The stigma surrounding mental health has impacted society by impacting individuals who are suffering from these illnesses. These individuals are often afraid to disclose this information to others, oftentimes believing that something is wrong with them for dealing with these disorders. Stigma in mental health includes social stigma, self-stigma, professional stigma, and cultural stigma. When it comes to men specifically, the stigma is even more prevalent than for women. National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that around 1 in 5 people struggle with a mental health disorder. Per reports from Mental Health America, six million men are affected by depression yearly in the United States. Additionally, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in 2017 it was found that men died through suicide at a rate of four percent higher than women. Yet, while for men depression and suicide are a leading cause of death, the rate of men seeking mental health treatment is far less than for females.
According to Dr. Raymond Hobbs, a physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, he believes that men do not want to admit that they have mental health problems, due to seeing depression as a sign of weakness. He goes on to say that chemical changes have been observed and that mental illness is just like diabetes or any other type of disease. Zach Levin, from Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, stated that as a society we have a lot of work to do and that although the stigma surrounding mental health has reduced, men still experience shame and guilt, which can lead to individuals, who are experiencing mental illness, being less willing to ask for help.
Different Kinds of Stigma
Social Stigma refers to the negative views towards mental illness and the disapproval of a person or group of those with a mental illness, which holds the belief that symptoms of mental disorders are rooted in a person’s weak character. This can be seen in movies and television shows portraying mental illness in negative and stereotypical ways. These views can lead to those who experience mental illness to be discriminated against, avoided, and rejected by others who have negative views of mental illness. Social norms guide others on what kind of behavior is socially acceptable, which can be observed by individuals with mental illness, leading to self-stigma, embarrassment, shame, and self-loathing.
Self-Stigma is an internalized social stigma, where the person who is experiencing mental illness, experiences shame regarding their symptoms. Many individuals feel so much shame in their mental illness, that they keep this information to themselves, due to embarrassment or fear of others rejecting them.
Professional Stigma refers to the way that health care workers view and reinforce stereotypes regarding the mental illness of their clients. This can include the stigmas surrounding men and their emotional expectations.
Cultural Stigma refers to the way that different cultures interpret mental illness. Culture is specifically referring to a person’s beliefs, norms, and values within an ethnic or racial group. Culture can impact whether a person will seek out help, what kind of help is sought out, the kind of support they have available to them, and what kind of coping skills may be utilized.
National Alliance on Mental Health’s Five Myths Regarding Men and Depression
• Depression is Weakness
• Men should be able to Control Their Emotions
• Asking for help shows a Lack of Masculinity
• Talking about a Mental Illness Won’t do Any Good
• Opening Up About Internal Struggles Places a Burden on Others
Symptoms and Causes for Men
While depression can be thought of more traditionally as feeling low, sad, and down, this is oftentimes not how men experience depression. For men, it is found that oftentimes depression presents as irritability and anger. Additionally, causes for depression are different for men, when compared to women. This can include losing a job, difficulty with housing, and substance abuse. A program in Michigan looks at ways to break obstacles of mental health for men and to encourage men to seek out professional help. This program includes screenings that look at male-specific symptoms. 1,500 men were screened with 40% of these men at risk for suicide. This study looks at what kind of messages are effective, what aspects encourage men to get treatment, and what kind of actions lead to improvement, whether that is through therapy, hobbies, or sports. Overall, the main goal of the study is to look at what factors can reduce the suicide risk.
Men make up 75 percent of suicide victims in the United States. Statistically, one man kills himself every 20 minutes. In the United States, rural areas and small towns have excessively high suicide rates. The states that rank the highest in suicide in the United States are Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, and Utah. A few things are factors in this high rate in these particular areas, such as traditional male industries having significant declines, leaving large groups of men unemployed. Another point to consider is that some of the populations with high suicide rates are veterans, American Indians, and gay men. These groups all have one thing in particular in common, which is a perceived rejection from mainstream society, which can make them feel isolated from the overall population.
