Men, in general, are far less likely than women to seek professional help for mental health problems. But a new study, led by Joseph H. Hammer and David L. Vogel of the Department of Psychology at Iowa State University, suggests that men from rural communities are even more resistant than urban-dwelling men when it comes to getting psychological counseling. The study expands upon previous research by the team and explores the factors that create barriers to treatment. For example, in the study, Hammer and colleagues identified self-stigma as the primary reason that men from rural areas do not reach out for help.
Masculine norms of success, power, emotional control, and self-reliance are evident throughout Western cultures. In America, men are taught early on the significance of these norms. Asking for help and showing emotional vulnerability is perceived as a sign of weakness and often makes young boys the target of ridicule by family members or peers. To avoid this victimization, young boys and teens will resort to internalizing and will transfer external stigmas regarding counseling to themselves as self-stigmas.
For this most recent study, the researchers interviewed 4,748 men from both urban and rural communities. They discovered that the men from rural areas were twice as likely to conform to traditional masculine norms as their urban peers, which led to concerns about treatment. In particular, there are fewer clinicians in rural communities, so confidentiality was of major concern to the men. Also, the targeted treatment designed to address specific mental health problems could require travel to another town, resulting in time away from family or work, threatening self-reliance and role fulfillment.
Although income did not influence men’s motivation to seek help, education did. In all communities, men with the least amount of education resisted treatment because of self-stigma more than any other group. The researchers believe nonconventional treatments, such as adventure therapy or internet treatment programs, could provide resources that would appeal to men with strong masculine norms, particularly those in rural communities. Literature aimed at dispelling the stigma of treatment, available in doctors’ offices or through community clinics, could also help these men overcome their resistance. The researchers added, “Working to build greater trust in the therapeutic relationship may also reduce the perceived threat of seeking help to clients’ self-esteem and conﬁdence.”
Hammer, J. H., Vogel, D. L., & Heimerdinger-Edwards, S. R. (2012, January 23). Men’s Help Seeking: Examination of Differences Across Community Size, Education, and Income. Psychology of Men & Masculinity. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026813
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