Although men are slowly becoming more receptive to the idea of seeking help for mental health problems (e.g. stress, anxiety, depression and trauma), they still tend to try and handle things on their own. Even when they feel overwhelmed by pressures at home and work, they often think they should keep a stiff upper lip and carry on. The tendency to stay strong and appear to have everything under control while struggling internally is not good for men’s mental health.
Individuals with avoidant personality disorder struggle with a number of persistent symptoms that get in the way of having social relationships. In the United States, anywhere from 1% to 5.2% of the adult population suffers from avoidant personality disorder. However, many of these individuals continue to fight every day to have meaningful experiences, especially at work.
By James Snow, LMHC, CAP, Clinical Director of Lucida
What are you, a big baby? Stop crying!
Suck it up, man! Pull yourself together.
Don’t ever let them see you sweat or show your weak side.
Men are given messages from the time they are children that insist they must be strong, capable, in charge and never show emotional distress. They do not have permission to be depressed, upset or emotionally lost. Even though progress has been made and there is more research about men and depression, the antiquated gender stereotype is alive and men continue to buy into the belief that they must pull themselves up by the bootstraps and suffer in silence. This has a tremendous impact on men’s mental health and can lead to depression and unresolved trauma and PTSD, not to mention the impact these issues have on the family, particularly the children. These stereotypes are passed from generation to generation and reinforced through our culture.
Because of the stigma of male depression, men act out their feelings in other ways ― mostly through anger, rage and aggression. The pain has to come out in some way and those emotions and accompanying behavior are acceptable for males. It’s OK to be a tough guy, to yell or even throw a punch. But men are still struggling with the concept of being truly vulnerable. Many do not have a clue about how much emotional pain they have shoved down and how they have denied their feelings.
Since men do not typically articulate their inner pain, people around them may assume that men do not experience emotional turmoil. They don’t think of the men in their lives as the ones who are suffering emotionally. But they are. For men, pain is isolating, leading them down a path of hopeless desperation. The result is unhealthy and destructive attempts to mitigate emotional pain, including substance abuse and violent and dramatic suicide attempts.
When Help Is Needed
There are certain signs that indicate anxiety in men, as well as depression and other mood disorders, including:
- Changes in mood, energy level or sleeping habits
- Appetite changes, including eating too much or not enough
- An ongoing feeling of being on edge, restless or unable to focus
- Aggressive behavior and having a short fuse
- Overwhelming stress or worry
- Feeling emotionally numb and detached
- Substance abuse and other destructive behaviors
- Loss of the ability to experience positive feelings and joy
- Suicidal thinking, talk or attempts
Getting Beyond Fix, Rescue, Protect and Control
Men are not perceived as being verbally prolific. It’s a cultural stereotype but there is truth to it because they are taught to fix, rescue, protect and control. It’s been the ongoing communication dynamic between men and women and it is the way men traditionally approach a crisis. Ironically, it is the opposite of what most women are seeking, which is someone to listen and understand.
A mental health crisis requires a different approach. It requires a safe, nonjudgmental environment where men can thrive in community with one another. The first elements addressed are often foreign concepts for men:
- You’re a fully feeling being.
- You’re built to be an emotional person and you don’t have to be ashamed of feelings.
- You’re here to redefine what being vulnerable is and to come to see that it is actually an outward demonstration of strength ― not weakness.
Stopping Unnecessary Suffering
Six million men in the United States experience depression. Many men have been very unhappy for a very long time. They have hidden and swallowed their unhappiness. And when the pain gets so bad that things fall apart in relationships, family and at work, many men internalize it as: I’ve completely failed. I’ve failed as a man. I’ve failed as a husband. I’ve failed as a father.
There is a lot of blaming and shaming in this culture, which sometimes gets in the way of men recognizing that having a mental illness is not their fault and that it is a problem they cannot fix on their own. In men’s mental health treatment, we provide a safe space for:
- Discussing important issues and sharing openly without judgment
- Learning new coping and problem-solving skills to replace destructive behaviors
- Improving communication skills and enhancing relationships
- Building a network with other men in similar situations
- Healing from trauma, anxiety and mood disorders
Just opening the door to dialogue is a way of alleviating some of the unnecessary suffering. Most importantly, the message to impart to men is: You’re not a failure. And it is OK to reach out for help. The result of treatment is truly transformative: improved relationships through authenticity and emotional intimacy without the fear of judgment. What a remarkable legacy for a man to leave for his family and children.
