While everyone may experience the issues mentioned in this article, please note that as part of our initiative responding to the APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men (2018), these articles will focus on how these topics affect men and boys, as well as the mental health of men and boys, in honor of men's health month. We use “men” to refer to people who identify as men.
You’ve probably seen this scenario or something similar in movies, books, or even your own life—a man is driving down the highway, only to miss his exit and wind up getting lost. His spouse keeps asking him to pull over to the gas stations passing by to ask for directions, but he refuses. It’s a common trope that men engage in risk seeking behaviors and that they can be reluctant or stubborn when seeking help and guidance, perhaps due to traditional masculinity standards. In other words, there is a stereotype that men do not know how to ask for help. You may even find yourself in similar situations, preferring to figure it out on your own. Why is that?
Whether it’s asking for directions, fixing a leaky faucet, going to the doctor when they are in physical pain, or seeking mental health support, men can view an ask for help as a last resort or as a purely transactional exchange. What causes this? There are a variety of reasons as to why men can be reluctant or feel uncomfortable asking for help. Issues like socioeconomic status, personal beliefs, and racial discrimination can be at play. But one of the most significant factors is stereotypes regarding masculinity – many tend to assume that asking for assistance means inherently relinquishing control because that’s how they were brought up. Plus, the relationship between men and money is also one that impacts men's mental health, but due to societal expectations, men often strive and base their worth off of financial success, as we see with traditional masculinity, and don't seek help.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “boys don’t cry” or “man up.” Comments like these all play into the cultural and social reasons why men can be stubborn or reluctant when trying to ask for help to experts, their friends and social support group, or even a close family member.
As a man, you’re told that to be the best person you can be, you have to be strong, self-reliant, and dependable. There can be a negative stigma to seeking support; it’ll make you “weak” or a “coward,” somehow. And even in hour helping culture, most people believe that help seekers are typically women. These biases can be so entrenched in a man’s identity that he might not even notice that they are, in fact, biases and not fact.
There’s data to back this social and cultural stereotype. One survey regarding mental health showed 28% of men had not sought help compared to just 19% of women. This survey also found that a quarter of men told their friends and loved ones – people they had a deeper connection with – about their mental health struggles within a month of it arising. This survey also showed that more than a third of men never told their loved ones or waited more than two years after the onset of issues before reaching out.
Besides stereotypes, socioeconomic status, and even racial discrimination, there are still other factors that can be at play when it comes to men not asking for help.
Although this is steadily changing, men aren’t typically given enough resources or proper awareness when dealing with mental health concerns, so asking for help can feel like a really big deal.
Many mental health campaigns targeted at men don’t do an excellent job of really trying to properly understand men. As a man, you might respond better to humor and certain types of language that make you feel good. The language used around mental health campaigns can be off-putting, make you feel uncomfortable, and dim your sense of self-confidence in the long run. For example, words like vulnerability, anxiety, and even mental health can cause men to check out.
The key is to get acquainted with this language and find help that works for you. Keep an open mind when seeking out support.
As a man, you probably know all too well what judgment, especially when you ask for something, feels like. In adolescence, other boys can mock or shame individuals who don’t meet the group’s expectations. This shame and judgment can be damaging and follow you for lengthy periods.
Many men don’t want to risk being judged as weak or submissive. Therapy, support groups, and mental health concerns can all exasperate these fears of judgment.
The good news is, times are changing and judgment is becoming less and less of a concern. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, nicknamed after both his physical strength and emotional stability, opened up about depression despite the fear of potential for judgment. He said in a video, “I found that with depression, one of the most important things you could realize is that you’re not alone. You’re not the first to go through it,” he says. “I wish I had someone at that time who could just pull me aside and [say], ‘Hey, it’s going to be okay.'”
Famous singer, songwriter, and rapper Logic opened up about his difficulties after performing one of his most personal songs dedicated to suicide prevention. He says, “I’ve been in therapy for years. I’m handling my issues head-on, not running from them…I was so scared for so long to say that because society has led me to believe that my anxiety is stupid and shouldn’t be talked about.”
All these men have sought to ask for solutions to their problems rather than running from them. They realized that seeking assistance from someone else is not wrong or shameful, and when they couldn’t handle it alone anymore, they took actionable steps to a better life. The good news is that you can, too.
Men often voice and deal with their mental health concerns differently when compared to women. Women typically respond better to the standard language used regarding mental health campaigns (e.g., “Your feelings are valid“). This relatable language allows them to be more open and vulnerable when getting help from a friend, family member, or mental health provider.
Men, on the other hand, can respond differently. Instead of becoming sad, you could become irritable and frustrated, questioning why you can’t seem to solve your problem, even after you have asked for help on the matter. Or you may feel your mental health struggles more in your body, leading you to believe it’s a physical symptom rather than cognitive. Some men might also resort to substance use to deal with their challenges.
Although masculine stereotypes can at times be damaging, they’re not all negative. It is just a matter of exactly what kind of stereotype you decide to use as motivation and for your own benefit. You can feel burdened and pressured due to these expectations, but remember, being a man can be fulfilling and incredible.
The stigma of being powerful, driven, and strong can be encouraging for some men. This stereotype might lead you to seek out new career opportunities or push yourself to greater heights.
