Statistics show that men are much less likely to seek out therapy than women. It would seem they're more comfortable keeping their troubles to themselves rather than reaching out for the support.
But what's this all about? What's holding men back from speaking up when they're struggling?
Starting therapy can feel scary, especially when we don't know what to expect – and there's no doubt this applies to both sexes. But for men, there seems to be an added feeling of restraint. It's as if there's something to be embarrassed about when it comes to speaking aloud our innermost thoughts and feelings.
We need to take a long, hard look at how boys are taught to deal with their emotions – as these are the attitudes that stick with men through adulthood. Phrases such as “man up”, “be a man”, “grow a pair”, “stop being such a girl” only serve to make men feel ashamed about their emotions. Showing vulnerability and emotion is, it seems, an “unmanly” thing to do.
The problem is - this is what therapy's all about.
These expectations around masculinity have very real, and serious consequences. Suicide is now the number one cause of death for men under the age of 45. The Campaign Against Living Miserable (CALM), a charity that's doing great work to tackle the male suicide crisis, showed in a report that many men don't want to talk to someone when they're struggling with their mental health, preferring to deal with their problems alone. An Australian study revealed the same thing. It seems men relate more to the idea of self-reliance which, in turn, increases the risk of suicide.
Professor Jane Pirkis, the lead researcher of the study, said:
“Notions of masculinity aren’t just dreamed up by individuals, they are imposed by society from childhood in quite subtle ways. So if a sense of needing to be self-reliant is an issue for some men, and some women also, we as a society need to think about how we are bringing up our boys and girls.”
Of course, there's nothing wrong with self-reliance in itself. Being able to use your own resources and powers, rather than rely on others, is hugely important, particularly in the workplace and whilst moving through different life experiences. But self-reliance in its extreme can be unhealthy, especially when it prevents someone from reaching out in a time of need.
What we really need to do is change the narrative around therapy, so men don't feel the pressure to deal with their problems single-handedly.
We don’t have to downplay the benefits of self-reliance; we just need to know when this trait is playing a positive role in our lives - and also when it isn’t. The most important thing that men can do is to make personal choices that prioritise their own wellbeing and growth.
By continuing to emphasise the importance of mental health in the same way as we do with physical health, we'll be able to support everyone (men included) to develop a much wiser and healthier view of therapy.
Considering therapy? Speak to one of our team to get help to find a therapist today.
Sam Woolfe is a freelance writer and mental health blogger. He is particularly interested in mindfulness, depression, men’s mental health, mental health stigma, and the existential, humanistic, and Jungian approaches to psychology.