Written by: Scott Prinz, LPC, Angela Derrick, Ph.D. & Susan McClanahan, Ph.D.
Mental health has traditionally been an overlooked topic among men and male-identified individuals, and at times the subject is even actively avoided. Previous generations have passed down an attitude towards mental health among men that includes shame, embarrassment, and weakness making it difficult for men to step forward to discuss their experiences with emotions.
As a therapist, I have heard my male clients admit to shying away from speaking about mental health with other men. They have described the feeling that there is an engrained collective shield in front of them to protect from vulnerability. Interestingly, this feeling contradicts movements on social media and popular culture normalizing the discussion of mental health among men over the past few years.
While the discourse on social media is encouraging, my clients are left wondering how to tap into that momentum away from the screens. We are all surrounded by quotes such as “it’s ok to not be ok” but what comes after this? And without taking the next step, we are often left feeling alone with the realization that we are not ok.
So, what is the next step? The next step is hard, but it is also an opportunity where men can start supporting men. We can work together to lower the collective shield by talking to each other. Humans are social creatures, and we rely on others to have our needs met. Identifying your support system is a great start to allow others to help. Who do you feel comfortable with to be vulnerable? Oftentimes being vulnerable increases connection and makes us feel less alone. Think of a time when you’ve shared something with a friend and found that they shared something personal in return. This is how meaningful connections are built and maintained.
One of the main reasons I see men coming into treatment are for concerns about how they are handling relationships in their lives. Historically, men have not been encouraged to be sensitive and thoughtful partners and parents and may be genuinely confused about how to relate to loved ones in effective ways. Also, I often talk to men about how they don’t generally make space in their lives to reflect on their emotions and consider how they are impacted by various life events.
Being open about feelings can seem new and difficult at first, and this is where therapy can be a particularly useful tool. Therapy isn’t something that is reserved only for people who are severely distressed. Therapy can be useful at any point in our lives. It is a place where we can learn about ourselves, acquire new skills and tools to be open in our lives, and improve our relationships with others and ourselves.