By: Logan Stout, LMSW
Co-founder of Restorative Therapy and Counseling Services
When approached to write an article on mental health, and how the stigma can be especially difficult among men when it comes to seeking help, I was forced to reflect on my own experiences as a mental health professional and an adult male who has also sought help to improve his mental health. Data shows men struggle with mental health, yet most are not seeking or receiving the help needed. Per the CDC, in 2021 the suicide rate among males was four times higher than females.
There are two models when viewing mental health: one being a wellness model, the other an illness model. I often hear things such as “It’s not that bad, I don’t think I need therapy yet”. The illness model says you should not reach out until things are at a point where you can no longer possibly bear them on your own. In my opinion, this is not the proper approach. The wellness model encourages individuals to seek help to prevent illness. You should get a routine annual physical, your teeth cleaned, and you should work with a therapist or counselor to ensure you have the skills to properly manage stress or other life events. Mental health should be proactively approached in the same way we approach physical health.
When it comes to traditional masculinity standards, vulnerability or seeking help can often be viewed as a weakness. In reality, it’s the greatest strength a person can possess. Being vulnerable can open the door to a world of less suffering and better relationships. When someone is unable to be vulnerable it can be impossible for them to find the help they need in all areas of their life.
When using the wellness model, we should approach mental health keeping several things in mind:
- We all have mental health that needs to be taken care of and prioritized.
- We should work to find sustainable life changes that will make us the happiest and healthiest versions of ourselves.
- Being masculine does not mean you are not allowed to take care of yourself.
- If you are human, you have emotions.
- If you fully ascribe to the traditional masculine standards and your emotions are not negatively affecting you, they are likely negatively affecting others.
I first went to see a therapist at the age of 25. I was a young professional working in a mental health agency, and I was overwhelmed and going through a lot of big life transitions. I was terrified to ask my supervisor to leave for an hour during the day to see a therapist. Initially, I thought I could lie and say it was a doctor’s appointment. The stigma of physical health is not nearly as strong as that of mental health. I soon realized I could not tell my supervisor I had a doctor’s appointment every week. My supervisor was very receptive to this request for weekly therapy and encouraged my routine. The more vulnerable I was, the less I felt an internal fear of being judged. The more I was vulnerable to others the more I became comfortable with who I was as a person. The more I talked about my own mental health the more I changed my internal narrative on how others may perceive me. At one point I was afraid to tell my family and friends I was struggling with anxiety. Now I openly talk about it knowing that if someone were to view me negatively because of this, it would be a negative reflection of who they are as a person, not a negative reflection of who I am as a person.
When reaching out for help I think it’s important to know where and how. I personally googled “therapy”, however, there are better ways. Psychologytoday.com is a great and free resource for those looking for therapy. You can apply filters that include the issue you are looking to treat, your location, the gender of the therapist, and your insurance provider. You can see the therapist’s pictures and read their biographies.
Going to your doctor can be another good resource because either the doctor or their social worker may know of therapists specializing in your area of concern. It’s important to talk with your doctor honestly. They will not force you to take medication. They may provide you with the option, however, it is your choice. Medication should not be seen as an alternative to therapy but as something that compliments therapy.
Please remember not to quit therapy, but rather quit the therapist. This is something that I will often tell patients during their first session “If I’m not a good fit just tell me, and I’ll try and help you find someone that is”. It is impossible for a therapist’s personality to match everyone that comes through their door. My advice: give them several sessions to get past the rapport-building stages and if it’s not a good fit, call another one.
Friends are a great source of support, but your friends are not your therapist. You need both. Even if your friend happens to be a therapist, they are not your therapist. I give my friends completely different advice than I would a patient. It’s not that I care more about one than the other. It’s simply that I’m biased when it comes to my friends. If they’re arguing with another friend in our group, I could have my own motives for wanting them to resolve issues. You need a therapist as they are unbiased. They will validate your feelings while challenging you. When you are challenged your perception will change and your feelings will change. When your feelings change, your actions change.
If you’re struggling to make friends, Meetup.com has activities in your area that you can attend based on your interests. There are also multiple local adult social and recreational sports leagues you can join that play games such as dodgeball and kickball.
There are many steps you should take to be proactive with your mental health. You should find your natural support and strengthen them. If needed, you should also add to your natural support. Natural support would include friends, family, and social groups. You should also look at your mental health from a multi-disciplinary approach and include medical and mental health professionals. Often to give proper treatment, there may be medical conditions that need to be ruled out. In some scenarios, someone may present with mental health symptoms to find out they are caused by a medical condition. Medical professionals will also be needed if you feel medication should be utilized to aid your treatment. Therapy is going to be crucial, and you’ll need a therapist that makes you feel comfortable.
There are no quick fixes. You will need someone that can challenge your thoughts and offer an additional perception to help you to strengthen your mental health. My final piece of advice: do not hesitate to act. Do it today! Make the call to see a therapist, see your doctor, or meet your friend for coffee. If you do not take this step today, you may find yourself wishing you had done it sooner months, or even years from now.