It isn’t easy for anyone to reach out for help, but for men, culture and social norms can hold them back even more.
June is Men’s health month, and while the mental health of all people is important, men in particular face numerous barriers and stigma that prevent them from receiving care. Men suffer from depression at roughly half the rate of women, yet nearly 80% of suicides are men. Men also seek out mental health care at lower rates than women and are more likely to downplay their symptoms.
The stigma surrounding the emotional well-being of men can partially account for this disparity. Everyone knows the age-old gender stereotypes established by common social culture over thousands of years. The man is expected to be a strong protectorate of the family unit, which includes emotional and physical fortitude. Showing signs of emotional fragility can lead to social isolation. While these stereotypes continue to break down within modern American society, the mark that they have left remains.
An interesting case study in the realm of men’s mental health can be seen in the story of construction workers. Construction, a major industry in most nations, is dominated by men, and provides a relatively high-stress environment in comparison to other occupations. A recent study from the UK found that construction workers were more likely to hide their emotions and stresses from their coworkers than other occupations, possibly because their workforce is primarily male. These workers fear judgment from their coworkers associated with mental health struggles. Amongst construction workers surveyed 30% had taken time off due to mental illness, yet 60% did not disclose this to their coworkers.
A similar environment can also be found in many male sports teams. Alike the environment that construction workers are placed in, male sports teams are often high-stress environments where much is expected of the individual. Additionally, on these teams, it is hard for men to come out and share their emotions and struggles, due to fear of shame from the group. Not to mention that most men’s sports teams are led by male coaches, who are more focused on winning than creating safe emotional spaces for their players. Male athletes are often told to be tough but are never told to be emotionally vulnerable, which can lead to them closing off themselves from their teammates.
As male stereotypes and gender expectations are continually evolving, and the traditional idea of a man is changing, we can hope that this will lead to more men feeling comfortable in sharing their stories concerning mental health. As teammates, coworkers and friends, we must provide environments for men that emphasize acceptance, and do not harm the individual's mentality.