Over the past ten years, mental health has become an increasingly discussed field. Once a taboo subject, the dialogue surrounding mental health disorders—and those who suffer from them—while not perfect, is more open and accepting than it has been in the past. Professional services such as therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists are (for the most part) relatively accessible through most insurances as more and more people become comfortable seeking out these types of aid.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ensuing national lockdown that followed, has only increased the focus on stress and mental health. Due to the stressors and anxieties that were brought about or exacerbated by the pandemic, Americans seem more willing to discuss mental health similar to the way they talk about physical ailments now more than ever. The past seven months have truly been eye-opening and successful in getting people to discuss their mental health. So, with all of the positives surrounding the field and mental health disorders becoming more accepted in the public lens, why is it that men get left in the dust?
Western popular culture has long been dominated by “the man.” Strong masculine figures with skin made of unbreakable steel have been seen in consumptive media from Shakespeare to modern day television. Although not always named as such, this prevailing hyper-tough trait is associated with a phrase called toxic masculinity. Unfamiliar to some, the expression is defined as the “narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression.”
This line of thinking has set the stage for men to present as immovable forces who feel little to no emotion. It therefore makes sense that men are, more often than not, unduly stigmatized for simply feeling their feelings. Since toxic masculinity shames them for feeling these things, the suicide rate of American men has skyrocketed to a heartbreaking 69.67% in 2018, and men are 3.56x more likely to die by suicide than women are.
Fortunately, the stigma around men’s mental health has been recognized as a trend that needs to disappear, and soon. Although sweeping social change will not be immediate, there are things that you can do in the meantime to support a man in your life that might be suffering from a mental health disorder.
1. Promote suicide awareness
Perhaps the most crucial task listed here, it is imperative to raise awareness for suicide prevention. With men’s suicide rates so dangerously high, taking steps to aid in suicide prevention and education is extremely important. While no one would expect you to make large monetary donations to a major charity, a simple social media post or fundraiser could be all that someone needs to remind them that they are not alone in their struggles.
2. Remind your guy friends that you support them
As with anyone suffering from a mental health disorder, reminding them that they do not have to go through their illness alone is crucial. Although this can be an awkward conversation to bring up with someone (especially in male friendships, due to the negative influence of toxic masculinity!), it opens up a route to a dialogue that they might not have known they needed.
3. Talk about the dangers of toxic masculine culture
Hyper-masculinity exists in almost all cultures. In the Hispanic community, excessive and toxic masculine pride is referred to as machismo. This extreme focus on looking like a brawny, red-blooded male has led most men to adopt a “suffer in silence” strategy when it comes to their mental health. Discussing the hazards of toxic masculine culture can help many men feel more at ease when opening up about their mental health, and likely lead them to seek more services to help them get better.
4. Assure them they won’t look weak
One of the biggest issues surrounding men’s mental health is the idea that they will look weak, or “unmanly” if they seek out services such as therapy or rehab. This could not be further from the truth. If you are having a conversation with a male friend about his struggling mental health, reassure him that he will not look like “less of a man” for trying to seek help to better his life. Illnesses such as depression can affect any man of any age, and is not something that should be viewed as emasculating.
5. Create a safe space
When most people think of safe spaces, they probably think of serenely colored therapist’s offices. However, a safe space does not have to be nearly so formal, and really does not have to be a single “space” at all. Whether you’re inviting a friend over for a delicious spaghetti dinner or taking them out to coffee absolutely qualifies as a safe space, because it is more about the company and the support rather than the location. For anyone suffering from a mental health disorder, knowing that they have a solid support base is essential for their coping and recovery process.
If one good thing has come out of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that the cultural neglect that has surrounded men’s mental health is thankfully on the decline. While the generalized stigma around mental health as a whole has been eroded, the cultural values and practices that glorified toxic masculinity is being chipped away at as well. As the focus on holistic wellness increases, the stigma will break for good and, one day, the sky-high suicide rates of American males will plummet to zero. If you, or someone you love, has had any recent thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255.