Why Do Men Find It Harder To Talk About Mental Health?

November 23, 2021


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To take a look at newspaper and magazine articles from the last ten to twenty years, it would be easy to conclude that mental health was something that had been completely destigmatized. All of us can think of at least a few celebrities who have spoken openly about their struggles with (primarily) depression, and the existence of Mental Health Awareness campaigns seems to suggest that being mentally ill - once the source of plenty of shame and lots of prejudice - is something everyone can talk about openly.

However, a lot of the statistics around the issue would seem to tell a different story - and specifically so when it comes to men. Around a third of referrals to mental health professionals are for men, and (although research is hard to carry out) it is understood that men are less likely to talk to people in their lives about their mental health. It’s an unavoidable truth that mental health gets worse if issues are unaddressed, so it’s not hard to understand why suicide is disproportionally a killer of men. So the question needs to be asked: Why is it so much more likely that men will find it hard to talk about mental health?

What does it mean to be a “man”?

Cliches are rarely beneficial in any circumstance, and when it comes to understanding masculinity, they’re even more damaging than usual. Although there are plenty of male celebrities who would appear to buck the trend, it seems undeniable that the idea of being a “man” is still bound up in prejudices about strength of a physical and mental nature. It is still widely seen as somehow weak to speak up about mental health struggles. Suppressing one’s issues is believed by some men to be the best way of dealing with them, but any psychologist will tell you that burying feelings doesn’t make them go away, it simply causes them to fester.

This means that anyone who is concerned about their loved ones’ mental health is placed in a circumstance where they are forced to bring up the subject themselves. Raising the issue in a non-judgemental way, in a quiet moment, is the most likely way of getting an open response, and moving on to what can be done about it. Some men will still be resistant to going to therapy, but a first step may be to suggest testosterone replacement therapy that works, especially if the man in question is 40 or older. It’s at this age that there can begin to be a natural falling away of hormone production, and replacement can beneficially effect someone’s mindset.

What should you say to someone who doesn’t want to talk?

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If you’ve spent much time talking to anyone, you’ll know that people in general have an aversion to changing their mind on the spot. However, people change their minds on things all the time - they just need to feel that they’ve reached that point by themselves. This is something to bear in mind. A man you care about - it could be a husband, a boyfriend, a brother, a father or simply a friend - may well not want to talk about their feelings. However, they don’t need to talk right away, just get them to listen. Tell them that you know they take a lot on and don’t like to be a burden - but that in seeking help, they’ll find a greater lease on and love of life, and that it will be good for those they love, too.

They may not, initially, want to take this bait, but they don’t have to. You can, at this point, simply walk away and leave them to it. Tell them “that’s all I wanted to say - just think about it”. You can’t drag them to therapy, and if they go under protest, they’re unlikely to engage beneficially anyway. However, if they think on it and realize that they’re not failing by seeking help, they’ll come back to you and confess that they haven’t been feeling right - and that’s when you can talk about ways of getting them back on their best form.

Getting someone to talk about their mental health is never easy, unfortunately - but persistence is key and will bear fruit if you pick the right times to speak. Many men - too many - still struggle to open up about emotional issues, and while it should never be up to you to get them to speak, it can sometimes help to set the ball rolling. A kind word at the right time can make all the difference.

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