Problems? Me? Nope, just fine, thanks.

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JJ Vincent knows men have mental health issues. So why aren’t they talking about them?

The other day, there was a TV show on in my building, and the host and his guest were talking about mental illness. She spoke very openly about her struggles, and he listened in earnest.

And it got me to thinking. I know several women with mental health issues…mental illness, as most of them will say. But I personally only know two man with them. Wait, I thought. That can’t be right. That cannot be right.

And I’m sure it’s not. I’m sure I know several men with mental health issues. So allow me to rephrase.

I only know two men who will talk about their mental illness.

◊♦◊

Mental illness. Guys generally don’t want to talk about it. Broken bones, scars, torn this and that, yes. But what about a torn psyche? The stigma is less than it used to be. Turn on the TV, and on any given talk show, there will be guests talking about their struggles, hosts listening in earnest, and an audience clapping their support. Go into a bookseller and you’ll find dozens of books on people’s personal journeys through mental health issues.

And most of them, guests and authors, are women.

Where are the men in this discussion? Afraid to speak up, maybe?

And that’s not surprising. Mental illness has long been associated with weakness, especially in guys. Don’t cry, get over it, man up, don’t be a wuss, what’s your problem, you’re no fun…any of these sound familiar? Emotional weakness and vulnerability are not generally positive attributes. Mental illness is, unfortunately, associated with these, as well as being weak-willed. What, not man enough to control yourself?

A man fearful of losing his job or his social or financial status is not going to share what’s going on in his head. He’s not going to risk ridicule, rejection or worse.

A man whose culture or peers value male strength and stoicism, providership, machismo, toughness, and leadership is not likely to find comfort or sympathy for depression or anxiety in that climate.

The language of men does not encourage sharing. Words like “psycho”, “crazy”, “nuts”, “insane”, while not used exclusively by men, are often attached to women. “She’s psycho”, “That woman is nuts”, “Don’t you know she’s crazy, man?”, “That chick is insane, and not in the good way”.

Maybe he fears being emasculated. The cruel language of mental illness is often applied to women. The spokespeople for mental health issues are typically woman. The commercials for medication, by and large, feature women. Mental health is greatly portrayed as a “women’s problem”.

Virility, sex drive, sexual performance, all very important to most men. The side effects of some medications, including ED and decreased libido, might make a man not even want to seek help.

Seeking help means admitting you have a problem. And that’s not what men are trained to do.

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There are new narratives coming out. Servicemen and veterans are beginning to talk about the importance of mental healthcare. And this is very good. But what about the men who don’t have this story, who have, to many people, no reason for mental health issues? Where are their spokespeople? To be sure, a few celebrities have come out about it. But their voices are drowned out by the ones we are used to hearing.

Mental illness, no matter how it looks in popular media, is not confined to any gender, class, age, ethnicity, geography, background, or sexual orientation. The all-to-common ways of self-medicating, with alcohol or drugs or self-harm, aren’t either. And yet so many men have become masters of hiding their issues that no one knows about them until something goes terribly wrong.

Wee usually only hear about men’s mental health issues in the context of unmet needs or tragic consequences.

Men need to open their ears to each other. Men need to open their mouths and speak.

We need to talk about these issues before they become headlines.

Photo: hang_in_there/Flickr

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About JJ Vincent

JJ Vincent is a 40-year-old guy who lives in north Alabama...by choice. He is a graphic designer and multi-crafter who is equally fond of knitting and NASCAR and bakes wicked good chocolate chip cookies.

Comments

  1. JJ Vincent: Seeking help means admitting you have a problem. And that’s not what men are trained to do.

    I don’t think so.

    It’s been many years, but I used to attend various 12 Step groups, as part of my own journey and also because I was doing some grad work. And back then, if you went to Alcoholics Anonymous, it was about 90% men. If you went to Overeaters Anonymous, OTOH, the numbers were reversed.

    So I don’t see men in our generation as unwilling to seek help for mental issues, particularly. I have two really close male friends, and I talk deeply with each of them about all sorts of issues, including mental health.

    What I do think is true is that women share their personal stuff much more widely and casually, while men tend to share with a smaller and closer circle of friends who they actually trust to hold their balls.

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