Depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and many other disorders are conditions that tend to be more common in women; however, men have also been experiencing mental health issues at alarmingly high rates. Men are four times more likely than women to commit suicide and die from alcoholism or drug abuse, two behaviours that are dangerous and self-destructive. This tends to happen when they are battling depression, as they would rather fall into these behaviours than seek help. They choose not to do this as it's believed to diminish and devalue their masculinity, they often get treated differently when seeking help in comparison to females.
Stigma and discrimination
Stigmas are frequently the result of a lack of understanding and knowledge. It can be found in professional, cultural and social settings, as well as within ourselves; they are widespread, along with discrimination, against people with mental illnesses. Medical professionals may unintentionally adopt a stigmatising attitude towards their patients, which could lead to an underdiagnosis of the patient's mental illness, since the causes and symptoms of the illness are misunderstood. This is just one example of the professional stigma associated with mental illness being imposed by medical providers.
Stigmas occur culturally in the sense that different cultures deal with mental illnesses differently due to having different perspectives; it is common for cultures to have misconceptions and thus view mental illness as a weakness, particularly in the black community. This then leaves the mental illness untreated as the mentally ill individual would make an effort to hide it and not be in touch with their feelings; they struggle to talk openly and are reluctant to ask for the help that they need.
The social stigma towards mental health labels people as weak and even creates the impression that the mentally ill individual is crazy and insane.
What effect does stigma have?
Consider all the stigmas surrounding mental health and combine them with the stigmas associated with being a man. These stigmas cause people to feel ashamed, feel humiliated, feel embarrassed. Embarrassed by their mental health, their wellbeing. It's no surprise that males are hesitant to reach out for assistance. The shame leaves them in denial, they turn a blind eye to their own symptoms. As a consequence, society's misunderstanding and ignorance towards men's mental health persists.
Because of stigmas, it's difficult for men to access the help that they need because asking for it makes the man look weak. Struggling to verbalise their feelings because they need to "man up" - this is toxic masculinity. From an early age they are conditioned to believe that expressing their feelings is out of character, it is contrary to the male identity, and that their masculinity is threatened and at jeopardy if they cry in front of other people.
Strong, stoic, privileged, breadwinners, providers, self-reliant: these are the stereotypes and expectations of being a male. If they have the perceived disadvantage of having a mental illness, they are deemed to be weak or unmanly because they contradict the heroic male stereotype.
These stigmas evoke fear in men to speak up about their mental wellbeing or even accept their diagnosis. The first stage is acceptance; living in denial prevents them from receiving the professional help they require to successfully deal with their illness.
Tackling male depression
Tackling male depression begins within the male; males must focus on being themselves rather than succumbing to the pressures that come with being a man. Ignore the social expectations; you don't have to be strong or dominant, you don't have to be the breadwinner, you don't have to hide your emotions... you're allowed to cry. It takes a strong character to defy social norms and conventions; be true to yourself!
Acknowledge your mental health problems and learn how to ask for help; avoiding difficulties and remaining ignorant does not help anybody, in fact it can make matters worse - it is a major problem, a serious issue. If you don't deal with your problems appropriately, you may develop and start engaging in bad habits. Find a hobby, distract yourself, but more importantly seek professional assistance. Don't turn to alcohol, don't abuse drugs; these are not healthy coping mechanisms and will actually result in the situation worsening in the long run.
Progression towards tackling depression can be achieved by both society as a whole and by men tackling their own mental health. When us as a society become more understanding, men will find it easier to open up and be in less denial. Being more understanding will help to reduce the barriers that stigmas create. Reducing stigmas around mental health will allow males to feel more comfortable seeking treatment and managing their symptoms more effectively, leading to higher quality of life.
How can we reduce barriers posed by stigma?
Educate people about the true impacts of mental health - this can eliminate social misconceptions and replace it with acceptance, improved understanding and greater awareness. This may also promote positive and empowering discussions about masculinity and manhood.
Reshape perceptions of 'manhood' and escape the gender roles that are imposed upon us from before we're even born - this creates less pressure on men as they won't feel as forced to be someone they truly aren't.
Deepen the training of medical professionals - this makes it easier for patients to feel more comfortable about opening up as there will be less of a negative attitude from the professionals and a better understanding. Furthermore, the availability of a wider range of mental health providers will be beneficial as it allows for a larger pool of medically trained professionals to deal with mental health issues.
Let's contribute to the wellbeing of boys and men in a positive way.