Movember: Men's Mental Health
Please note that the use of the term “men” or “man” is inclusive of all male-identifying folks.
In honour of Movember (men’s health month), I am here to chat about the mental health challenges faced by today’s man!
“Toughen up!” “Take it like a man!” “Boys don’t cry!” Sound familiar?
The past decade has opened our eyes to an alarming increase in the rates of mental health concerns men are facing and the effect this has on their overall wellbeing. As a result of men being taught to stay silent about their feelings, their mental health is often overlooked. Rarely do you hear the words “men” and “emotions” or “needs” in the same sentence. But guess what? Just because men have been encouraged to hide their emotions doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Growing up, we learn what is okay and not okay from what we watch and listen to in our families, in movies, and at school. Women have learned to express and share their emotions, whereas men are taught to toughen up and get over it, leading to the development of beliefs that one should be strong and stoic and that their value lies in being a provider and a protector. Emotions are a fundamental part of human life, so when we avoid the uncomfortable ones, we diminish our ability to experience them altogether, including joy.
This damaging belief system leads to the suppression of one’s human need for connection and desire to feel truly seen, heard, understood, and loved for who they are. Men become closed off in an attempt to protect themselves against judgement, shame, and humility, contributing to a felt sense of isolation and loneliness.
Out of the approximate 4,000-4,500 reported deaths by suicide each year in Canada, nearly 75% are men. So why are we not talking about this?
Research shows that mental health challenges such as depression often present differently in men. Many men may express their emotions through anger or complain of somatic (physical) symptoms, including muscle and joint pain, gastrointestinal issues, headaches, and negative changes in sleep patterns. They are also less likely to associate, or accept, the link between these somatic (physical) symptoms and mental wellbeing.
So, What do I do?
Check in on each other. Who else is going to understand what you’re going through better than another man? Let them know you are there for them, and be honest about how you are doing when they ask. Social support acts as a buffer to stressful life experiences.
Pause and check in with yourself. What may you have noticed as you read this? Did any physical signs of emotion show up, maybe it was tension in your neck or a lump in your throat? Pausing to check in with the wisdom of the body provides information about our emotional experience. Using the “emotions wheel” is a helpful tool to name your experience. Find it here (https://mensgroup.com/wheel-of-emotions/)
Know you’re not alone. Engaging with content around men’s mental health creates a sense of feeling understood and connected. “Manup! UK Men’s Mental Health Podcast” is hosted by two men who address concerns ranging from eating disorders, IBS and the mind-body connection, experiences of bipolar disorder and PTSD, mindfulness, suicidal ideation, and much more.
How can Therapy Help?
My work focuses on supporting men in connecting back to themselves. This often looks like slowing down to notice. Notice the sensations you feel as you share stories about your family challenges or work stress; notice the self-limiting beliefs that feed into the pressure to exist a certain way; notice what needs you have that no one has encouraged you to share.
I integrate conversations around the pressures and expectations you may experience, the development of beliefs and values around manhood that may be self-limiting, and encourage the development of emotional awareness and expression.
Having emotional needs and a desire for connection doesn’t make you weak, it makes you human. Research also shows that emotional expression leads to increased resilience, social support, and overall life satisfaction. I hope that in reading this, you begin to recognize that you are worthy as a human and that spaces do exist for you to show up just as you are.
McKenzie, S. K., Collings, S., Jenkin, G., & River, J. (2018). Masculinity, Social Connectedness, and Mental Health: Men's Diverse Patterns of Practice. American journal of men's health, 12(5), 1247–1261. https://doi.org/10.1177/1557988318772732