The Stigmas Surrounding Men’s Mental Health & Therapy
By Nicholas DeMaria
Throughout the U.S., there are stigmas about men and addressing their mental health problems. Men are stigmatized as being strong, independent, reasonable, and emotionless. When a man does not abide by these labels, then people, in most cases other men, look down upon them. Phrases such as, “Be a man,” “Don’t be a girl,” “Suck it up,“ and “Don’t show weakness” are utilized as a way to hold men back from healing from and coping with adversity. These phrases put men down, and inadvertently, put down women for allowing themselves to feel their emotions and heal. These phrases all contribute to the harmful and crude stigma that men in therapy are weak, soft, emotional, unmanly, etc.
The specific stigmas toward men and addressing their mental health difficulties contributes to why a lot of men that need therapy do not receive the care that they need. They contribute to this phenomenon because many men are afraid to be targeted with the negative phrases that dismiss their “manhood.” Due to this fear, men avoid therapy. There are a lot of problems with the negative phrases listed earlier. These phrases are dismissive of the human experience and force men to withdraw their feelings and emotions. The more folks withdraw from their emotions, feelings, or adversities, the more problems occur. Holding in your feelings leads to built-up resentment, feelings, and emotions, which leads to stress, anxiety, and depression. Research shows that holding in your feelings leads to the excess production of cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone, which in excess amounts is very harmful to an individual’s health. Excess cortisol has serious physical and mental health effects, such as but not limited to:
Physical Health Issues: weight gain, high blood pressure, diabetes, and fatigue.
Holding in your emotions is all-around unhealthy and greatly impacts your daily and long-term functioning. It is important for everyone to address their mental health and receive therapy when needed, so that means men should too.
What are the benefits of therapy? Therapy allows healing and preventing the Mental and Physical Issues listed above. With your therapist, you learn coping mechanisms and they are able to provide insights further into your life. It is a safe place to receive feedback in areas that need growth, which can help improve relationships with romantic partners, friends, and family members. The potential is limitless, depending on the energy and commitment you are able to give to your sessions.
I work with a lot of men in therapy, so I see first hand how it can help people. I see people change their way of living, so they can improve their quality of life. I see people freely expressing their feelings/emotions and utilizing their voice. Most importantly, I see people who are hurting, vulnerable, lonely, and in need of help taking a positive step with their own autonomy to collaborate with a professional to help them get to where they want to be. The amount of growth I see is staggering, which makes me so proud of the work my clients do in therapy. It is truly transformative, and exactly why I love my work.
Does allowing yourself to feel, experience emotions, cry, or address mental health difficulties make you any less than anyone else? It absolutely does not. I believe it takes more strength, more willpower, and more courage to address your problems and receive professional help from a therapist. Running and avoiding your feelings only hurts you more than the feelings do already. It is not only healthier to go to therapy and work on yourself, but you will also learn tools that you will be able to utilize on your own. One of the best ways to diminish the stigma’s effect on you is to not let it define you.
The more men that go to therapy, the greater chance we have at changing the stigma around men and mental health. Therapy is different for everyone, and should be utilized by everyone. Once we start working on ourselves, we may create a better life for everyone around us, including ourselves.
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Mannarini, S., & Rossi, A. (2019). Assessing Mental Illness Stigma: A Complex Issue. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 2722. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02722