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Men, let’s talk mental health: common barriers and how to tackle them

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Men, let’s talk mental health: common barriers and how to tackle them

Societal attitudes and the stereotype that men don’t talk about feelings or they are not “manly” if they express them is hurting men’s mental health. Because it is easier for men to acknowledge physical symptoms rather than emotional ones, their mental health problems are often only heard of when they are in crisis, have trouble with the law or after a suicide.

Men do express their emotions in different ways and their coping mechanisms are different.

Admitting that there is a problem can open the door for support from family, friends and professionals when it is most needed. Timely access to health services is critical for identifying problems early and can reduce the negative impact it has on relationships, work and health.

Below are five barriers to men’s mental health and effective responses.

1.Definition of what it is to be a man: The popular notion of being a man is connected to self-reliance, strength, power and being the provider. Not meeting these standards can result in shame, embarrassment and defeat with men resorting to self-harm or other unhealthy coping mechanisms and not seeking help.

While this is common across cultures, it is truer in some societies than others. Immigrating to another country is a challenge and the expectation that the man should be able to support his family in an unfamiliar environment without additional family support can be challenging.

Understanding that men face these expectations and are impacted by societal attitudes about masculinity is the first step towards challenging gender stereotypes. This will help better health conversations with men and encourage them to seek help. Mental Illness Awareness Week (October), Movember (November) and Men’s Health Week (June) are great opportunities to organize and raise awareness about boys and men’s health.

2.Stigma of mental illness: People with a mental health challenges are viewed as weak or unpredictable. Hence, many men don’t want to reach out and seek help.

Changing the terminology of mental illness to mental wellness, mental fitness or mental strength make it easier to start a conversation with men.

Public education about the importance of mental wellness, public awareness about supports that exist, advocacy for holistic treatments and challenging biases within the system can eradicate mental illness stigma and build trust in the healthcare system.

3. Impact of socio-economic factors: Low-income, lack of employment, poor housing, refugee status, racism, discrimination and sexual orientation makes prevalence of mental health problems higher in certain sub-groups marginalizing them further in seeking support.

Are there enough resources and supports that are specifically available for the more vulnerable population?

Policies to address these inequities in society and in health care  can reduce risks and promote mental health for all. The disproportionate effects of Covid-19 on vulnerable and marginalized communities clearly indicate that barriers have to be removed to achieve health for all.

4.Issues of access and options for care: Not knowing where and how to get help is a barrier. Limited access points to screen early, lack of trained mental health professionals in rural areas, language and cultural barriers, avoidance or low visits by men to family doctor, lack of knowledge about treatment options or trust in their effectiveness and not having enough male therapists can also pose challenges.

New approaches to provide support, such as phone counselling, online sessions, apps and other digital ways such as texting to connect are gaining popularity among men. Outreach in workplaces, gyms, sports arenas and religious places should be explored to provide education and programming versus traditional clinical approaches.

 5.Timing of support: There is evidence to show that early childhood experiences have impact on mental health later in life. Adverse life situations, childhood disorders and negative coping styles have continuity to adolescence and adulthood.

Ideally mental health education and promotion should start in childhood and supports should continue to promote resilience. Healthy coping skills, communication skills and developing strong support networks should be taught to protect from negative life experiences.

If support is not available from childhood, health coaching or mental strength training in adults should be made a norm. We should encourage all men to talk about their mental health struggles openly and not just celebrities.

To help our future generations and build healthy communities we need to engage everyone in society through media, schools, parents and workplaces to get the message out about the harmful effects of the traditional masculine ideal and encourage expression of emotions, communication and seeking help from supports networks as valuable skills. Let’s raise emotionally SMART boys and not just strong boys.

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