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.