The Stigma of Men's Emotions


Why do men need Therapy?

It’s never been a secret than men attend therapy less than women, and that they attend to their emotional distress differently than women. Traditionally, men are brought up to be more stoic, such as being told that “big boys don’t cry”. As boys grow older they are sometimes referred to using derogatory slang which compares them to females or female body parts for expressing their emotions.


Men are typically brought up to be the brave ones, the self-possessed ones, the stoic ones.

But what does this mean for their emotional health? Surely men come up against similar barriers and obstacles as women, but where women traditionally use social support and talking therapies to share and resolve problems, men tend to keep their problems to themselves.


However, the statistics are overwhelmingly showing us that men are not dealing with emotional and psychological issues effectively;

  • Over three-quarters of those who end their own lives are men

  • men report a significantly lower life satisfaction than women

  • men are almost three times as likely as women to become dependent on alcohol

  • men make up 95% of the prison population, of which 72% suffer from multiple mental health disorders.

Furthermore, this begins early in life with boys being around three times more likely than girls to be excluded from schools. I have seen first hand, boys as young as 10-years old being moulded into the ‘man of the house’ and the ‘protector’ of their siblings, forcing them to bury their own emotional needs in order to look after others.


Something is going on for these men that is not adaptive in today’s society, and it is blocking their happiness.


Why don't men go to therapy?

“We teach men to be almost the opposite of what’s required for therapy” says Gary Brooks (Psychology professor at Baylor University in Texas).


As I mentioned, boys are taught from an early age that showing negative emotions is a sign of weakness. Soon, these boys begin to feel a sense of shame when they feel anything negative and so these feelings are hidden, and very often these feelings also get hidden from themselves.


Men are stuck in gender stereotypes just as much as women are, but for different reasons. As a society, we push men to remain strong, to keep their emotions and their problems to themselves, and as boys and men internalise this, they lose touch with their emotions and find the idea of talking about their feelings incredibly daunting.


Coming from a different angle, Ronald Levant (former head of the American Psychological Association), indicates that therapy is simply not designed for men. He concedes that while most of the world is designed for the comfort and ease of the male population, the therapy process is not. In fact, the therapy process was originally designed by men, for women.


So men aren’t brought up to thrive in therapy and therapy is not designed for men. Quite the catch-22 situation.


What can we do to encourage men into therapy?

One of the more long-term ways that we can encourage men into therapy, is to normalise the experience of therapy as a society. There is still a lot of stigma attached to therapy and mental health in general, for both men and women. But when you add in the gender stereotypes and stigma around not being a strong enough man, it is understandable why men avoid going to therapy.


I have worked in a few schools, both primary and secondary, where there is much less stigma around going to therapy – because it is brought into the children’s lives before the world has had a chance to tell them that they shouldn’t need it. Starting to talk about mental health and wellness early on might help to prevent stigma as a society.


Perhaps the language of therapy needs to change in order to allow men to feel more comfortable attending. There has been talk, within the field of psychology, that men might be more amenable to attending therapy if it were called ‘coaching’ or ‘consulting’ rather then therapy or counselling.


Some therapists have noted that therapy with men might need to be more goal-driven, time-limited, and structured than therapy with women, which can be much more free-flowing.


Whereas the numbers of men attending therapy are slowly increasing, mainly due to millennial men starting to stray from the more traditional gender norms, men over the age of 35 are generally struggling to let go of the gender stereotype that they grew up with.


It is important for men, and women, to notice that the world has changed; men are no longer assumed to be the sole financial provider for a family, women are no longer forced into being a stay-at-home mum. Although some might chose to stay within these traditional roles, many are forging their own paths and swapping or sharing these roles.


And as these roles become more fluid, it is important for all of us to realise that both men and women need to become more comfortable with men expressing their emotional needs or concerns, and that the stigma around seeking help for mental health should have become extinct long ago.


Breaking the stigma

Men’s mental health is starting to spread into mainstream and social media, with male celebrities opening up this important conversation. Every time someone, especially someone with such influence, opens up about mental health, the stigma shrinks just a little.

Prince Harry recently shared that his own journey through therapy, dealing with the loss of his mother, changed the way that he sees his work and his private life.


Dwayne Johnson spoke about depression and emphasised that “the key is to not be afraid to open up. Especially us dudes have a tendency to keep it in. You’re not alone.”


Michael Phelps shared his journey with mental health, saying “After years, and years, and years of just shoving every negative, bad feeling down to the point where I mean, I just didn’t even feel anymore. It was a long, long, long road and I just never wanted to deal with it. And for me, that sent me down a spiral staircase real quick and like I said, I found myself in a spot where I didn’t want to be alive anymore.”


The discussion around mental health is reaching into mainstream media with musicians and rappers using their voices to share their ideas and their own experiences with mental health, further reaching demographics that might not be discussing mental health and wellness. Two examples that jump to my mind are Logic and Demi Lovato.


Recently Logic released a song entitled 1-800-273-8255 (which is the phone number for the American National Suicide Prevention LifeLine) which takes you through the mind of someone who is contemplating suicide; “I've been praying for somebody to save me, no one's heroic, And my life don’t even matter, I know it, I know it, I know I'm hurting deep down but can’t show it”


Going only slightly further back, Demi Lovato released her song "Warrior" in which she sang "All the pain and the truth, I wear like a battle wound / So ashamed, so confused, I was broken and bruised."


As always, if you would like to book an initial counselling session with me, please email me at amylaunder.counselling@gmail.com


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