In an age of growing acceptance of mental healthcare, a major stigma remains: men experience social and institutional pressures that prevent them from getting the help they need. Men experience anxiety and depression at similar rates to women, yet men seek out help less than half as often as women do. While women are more likely to attempt suicide, four times as many men die by suicide every year.
With such a clear need, why is it that men don’t seek out care? The answers are complex and vary depending heavily on cultural background.
Rigid Masculine Norms
Many men are heavily socialized to value independence and self-reliance. This translates to a need to handle things independently, especially their mental and emotional state. To seek help can feel like admitting failure or being perceived as weak. This leads to a tendency to “tough it out” rather than reaching out for support.
Unawareness of Emotion
Dr. Ronald Levant, an expert in men’s psychology, calls the tendency to discount emotions or not be conscious of them “normative male alexithymia,” meaning that men are without the words to describe their emotional experience. This can deter men from openly acknowledging or expressing their emotions, often making it challenging to recognize when they are struggling and need help.
For many men, sharing their struggles may not feel safe or even abnormal, further reinforcing the instinct to keep things inside. This emotional reservation has far-reaching impacts on a man’s relationships, leaving him feeling distant and without support. Men, in general, report fewer close relationships than women, with 15% reporting that they have no close friends at all.
Increased Difficulties for Men of Color
Not seeking treatment is magnified still for men of color. There is a strong expectation to always be in control and avoid perceptions of weakness, and only 26% of Black and Hispanic men who experienced daily symptoms of anxiety and depression are likely to seek out some mental healthcare. Many do not have access to preventative care and instead rely on emergency services.
Men of color are widely underrepresented in medical research and the design of interventions. This means that standard care is implemented without consideration of racial and cultural influences. Finally, there is also a long history of mistrust of the medical community due to patterns of mistreatment and abuse.
So, what can be done to overcome the stigma against mental healthcare?
Normalize Mental Healthcare for Men
Studies show that men are more likely to seek healthcare when that care is normalized, both in media and personal relationships. Organizations should invest in a greater discussion about the acceptance and benefit of mental health services for men. Additionally, individuals should remove stigmatizing language when talking with men: stop saying expressions like “tough it out” or “get it together.” When men seek support, be supportive and reinforce their positive decisions.
Join the Conversation and Share Experiences
Men need to share their experiences of seeking help. Hearing that others share their struggles will help men to break through the isolation and find the courage to reach out. Instead of feeling alone and unique in their pain, men will understand that others feel the same way and are there to help them along the way.
Increase Access to Culturally Competent Care
Finally, organizations and clinicians alike should be intentional about changes that increase access to mental healthcare for men, particularly men of color. They should take the time to learn about the various racial and cultural experiences that impact these men.
Dismantling the barriers that deter men from seeking mental healthcare is not just an act of compassion but a societal good. The ripple effects of untreated mental health issues in men extend beyond the individual, impacting families, communities, and society. By normalizing mental healthcare for men, fostering open discussions, and ensuring accessibility to culturally competent care, we can begin to undo the harmful stigmas and systemic inadequacies that have long hindered men from seeking the support they need.