Substance Abuse is overwhelmingly more common among men, occurring at a three to one rate among men, compared to women. This substance abuse can be due to life transitions that cause stress, such as divorce, loss of job, etc. While divorce in itself can be a trigger, all that accompanies this separation can lead to increased substance use, such as the financial burden that can accompany a divorce, due to court costs, attorney fees, and alimony. It also can be a trigger due to potential loss of custody of children or a decline in spending time with loved ones. Additionally, divorce can lead to loss of house, loss of family and social support, relocation, and many other factors that can impact one’s mental well-being, which can lead to increased substance use as a means of self-medicating.
A survey was conducted questioning if there is a link between mental illness and substance use disorders. In this survey, 59% of respondents agreed that there is a link between these two topics. Of the females who took the survey, 64% said that this connection is real, as compared to 51% of men. 84% of respondents believed the stigma with mental health continues, however, while nearly 90% of the 241 females believe in this stigma, only 77% of the 159 males believe in this stigma. These responses show that each gender holds a different mentality in regards to mental health and substance use.
Masculine norms are social rules and behaviors associated with men within a culture. A subset of masculine norms is traditional masculinity, also known as hegemonic masculinity, which emphasizes masculine expressions and summons the power, dominance, and privilege that some men have over women and even over other men. Toxic Masculinity is often intertwined with hegemonic masculinity. Toxic masculinity is the demonstration of masculinities enforced by behavioral restrictions based on gender roles, which intensify the power structures already in place that are in favor of men. This toxic masculinity can lead to difficulty expressing emotions, oftentimes leading to an increase in aggression and violence. The common phrase ‘boys will be boys’ reiterates these norms. These norms can lead to depression and anxiety, substance abuse, health risks such as cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, interpersonal intimacy issues, interpersonal violence issues, psychological distress, homophobia, and an intense belief against seeking out help.
Reducing the Stigma
There is a societal pressure on men to be ‘tough’ and to take on their problems by themselves. This idea causes men to be in denial about mental health issues and to even believe it can be easily fixed. Therefore, taking this into account, the first step towards reducing the stigma with mental health is recognizing that this is not only a health issue, but is most certainly a social issue. It is imperative that we all be more transparent about substance use and mental health issues, as talking about these topics openly will help to remove the stigma. Talking about it openly can also help others to feel less isolated when it comes to these issues, as they are able to see others around them going through similar problems to their own. Awareness and education are imperative to ending this stigma and combatting problems related to, and rooting from, mental disorders. The second step is from a macro level and involves offering more choices for formal treatment in the mental health field, specifically tailored towards men and responding to their needs as opposed to female needs. As discussed previously, depression often manifests differently among men, as opposed to women. Taking these considerations into account, we must formalize programs aimed towards men and their specific needs, as opposed to current programs, which tend to look more towards helping minority populations. The third step involves the health departments throughout the country creating and implementing strategies to help improve mental health among men, which should utilize research on mental health and create goals based on these findings.
Reaching Out for Help
If you or someone you know is struggling, it may be time to reach out for help. If recognizing concerning behaviors in a loved one, simply reaching out to the individual and inquiring if they need assistance can help them to feel less isolated and more able to seek out help. These are some signs that can indicate a need for additional assistance:
• Change in Mood
• Difference in Work Performance
• Weight Changes
• Sadness, Hopelessness, or Lack of Interest in Activities Previously Enjoyed
• Physical Symptoms including headaches and stomach problems
For individuals not knowing where to start in order to seek out help, a great resource to start with is a primary care provider, who can often provide referrals. It is also encouraged to look at different resources in the area and utilizing resources that can be found on the Internet, such as online therapy, support groups, suicide prevention hotlines, etc.
For more resources and one-on-one support, feel free to check out our website at the link listed below. Online-Therapy offers a free program that gives users access to 25 CBT-based worksheets, a personal journal, an activity plan, tests, and yoga and meditation videos. For those needing additional support, our basic program incorporates daily therapists comments Monday-Friday on worksheets, as well as the services offered through the free program. The standard plan incorporates all services offered through the basic plan, plus one session per week. The premium program offers all services included in the standard plan, plus an additional session per week. In order to get started, please visit us at: https://www.online-therapy.com
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