Take the good from the stereotypes and leave the bad at the door. There can be a lot of empowering language surrounding masculinity and the ability to ask for support. Examples include taking the language and vocabulary that resonates with you and thoughtfully add it to your identity. Finding the positives in challenges is a great skill to add to your tool belt. Ultimately, stereotypes serve to pigeon-hole most people into a narrow definition, one that doesn’t fit all, or likely even most, individuals in that group. The same is true of men. Forget about stereotypes and utilize whatever mental health language, help, and resources work best to help you feel healthy and more like yourself.
It’s essential to think of your mental health as mental fitness. Think about how much time you spend taking care of your body of your physical health. Just like a muscle, you can train your mentality and emotions to become a stronger person. One idea to start working on your mental fitness is by building emotional resilience.
Emotional resilience is necessary for dealing with the many difficulties you can face in your day-to-day life. This skill will allow you to feel self-confident during the most challenging times.
Try communicating with understanding friends and family; whomever you feel most comfortable with and who can empathize with your situation. It can also be helpful to create a support network of friends and loved ones that you can go for assistance without fear of being judged. Be honest, but start small if you have to. Remind yourself that just like with physical fitness, you develop mental fitness and expertise one rep at a time.
Develop and improve your self-worth. Try to improve your self-worth through physical achievements like going to the gym or receiving a raise. Many jobs offer gym memberships and mental health programs upon request to their employees. Remember, it’s okay to make mistakes and ask for guidance; be sure to keep going. Be kind to yourself, focus on the positives, and pat yourself on the back.
Manage your stress levels with frequent exercise, healthy food, and good sleep habits. Focusing on these basics will provide you with a more stable emotional core, allowing you to take control of your life and get help.
Always remember, as men, many of us often want to forge our own path instead of having to ask for help from another person. We want to blaze ahead, climbing the highest mountains, staking our flag, and claiming victory. Sometimes, to reach that height, you need a team to help you along the way.
Men can see asking for help as a last resort or perhaps even not as an option at all. So if you’re struggling with stress, difficulties, or mental health concerns, do you know how to ask for help?
You may have realized you have a challenge that you can’t entirely solve on your own and that you need to ask for some help or request a favor from another person. Feeling this way is perfectly normal. You don’t need to identify the problem just yet directly; that’s what your team is for. Realizing you need a solution is one of the first steps you can take and the benefits will be profound.
Once you decide you need a solution to your problem or concern, it’s time to have the confidence to ask for some support or help. You’ve done some of the necessary heavy lifting getting here. Have faith in yourself, the path ahead, and the mistakes you might make. Progress doesn’t happen overnight, and there are many bumps along the road. Embrace the process and keep moving forward.
Now that you’ve realized you need a solution, it’s time to start talking with people you trust to ask for their help. These people can be friends, family, or even coworkers. Start small if you need to, voice your difficulties and concerns. If you find that people in your social circle are not equipped or lack the knowledge to help or understand during a though moment, don’t give up. A mental health professional has the training required to enable you to move forward in the healthiest possible way.
Some of the most incredible things can happen when we maintain an open mind. Stay open, curious, and willing to learn. Talk to others, take in ideas from your family, friends, or doctor. Add these potential solutions to your tool belt and see what works in your favor. Also, be sure to show your appreciation to each person that shows up for you, even if just means giving a quick hug or saying ‘thank you.’
When you buy a new tool, you shop around, right? You do some research – look at reviews, prices, and brands to gauge which tool is best for you. Seeking support and guidance is much the same.
When it comes to finding support, there are many different options. You’ll find various programs, people, and solutions with varying degrees of knowledge and expertise. Find out what works for you. Don’t be opposed to trying all the various programs and seeing what’s out there. It takes time to find the proper solution and develop a well-laid-out plan.
Remember, progress doesn’t happen overnight. Stay calm and enjoy the process. Some of these things may be out of your comfort zone; that’s a good thing. Going out of your comfort zone means pushing and developing yourself; this leads to a better you. Keep moving forward on your path and work to solve whatever branch or rock blocks your way.
If you’re still struggling with seeing how seeking support can help you, here’s an example from BetterHelp.
“As a young man who has been trying to do things the “strong man” way, I was reluctant even to consider help. Then my father began to wither in front of me, and I knew I was in trouble. There are some things that no one should attempt to do on their own. Ray, I hope you understand that you reaching out to me is something I can’t thank you enough for.”
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
It can be challenging to voice your concerns and difficulties and request help. The good news is that getting support is one of the most positive things you can do.
There’s a wide array of programs, support groups, and people who can guide you. Start small, do a little research, and see what options work. Talk to the close people in your life and get their advice. From there, it’s all about taking practical action with an open mind.
Why Do I Feel Like I Can’t Reach Out To Someone For Help?
You may feel like you can’t ask for help due to socioeconomic status, personal beliefs, past experiences, and stereotypes regarding masculinity.
You may have been led to believe seeking support and guidance is a form of weakness. You may also fear you’ll be judged or misunderstood if you request assistance from another person. Fear is normal and par for the course. Always remember you can get support, and doing so is noble.