Today, people openly speak about their personal experiences with mental health issues. Governments and health agencies supply an abundance of useful facts about conditions like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks.
It is notable that men have not benefitted from this open discussion about mental health issues nor the number of proven, effective methods of treating anxiety and depression successfully. It seems that the perception that anxiety and depression are a female phenomenon has stuck.
Some reasons for this gender bias include:
- Women are stereotypically seen as neurotic or worriers.
- Men are typically seen as strong and stoic.
- Females are encouraged from day one to ask for help.
- Males are told “not to cry”, to be a “man” or to be “strong” from a young age.
- Females are encouraged to verbalise their feelings from when they start talking.
- Males are discouraged from expressing feelings, even as toddlers. “Stop being a cry baby” a “sook” or a “wuss” are common expressions forcing the shutting down of emotions.
- Many males learn to suppress their emotions to the point they do not even know when they are feeling sad or hurt or fearful.
- Men worry that society will look down on them for being weak and needing treatment. They therefore struggle with their mental health issues and attempt to go it alone.
- Even medical professionals like doctors show a gender bias and tend to diagnose women with depression more often than men even if they have the same symptoms (WHO).
- Those men who seek help only do so when they are suicidal possibly because they are desperate and have no choice. This is alarming as the highest rate of suicide is among middle aged men.
What the facts are:
- Anxiety and depression symptoms can afflict all genders, all ages and all social strata.
- There is no gender difference in the manner in which anxiety affects individuals. Symptoms are the same in presentation and intensity with both men and women.
- All genders can benefit from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). As opposed to talking therapy which some males find uncomfortable, I have found that my male patients relate well to CBT tools and find them easy to apply.
What you can do to help the males you care about:
- Be brutally honest – do you suffer from gender stereotyping? If so, rectify that before you can help those around you.
- Are you comfortable with issues of mental health and discussing feelings? If not, sort out your ideas first so that you can give the best support and advice to your loved ones.
- Start with the youth. If you are a parent or relative of a boy, encourage him to identify his feelings and to verbalise them. For instance, if he loses a cricket match and he says “It is not fair, the umpire preferred them”, you say “You must be feeling very disappointed. You would have loved to win. It is hard to cope with losing a game.”
- With older men in your life, speak about anxiety or depression as a medical issue that is no different than diabetes. Just as he would seek help for diabetes and take medication daily if needed, so too he should seek help for depression and take medication if needed.
- Be careful not to make judgemental statements like “I told you not to take that job.” Rather say things like “Depression and anxiety can affect anyone at any time and is not caused by external events.”
- Ask questions that show empathy and compassion like “How do you feel today? What do your symptoms feel like?” Rather than criticise and say “You are not trying hard enough. Just get on with your day.”
- Be positive about evidence based treatments that have been proven to help. Be encouraging but not too pushy. “Let’s go to your GP and find out what is available to help” rather than “Have you made an appointment yet? You are your own worst enemy!”
- Reassure your partner of your love and respect for him. “You are human just like me. I do not need you to be perfect or strong or tough. We can get closer when we talk about feelings”. Never say “I am so disappointed. I thought I married a real man.”
The good news is that more and more males are seeking help. About 40% of my clients are men and they enjoy the journey. Please give yourself and those around you permission to undergo the therapeutic, helpful journey as well.