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How You Can Become A Better Ally To Men’s Mental Health, Without Feeling Like A Personal Therapist

Content warning: This article discusses suicide. When we think about the topic of mental health, we tend to think about the contributing factors and causes of mental illnesses, as well as the resources and support needed for those who are struggling to be upfront about their well-being. Of course, the nature of mental health affects everyone regardless of gender. But, have you ever thought about how one’s mental health may go unnoticed in comparison to someone else’s? 

This has been proven true for many members of the male population. For men, they are often forced to grow up with a mindset of assembling a strong persona, thus feeding into the negativity of toxic masculinity.  According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, over 6 million men suffer from depression each year, with most cases being undiagnosed. Societally, many men believe that showing a state of emotion can be seen as a sign of weakness, and it could force them to hide their feelings and avoid seeking help

To further discuss this topic, I had the opportunity to speak with licensed psychologist Dr. David Tzall and licensed psychiatrist Dr. Kirsten Thompson, who provided their own input on ways that we can work to support the mental health of men in our lives — our friends, partners, fathers, and family. 

Toxic masculinity plays a huge role in the decline of men’s mental health.

If you grew up with men in your life, you may have noticed how some older figures would tell a young boy to “act like a man” and “toughen up”. This is due to the fact that society expects men to follow certain standards in order to stay masculine and secure their manhood. However, this can do more harm than good. “If men are expected to be protectors and strong, it does not leave a lot of room for levels of imperfection, especially with mental health concerns,” Tzall says. “Boys start to internalize [these] messages and it affects them as they turn into adults and what they feel they must do or act as “men ” to make sure they are “manly.” Many reasons like exposure to violence, male dominance, and internalized hatred further feed into a man experiencing mental health problems. Even if a male were to reach out for help, it would feed back into the mindset of being viewed as “weak” and a “failure.” 

”Unfortunately we still have a punishing cultural stigma that suggests that men shouldn’t express emotions or need help,” Dr. Thompson says. “This leads to less diagnosis of men with mental illness, less treatment, and therefore more silent suffering.” 

Many warning signs in men’s mental health go unnoticed.

Because of society’s manifestation of toxic masculinity, identifying emotions in men can be difficult. “Depression is often manifested, especially in men, as anger,” Tzall explains. “It goes unnoticed because it looks so common but depression in men can be like a silent killer because it goes unaddressed and can lead to suffering and potentially suicide.”

Within society, women are more shown to express their emotions and speak confidently about their mental health, but the same can’t be said for men. In fact, having a lack of access to mental health resources worsens the warning factors. Without proper access to the needed resources, a man will experience common factors such as depression, anxiety, self-harm, and substance abuse. Although there has been some improvement within recent years for men to reach out for help, it hasn’t always been a success. For Black men, it’s been proven that they are less likely to seek treatment. For instance, McLean Hospital reported that only 25% of Black Americans seek mental health treatment, compared to 40% of white Americans.

Supporting the men in your life is a needed aspect. 

Overlooking the signs of a man’s mental health is enough to make them feel like they don’t matter. But, coming from someone who also suffers from mental health issues, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Being present for the men in your life and supporting them on their mental health journey will help them to fully accept themselves for who they are. “Reduce [the] stigma by letting them know it is not a sign of weakness, but strength, when we seek help,” Tzall says. “You can strip away the stigma when something becomes commonplace. The judgment and negative perspective drops away and it’s no longer viewed as odd or problematic.” 

Dr. Thompson provided some resources that men can look into in need of mental health guidance. Resources like the National Institute of Mental Health, Face It Foundation, and Therapy For Black Men are all under the same umbrella of providing mental health resources and support. 

If a man in your life is struggling about seeking help for their mental health, be there for them as much as you can. Let them know that they are not weak or insecure. Instead, encourage them and motivate them to get back to a healthier state of mind.

If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.

Makalah Wright is the Campus Correspondent at Her Campus at UWG chapter. For the chapter, she has written personal essays about real-life experiences and she encourages readers to take inspiration or learn from it. Beyond her position as the CC, she is also a national writer for the wellness section of the website. So far, she has written articles based on mental health, relationships, and other wellness-related topics. She is a senior at the University of West Georgia, studying in public relations with a minor in music. After her undergrad, she plans to get a masters in public relations and work within the media industry. She also hopes to create her own foundation that will help with funding for the performing arts in schools. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with loved ones, shopping, traveling to new places, and drinking iced coffee. She also enjoys playing the clarinet and listening to all types of music, specifically jazz.