By James Snow, LMHC, CAP, Clinical Director at Lucida
Although women have a higher rate of depression, the condition is just as serious and has some similar symptoms in men. According to studies, cultural restrictions on displaying emotions have an impact on whether men will seek mental health support. Here are some important aspects of breaking down those barriers to healing:
- Willingness to try a new approach. The whole “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” concept is all about communication. Men have been trained that you don’t go into your feelings, you fix the problem. If the car is broken, take it to the mechanic. You get the thing fixed and call it done. That’s a man’s role. Depression and other mood disorders also need to be addressed, but coming into treatment is completely antithetical to what men have culturally been trained to do. In treatment, they learn to talk about what they feel … but don’t try to solve the problem. The journey must begin with a willingness to talk about what they are going through and what their thoughts are, and yet to refrain from trying to “fix” their emotions in the way a mechanic fixes a car.
- Emotional mentoring. Harkening back to the days of hunters and gatherers, women are typically more comfortable gathering in a group with other women. For men, who are raised to be independent and go out and get the prey, it’s scary. They tend to shut down and present many defenses because it’s foreign territory. Even sitting in a room and having a therapist ask them questions can be mortifying. Having a mentor who has already done a great deal of emotional work and has come through with wisdom and insight can help men adapt to the new world of talking about feelings.
- Bonding with other men. Gender stereotypes about men in groups include watching football, looking at women and drinking. Outside of television sitcoms and the Burning Man Festival, they don’t normally sit around talking about their feelings. However, in an empowering treatment environment, there is newfound permission to share their true selves. When they are around other men who understand the concept of being vulnerable, it opens new vistas. New relationships are built that add to a man’s ability to communicate in the world. Just the experience of sitting in a room with other men who are disclosing their own feelings models healthy behavior. It’s powerful because it gives permission for new men coming into the program to openly share what’s going on in their lives.
- Truly opening up. It may seem foreign at the start, but when a man opens up about trauma in his history, admits to his anxiety, talks about an eating disorder or discusses relationship issues, something magical happens in the room. Heavy feelings lift. When men share in an authentic way, it begins to release what they have kept bottled up inside. It empowers everyone in the group to be honest and invites others to join the discussion. It becomes a self-feeding experience ― those who share nurture themselves, and those who bear witness benefit too. It’s remarkable to watch the power that unfolds when men allow their vulnerability to take the lead.
- Addressing trauma. While the presenting problem may be a mood disorder, there is often an underlying trauma that has gone unaddressed. It may be something buried deeply in a man’s psyche and they may not be consciously aware of it, so it is important to include trauma resolution as part of the healing process. Childhood traumas will often arise and be revealed in the course of therapy. Rather than take the approach of breaking down the walls and going in with bright lights and a search party, the experience is like peeling an onion, getting at one layer at a time. There is no jumping in and trying to “fix” it in one shot. (It’s important to note here that trauma work should always be approached with the help of a skilled therapist.)
Everyone Wins When Men Are Mentally Healthy
Men are dealing with a complexity of issues and rehab for men offers myriad ways to address them. They are dealing with the internal issues, with the illness at hand and also with the cultural elements that profoundly affect them. There are family issues and family expectations for men. They are supposed to be that strong, protective person. When overloaded by burdens and pain, they just cannot play that role. Sometimes it takes something drastic for them to ask for help.
However, there is a great payoff for those willing to be vulnerable. When men are willing to do substantial emotional work, all of their relationships flourish because they have addressed and healed their relationship with themselves. Their personal relationships move to a new degree of intimacy and romantic relationships thrive. They also enjoy more positive interactions with their children. When men learn to stop trying to fix everything and everyone, they can just be.
Racism and discrimination place innumerable barriers, visible and invisible, on people who experience it. Those barriers impact myriad aspects of an individual’s life, not the least of which is their access to mental health treatment. The tragic irony of this reality is that those who face racism and other forms of discrimination are often those who are the most in need of mental health treatment. Two of the most common types of discrimination, racial and economic, can trigger mental health problems as well as prevent those individuals from getting the help they need to cope. Continue reading
Although depression is a mental health issue, it also manifests in numerous physical symptoms. Body aches, fatigue and headaches are the most common physical complaints associated with depression.
But it’s possible that these symptoms are signs of not only depression, but also other chronic physical illnesses. Depression may mask the severity of these conditions. In other words, depression may always be blamed for your constant fatigue, even though you suspect that something else is going on. That’s why it’s important to determine your other health risks and receive treatment.
If you have depression, here are four physical illnesses to watch for and to discuss with your doctor. Continue reading
Statistics and research show that first-generation Hispanic immigrants to the U.S. are less likely to have mental health and substance use disorders than Caucasian Americans and later-generation immigrants. We call this the immigrant paradox. In spite of many factors that one might assume would lead to a greater instance of mental illness and substance abuse, like poverty and trauma, these immigrants are protected by their birth status. Their offspring do not have the same protective factor. Researchers are working to explore and explain this intriguing paradox. Continue reading
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