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Helping men ask for help

The old cliché about men refusing to ask for directions when lost might eventually fade away with the rise of navigation systems, but research suggests men's resistance to help-seeking extends far beyond an occasional wayward family road trip. According to research, men are less likely than women to seek help for a wide range of problems, including depression, substance abuse, physical disabilities and stressful life events.  

While the exact cause of this difference is not known, it seems highly likely that socialization and gender roles are important factors. From an early age, boys are often told by parents, teachers, peers and the media to "toughen up" or "be a man" when it comes to dealing with difficult situations.

Unfortunately, boys don't typically hear "it's okay to feel sad" or "let's talk about it." It's easy to see, then, how boys grow into men who fear the stigma of mental health conditions. They might even suffer silently because they think they're going to be seen as less of a man if they admit to having and needing treatment for depression, anxiety or any other mental health conditions.  

It's important to recognize that mental well-being is critical to overall health. The impact of mental health conditions is tremendous on individuals, families and communities. The stigma of a mental health condition can be harder to face than the condition itself, and it stops people from getting help.

Here are a few things you can do to help men who are living with mental health conditions:  

  1. Help them understand they are not alone. Many men refuse to acknowledge their problems or seek help because they believe it to be uncommon. Research suggests that 50 percent of Americans experience at least one mental health issue in their lifetime, and men have problems with impulse control and substance-use related disorders at significantly higher rates than women.
  2. Make it not about them. Emphasize that a problem doesn't define them. Men often resist acknowledging or admitting to a problem if they believe that it defines them. People are no more defined by their depression than they are by a head cold.  

  3. Help them to "pay it forward." Many men identify with being the "breadwinner," contributing to others, their family or society. The idea of being in debt to a provider can make them feel inferior. Helping someone to see how they can do more for their family by being well might help motivate them to take that first step.

  4. Fight stigma. Many men who avoid seeking help are worried about how others will see them. Talk about your own problems or times you've sought help. Let them know that they can be a role model for others by talking about how proud you are or how much you respect others you know who've sought help. Talk about the positive response high profile men have recently received when speaking about their own mental health concerns.

  5. Help them understand this can be treated. Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse are all treatable conditions.


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