Men’s Mental Health Awareness: Stigma and Silence

June 12, 2023

Men's mental health often goes overlooked. It's not discussed as much as women's mental health, and it's not talked about in the same way either. Too often, men are expected to "man up" and deal with their feelings in silence. As a result, more and more men are suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses than ever before, and most continue to not speak up about it. 

June is Men’s mental health awareness month. For men, it is crucial now more than ever to prioritize mental health. Read on as we discuss the stigmas surrounding men’s mental health, and ways to help the men in our lives thrive through taking care of their mental health. 

Men’s mental health: the ongoing stigma

Ideally, addressing one's mental health should be similar to discussing a broken bone or any other physical illness, yet the stigma surrounding mental health persists for so many people, especially men. Stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness in men has existed for a long time. In Western society, men with mental health disorders and those who experience mental health problems are stigmatized because they are seen to be weak, incapable, or perhaps not worthy of help. Stigma not only bars men from speaking to their loved ones about mental illness but also from addressing it themselves or seeking help. Several types of stigma affect men’s relationship with mental health, including:

  • Social stigma: Social stigma refers to the negative attitudes or stereotypes directed toward a person or group experiencing a mental illness. Social stigmas surrounding men often form negative attitudes about men who have mental illness, creating that men with mental illness are weak, or that men aren’t allowed to be sad or have feelings. This external form of stigma is rooted in the misconception that mental illness represents a person’s character. This misconception leads to discrimination, avoidance, and rejection of men experiencing a mental illness.
  • Self-stigma: Self-stigma is an internal form of stigmatization that one imposes on themselves. An individual experiencing self-stigma will internalize the negative views and opinions of mental illnesses, which leads to judgment and shame about one’s symptoms. Because of the negative views surrounding men’s mental health especially, men are less likely to seek treatment due to downplaying their symptoms and a reluctance to talk about their mental health.
  • Professional stigma: Professional stigma occurs when healthcare professionals perpetuate stigmatization toward their patients through negative attitudes. These attitudes are often based on fear or misunderstandings of the causes and symptoms of mental illness. Additionally, professionals themselves can experience stigma from the public or other healthcare professionals because of their work and connection with individuals experiencing mental illness.
  • Cultural stigma: Cultural stigma involves how an individual’s culture interprets mental illness. Culture shapes one’s beliefs, values, and norms, and it directly relates to how people attribute meaning to certain illnesses. Culture also affects whether people seek help, what type of help they seek, and their coping style and support.

In addition to the stigmas surrounding men’s mental health, American men also face the barrier masculine norms in U.S. culture and society.  Masculine norms are the social rules and expected behavior associated with men and manhood within a given culture. The phrases “toughen up,” “man up,” “boys don’t cry,” etc., perpetuate the idea that men are not supposed to express sadness, grief, or pain, and to do so is the ultimate sign of weakness or femininity (at times considered one in the same). These masculinity standards contribute to men not seeking professional help for their mental health in fear of their masculinity being diminished.

Men in America, and throughout many cultures, are often not taught or socialized to discuss their emotions or troubles. If anything, it is discouraged. In contrast, most women are taught how and in what way to express themselves, while most men are left out of the conversation entirely. In context to men’s mental health, this lack of emotional acceptance leaves many in the dark: unable to speak of their troubles, and some are even unable to name them to themselves.

Beyond stigma and harmful norms, men of color face additional challenges and risk factors that have historically affected their mental health and how they approach it. Risk factors that affect men of color include higher exposure to poverty and violence, absence of equal economic opportunity, and higher incarceration rates. The result is a compounding hit on mental health; between the stigmatization of all men seeking help and unique stressors, men of color are at higher risk for isolation and mental illness.

How to help men’s mental health

We all have men in our lives that we care about. Some may be experiencing difficulties with their mental well being. Here are some practical steps anyone can take to help men they know that may be struggling with their mental health: 

  • Look out for symptoms: When it comes to depression, there can be some additional signs in men which might be subtler than the common symptoms experienced by men and women. These include:
  • Spending more time at work or immersed in hobbies like sports, as an escape 
  • Drinking more alcohol or taking drugs
  • Irritability and outbursts of anger
  • Violent or abusive behavior
  • Risk-taking behaviors, such as reckless driving
  • Physical symptoms like headaches or digestive problems
    • Start a conversation: Talking to a loved one about their mental health is never easy, but it’s a necessary step if his behavior is causing you concern. You could tell him you’ve noticed some changes and that you’re worried, or simply ask him if he’s OK. Remind him that you love him and that you’re there whenever he wants to talk. Keep in mind that there’s a good chance this initial conversation won’t be productive – he may refuse to talk or deny that there’s a problem, or even become angry or upset. This may be frustrating and worrying, but it’s important not to pile on the pressure to speak if he’s not ready. Just knowing he has your support will likely make a difference, and encourage him to talk in the future.
    • Explain resources: Many men aren’t aware how to get support for their mental health. A productive step in supporting your loved one is to gather some information e.g. about visiting their GP, finding a therapist and/or speaking to their employer about accommodations. 
  • Provide support & space: If your loved one chooses to get help, make sure he knows he has your support – whether it’s in booking and attending physician appointments, arranging therapy, or taking his medication. It’s also important to understand that he will need his privacy. For example, if he has to do therapy from home over a video call, make sure he has a private space where he can speak without fear of being overheard.
  • Encourage a healthy lifestyle: Sometimes mental health difficulties can’t be cured by lifestyle changes alone, but they can make a big difference. The best way to help your loved one get better is to participate in these changes with him. You could start taking walks, do more home cooking together, or make a joint pact to cut back on alcohol.

Summing it up:

True Care encourages all men, and people with men they love in their lives to seek help, if it’s needed. It’s important that they practice stress management and have support networks in place should they face any mental health issues. It’s useful to be aware of the stigmas surrounding men’s mental health in order to help put an end to them. The stronger the support network is, the better the individual can cope. Regardless of societal, cultural, or even self-expectations, what’s most important is for individuals to receive the help and treatment they may need for their mental health. Asking for help is the first step, and if you’re not sure where to start, contact True Care today for more information.

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