Joe* walked into my office feeling alone, sad, agitated, disconnected from family and friends, ashamed to “need” support from a therapist, and even guilty for not being able to “handle things on his own.” In reality, he has an accomplished career, is a high achiever, is financially successful. He was completely at a loss as to how he has ended up in my office. I assure you, Joe is not alone! Yet, many of the men who come to me feel this confusion and pressure about seeking help due to the stigma of men and mental health.
There are societal beliefs and pressures such as “men have to be tough and strong,” “men don’t cry,” “men are allowed to express anger, but not hurt or sadness,” “men must provide and protect,” and “men must achieve and perform.” Men have tremendous pressure to stay within the societal walls of what it means to “be a man.” In fact, while the stigma of mental illness has lessened over the past several years, it remains stubbornly strong among men, who are typically averse to admitting to any problem and convinced they can “handle” anything themselves, according to a recent news story. Men know that if they go outside of these societal norms, they can be seen as “weak,” “not a man,” or “feminine.”
And, because of this pressure, men often are fighting depression, anxiety, addiction(s), trauma, or other mental health concerns that are not being treated. Those underlying issues can manifest in unhealthy actions. For example, men can express their deep sadness, loneliness, and hurt as anger, agitation, impatience, isolation, and irritability. People may see this as “men being men,” when in reality there could be some mild to severe depression.
There is help! In my practice, I have had the honor and privilege to witness men practice vulnerability and learn how to feel again after being “numb” or burned out due to years of performing, achieving, providing, and protecting without taking care of themselves. I have witnessed the tears of many successful men, as well as the relief and joy they experience when they are able to once again authentically connect with their loved ones.
Through the therapy process, men find they are able to express a full range of normal human emotions (not gender-specific emotions) without being weak. They find they are happier, more fulfilled, and content…and also still a man!
*Not a real patient.