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.