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Men: Don't Shy Away From Getting Help for Mental Health

men and mental health

When it comes to mental health issues, men are notoriously difficult to reach and treat.

For one, they often don’t recognize there may be a problem.

Take depression, which affects nearly 6 million U.S. men. In women, it often shows up as crying, loss of energy or hopelessness. But in men, it manifests quite differently.

Many Men Avoid Expressing Emotions

“Men tend to be externalizers, meaning that they tend to do things that we would consider acting out– anger, aggression, that kind of thing,” says UH psychologist Robert Chester, PsyD. “These symptoms can be missed if you’re only thinking in a certain way about depression.

"Plus, men tend to avoid emotional expression," Dr. Chester says. "That avoidance is one reason why they have higher rates of addiction issues than do women.”

About 20 percent of U.S. men develop alcohol dependency at some point during their lives, according to Mental Health America.

The Stigma of Seeking Help

Complicating this picture is the stigma many men feel about seeking help for or even discussing mental health issues.

“They often don’t want to admit they have something they need help with, let alone a mental health issue,” Dr. Chester says. “There’s the whole idea of looking weak.

“Men are also probably more skeptical of psychotherapy in general," he says. "I think most people kind of are, but men are in particular because they think of it as touchy-feely.”

Humor Can Help

So what can break this cycle? How can men be encouraged to get the mental health care they need?

Dr. Chester has extensive experience working with military veterans. One tactic that he says has worked with male veterans and other male patients is using humor.

“Men tend to respond more strongly to humor, and when it comes to veterans, dark humor,” he says. “Humor can help to break the ice and get them interested.”

Dr. Chester also recommends the site Mantherapy.org, which tries to break down men’s barriers to seeking mental health care in a humorous way.

What Mental Health Counseling Is Really Like

It’s also important for men to realize that mental health counseling is not just a free-floating discussion of feelings, Dr. Chester says. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for example, involves specific steps to change how you think about the stressors in your life.

“CBT is really good for a lot of men because it’s more of a concrete, structured way of working on things,” he says.

Changing Ideas About Masculinity and Strength

Ultimately, Dr. Chester says, what will be most successful in persuading men to seek mental health care will be updating our notions of masculinity and “strength.”

“I think we need to change the definition of strong,” he says. “For men who say they need to be strong, that usually means being stoic and not showing emotion. This causes lots of problems in the long run because they’re just suppressing their emotions. At some point, those emotions are going to spill over and you are not going to have the tools to deal with them.”

“I often use the example of the oxygen mask on an airplane,” he says. “You put yours on before you help someone else put on theirs. You can’t help others if you don’t help yourself first. Helping yourself involves honest self-reflection, admitting you have a problem and seeking help in dealing with that problem.

“True strength, in my opinion, often involves stepping out of your comfort zone and facing your problems head-on. It’s not always easy, but it is necessary in order to build the resilience to deal with future stressors.”

Related Links

If you or a man in your life would like more information on seeking mental health counseling at UH, please call 216-844-2400.

Learn more about Men's Health services at UH