Stigma surrounding mental health can prevent people from talking about issues they may be experiencing. Gender stereotypes—beliefs about how females or males “should” act or beliefs that were common in the past—can be a barrier to seeking help and treatment. For instance, some men may feel that it is a sign of weakness to reach out for help, and some boys and men may not feel comfortable talking about feelings. Research shows that men are less likely than women to seek help for mental health concerns such as depression, substance abuse, and stressful life events. Men and boys may feel reluctant to discuss problems, they may believe that asking for help goes against social norms, or they may feel they’ll be a burden if they talk about mental health concerns. Engaging men and boys in communication about mental health and empowering them to seek help can improve outcomes. The healthcare community has made great advances in understanding and treating mental health concerns. With these advances, it’s time to leave the stigma of mental health issues in the past. Men may feel a stereotypical pressure to fix their own problems, but in reality, asking for help is a sign of strength. Conversations and attitudes about the importance of mental health that begin in childhood can normalize mental health concerns and treatments. Boys and men can be prepared to both give and seek support.
A Cycle of Mental Health Concerns
Men and boys may be more likely to underreport symptoms of depression because of their perception of masculinity or what it “means” to be a man. Some males may have been taught or believe that men should be strong and quiet. However, being silent about mental health can be counterproductive. Without help, symptoms of mental illness may increase. Without support, men and boys may have feelings of isolation, which can then further affect mental health. Additionally, without healthy ways of coping, men may turn to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to numb painful feelings, which can then lead to additional mental health challenges.
Breaking the Cycle of Silence
Deeply held attitudes about asking for help and about mental health issues can be difficult to change. However, with support, education, and communication, men, boys, and their loved ones can learn the reality of how common mental health concerns are and how effective treatment can be. Signs that it may be time to seek help from a primary care provider or a licensed mental health professional include a notable change in mood, a decline in work or school performance, confused thinking, excessive fears, worries, or guilt, significant mood swings, a loss of pleasure in activities and spending time with people you enjoy, significant fatigue or trouble sleeping, detachment from reality, major changes in eating habits or sex drive, excessive anger, feelings of sadness or hopelessness, or abusing drugs or alcohol.
Boys and Mental Health
Childhood and the teenage years have always been times of significant growth, development, and, especially for adolescents, heightened emotions. But in recent years, the rate of young people experiencing mental health challenges has increased. There is no single cause, but mental health of boys may be affected by pressures to succeed in and out of school, reliance on technology that can lead to feelings of isolation, and COVID-19 that has disrupted routines and left some people feeling lonely. Helping boys learn to process their emotions can be a protective factor for mental health, as can encouraging them to speak openly about how they’re feeling. Schools can play an important role by discussing mental health concerns, teaching empathy, and offering resources for mental wellness.
Getting help is a step on the road to feeling better. Many treatment options are available and can be personalized to meet an individual’s needs. Treatment options may include medication, therapy, social support, and self-care—or a combination. Wellness and recovery can become a reality. Everyone faces challenges and adversity. How we address them can affect many aspects of our lives, including relationships, wellbeing, work, and the way we feel. Feeling better is an option, so if you have a mental health concern, please reach out for help. It’s confidential and can lead to positive outcomes that you deserve. BetterHelp is a good resource for finding a licensed mental health professional who you can connect with online for convenient, private help that you can access from wherever you are.
Some commonly asked questions around this topic include: