- Grace McMahon
Men’s mental health: breaking barriers to therapy
Let’s first start by saying this does apply to all people, despite gender - mental health issues don’t discriminate and anyone is susceptible. But there are still far more barriers in place for men seeking support than women. Only 36% of NHS referrals for psychological therapies are for men.
So why is it so hard to seek out support for mental health? We tend to stereotype that men don’t like to talk about their feelings and aren’t great at asking for help (which by the way, not many of us are). But we’ve been making efforts to reduce this stigma, to encourage men to speak out and seek support.
On a societal level we still are more accepting of women’s issues and emotions in comparison to those of men. When it comes to the men in our lives, we’re not so well-adjusted to hearing it from them, we’re not quite prepared for the outcome. Many of us (including both the men experiencing it and the people around them) worry how it will affect our relationships; are they judging us, are we upsetting them, do they have more important needs right now? As members of the family, partners, friends of men struggling with their mental health, we’re not the only ones available to help nor does the pressure need to be on us. We need to encourage men to seek help from professionals too. They’re trained experts in the field, they know how to respond and help us, but there are barriers in place we need to tackle.
Barriers to seeking professional help
Regardless of your gender, you’ll likely find this applies to you. When it comes to seeking professional help, that word ‘professional’ can send many of us spiralling. We tend to look up to ‘experts’ or ‘professionals’ in any area, which puts us under pressure to appear better than we are. Humans like to conform to the norms of society, to blend in and feel accepted. Because of this, we might stretch the truth or find it hard to be honest with ourselves and others when we go against said norms.
How many times have you said you’re fine when someone asked how you are, when really you felt awful?
We fear judgement, we feel we have to live up to expectations and it causes us to stray from our truths. So when it comes to therapy, talking to the experts in the area, we can find ourselves trying to answer their questions in a way we think will be desirable or makes us sound better than we might actually be. We might downplay our issues so as to not seem as bad as they feel, in order to get approval. This causes therapy to be ineffective. If we can’t share how we truly are, what’s really going on for us, or what our problems are, we can’t get the support we need.
This really highlights the need to move away from the notion that in order to be accepted we must try to fit into a mold that isn’t ours, that men don’t talk about their problems or like sharing their feelings. The longer we include this in the narrative, the longer we’re putting men off the idea of going against it, the longer it takes for the stigma to be gone and for men to seek professional help.
4 reminders to help break those barriers to therapy
1. We all face problems. Life is challenging and we all face problems from time to time, some more than others, some feel harder than others but it’s normal. Remember you aren’t different or broken when things feel tough, even ‘the professionals’ face problems and usually have their own form of therapy to help them too.
2. Therapist’s don’t judge. You probably know that, but you do you believe it? There’s no real way to prove this to you, so you’ll have to trust me. Therapists are there to listen and guide you, through your problems regardless of your gender and the gender stereotypes in society. They don’t expect things to be dandy for you, keep reminding yourself that they’re not judging you or your experiences. They want to help - you can take that from me, a therapeutic practitioner passionate about helping anyone who needs it.
3. Therapy is not a test. Therapy is about guiding individuals to solutions, by listening to their experiences, understanding their view of the world, and helping them to come up with solutions that work for them without expectations in place. Remember that downplaying the severity or trying to seem better than you are doesn’t help this process, it’s not a chance to impress an expert with your skills but to get support when we can’t face it alone.
4. Therapy isn’t your average relationship. The client-therapist relationship is hugely important, but unlike other relationships that tend to be a two-way street this is not. Normal interactions require us to consider the other person, their feelings, the implications of our actions on them. Your therapist doesn’t need you to consider them (they’ll get that elsewhere), a therapeutic relationship is one that supports the client, remember you don’t need to hide the truth or consider how it will impact them when sharing.
Our men in therapy: just because we remember these, doesn’t make it any easier when it comes to asking for help. We need to continue to break this stigma around men’s mental health and therapy. Remind the men in your life that seeking support from professionals - while daunting - isn’t a test, isn’t a sign of weakness, nor something to be ashamed of. Remind your mates of the benefits, the safe space to talk about you without judgement, without relationship repercussions, without expectations. Just a space to help you feel better and manage the challenges of daily life.