The stigma of men’s mental health

When I read the first paragraph of the recent article, “A Silent Crisis – The Unpacking of Men’s Mental Health in America,” it gave me an immediate feeling of uneasiness and despair. Learning that 75% of all suicide victims in the United States are men, and the leading cause of death among men is the entanglement of depression and suicide. 

Sadly, from my perspective, there has always been a stigma around mental health, especially for men. I’ve heard phrases such as, “I don’t want to be weak.” or “I’m fine.” I had a close friend say to me once, “I am the man of the house, any idea how embarrassed I would be if I was caught going to therapy?”

The article, “Suffering in Silence: Men’s Mental Health in America Today,” truly captures some of the things men have experienced or at least seems familiar with things I have heard through the years. This phrase resonates with me as it feels spot on: “Suffering in silence.” Trying to fully grasp what that’s like, the difficulties of feeling silent, and suffering, and not being able to recognize how to feel better or even what the best course of action is.  

Dealing with feelings

Then you add “Feelings.” What are feelings, and why are they so important? Men especially are taught that it is not appropriate to talk about their feelings. “Shut up and deal with it.” was a customary response. I know many men to this day that sadly would still verbalize that their feelings don’t matter, are unimportant, and rather they just “deal with it.”  

Another way that I have observed men deal with their feelings is, “I joke because sometimes I don’t know what else to do.” Sound familiar? Often, I have learned to view this as a new challenge and try to dissect the complexities of a joke, to see if there are any genuine emotions or feelings trying to escape. Reflecting on this, I recognize that I, too, used jokes, because I wasn’t sure what to do, or how to express what I was thinking or feeling. I recall feeling quite frustrated, sometimes just numb.

Let’s normalize getting help

After a lot of back and forth, (I must add, I was very persistent), that close friend I mentioned earlier agreed to “check it out” and sought counseling. He kept his word and continued to go for about three months. When I asked him about his experience, he smiled, apologized for his defensiveness, and said it was “cake.” As he further dug into it, he stated he learned a lot about himself and had a “weight lifted.” Further adding that he wished he would have “checked it out sooner.” 

From that experience, he is working to advocate for other men to capitalize on this resource. I think where this really got through to him was that I tried to normalize it as simple as I could. I told him: once a year, we go to the doctor for a physical/checkup. Once a year, we go get our eyes checked. Twice a year, we go to the dentist to get our teeth cleaned/examined. Why in the world do we not see a therapist/clinician once a year or possibly twice a year for a simple mental wellness check? You talk. You tell them about yourself, and the conversation continues from there. 

Normalize taking care of yourself. Normalize setting a good example for your children, friends, and family. Take the reins on your mental health to understand yourself better, feel better, learn, and grow. It is simply one of the best gifts you can give to yourself, and truly ask yourself, when is the last time you did something for YOU? Men: we must do better!

Lastly, I was moved by another quote from the “Suffering in Silence” article. “It’s okay to make it okay, or, trust me: it won’t be.” How powerful is that? Take the time to invest in yourself. Take the time to make it ok.

–Heather Weaver, empac Business Development Manager and a Certified Coach Practitioner

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