10 years of my life, I am most likely to die from suicide than anything else. This fact shocks me, it leads me to think of my own mental health, it opens up considerations of the support I may receive if and when I potentially experience advanced mental health challenges. Perhaps my fear stems from the fact that I know I could very well experience such difficulties in time, combined with my knowledge of a system that is failing so many men year on year due to a lack of appreciation, research and understanding.
Our success in challenging these issues stem not only in a development of mental health understanding but primarily in masculinity and what it means to be a man. With expansion in this understanding, we will hopefully come to a deeper appreciation of the mental and emotional challenges men face, how they deal with these challenges, what services would be best to provide them and how best to assist them accessing these services. For too long our approach to mental health treatment has been reactive, it’s time to be anticipatory and work from the ground up to not only treat poor mental health in men but develop and help facilitate good mental health.
MY OWN EXPERIENCES
When conducting my research, I am reminded of the concept of the ‘wounded healer’. Of all the topics in therapy and psychology that lack research, why does my passion lie with men and their mental health? As an only child, raised primarily by my single mother, I think back to my childhood and the male role models that were around me. I had a relationship with my father that remains today, but it was inconsistent.
My passion lies in counselling and therapy and how this can facilitate and assist men through mental health challenges in their lives. I feel my work can only go so far if the stigmatised foundation of men’s mental health is not challenged first. In the coming years, I aim to conduct a systematic analysis of studies conducted in men’s mental health and later a thematic analysis on establishing the stigma of stereotypical masculinity and how it affects the perceptions and treatment of men’s mental health.