Therapy for Men

Men


Man walks dog on path at sunset

Men’s issues can refer to a number of concerns that may affect mental or physical health in men and that may cause them to seek therapy. Statistically, men do not typically seek therapy in high numbers. When they do, they generally report the same types of concerns that might lead anyone to seek therapy, such as depression, stress, anxiety, and relationship concerns.

Some mental health professionals may offer counseling services tailored to issues particularly relevant to men.

Men’s Mental Health Statistics

According to a recent Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) survey, the number of men who seek treatment for mental health concerns is significantly lower than the number of women with mental health concerns who seek out and use available resources. Research also shows that:

  • Over 14% of American men experience some type of mental health challenge, and more than 3% of men face serious mental health challenges.
  • While over 72% of women with diagnosable depression obtain professional care, only 60% of men with depression seek treatment.
  • In 2012, American men were less likely than American women to utilize outpatient mental health services (5% vs. 9%) and less likely to use prescription medication (9% vs. 16%) for mental health issues experienced in the past 12 months.
  • The suicide rate for men is four times higher than it is for women, despite most research showing lower rates of depression in men than in women.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the suicide rate for white men age 85 and older is higher than that of any other United States demographic.
  • Gay and bisexual men are at an increased risk for mental health issues compared to heterosexual men.
  • African American men are more likely to experience a violent crime than white men, which may increase their likelihood of developing posttraumatic stress (PTSD). 
  • Men over 50 years of age are more likely to seek help for mental health issues than men between the ages of 18 and 25. 

Some mental health professionals believe certain social and cultural norms as well as rigid beliefs about masculinity may prevent men from seeking help. Men may also have a more difficult time trusting or opening up to a therapist, a process which is necessary in order to discuss personal issues.

Stigma surrounding men asking for help may also make men more reluctant to seek mental health treatment. Men may not come forward when they are victims of intimate partner violence or sexual assault because they are afraid of not being believed, having their experience downplayed, or being shamed for what happened to them.

Mental health issues may also manifest differently in men than in women, resulting in mental health issues going ignored and untreated. Men may minimize or not recognize their own emotional pain, causing it to bottle up in ways that may lead to physical health issues. Men are often more likely to externalize emotional pain or a mental health issue by showing anger or aggression or engaging in high-risk behaviors. This can lead to men being accused of merely “acting out” rather than being offered mental health treatment and support.

Men and Substance Abuse

Studies show that men and women are affected by substance abuse in a few different ways. Men are far more likely to abuse alcohol, binge drink, and to die by overdosing on prescription opioids. From age 18 and onwards, men have nearly twice the substance dependence rate of women. Men who are addicted to marijuana are more prone to antisocial behaviors than women and are more likely to have another substance use disorder. Men may also more often receive treatment for substance abuse through the criminal justice system than seek it out through a mental health care provider.

What causes substance misuse and addiction in men? Many factors are thought to contribute, including age, education level, and employment status. Mental health is another key contributing factor to male substance abuse. Depression is one common cause of substance abuse in men but may manifest as anger, tiredness, or sleep problems rather than as deep sadness or guilt. 

Male Suicide 

The issues of male suicide and suicide prevention for men are becoming an important part of addressing men’s mental health. In 2016, 7 out of 10 suicides were done by white men. Some research indicates the risk of suicide is highest for men in middle age. In the U.S., white men have the highest suicide rate while Native American men have the second highest. Male suicide has also become a growing concern in the United Kingdom, especially for men younger than 45.

Researchers and mental health professionals are still trying to identify what is contributing to high suicide rates in men. A list of potential contributing factors to male suicide include:

  • Lack of mental health treatment for men: Men may be more likely to mask their problems or negative emotions to avoid “burdening” loved ones or friends. 
  • Economic factors: Research indicates that unemployed or recently unemployed men may have more feelings of purposelessness or begin to believe they are not needed, which may increase their risk of suicide. 
  • Masculine gender roles: Feelings of not being able to protect or provide for their family may contribute to feelings of hopelessness and shame that lead to suicide. 
  • Bullying: For young men in particular, being bullied in person or online by peers can, in some cases, drive the victim of the bullying to suicide.
  • Relationship issues: Ongoing trouble with intimate relationships may contribute to male suicide, as studies show that men often rely more on their partners for emotional support than do women.
  • Isolation and depression: Social isolation often leads to mental health issues such as depression, which may become severe and lead to suicide if untreated.

If you are struggling with strong feelings of shame, hopelessness, or purposelessness, it is critically important to seek help. A licensed therapist or counselor can help people address, work through, and resolve those feelings. When people are able to address feelings that may lead to suicide, they may also begin to find solutions and discover new paths for moving forward into the future. 

Challenges Related to Fatherhood

Fatherhood, while often a great source of joy, can be a cause of stress and anxiety. As children grow, fathers may face different issues related to child-rearing. Possible sources of stress could include: 

  • Limited paternity leave. Some fathers may wish to spend more time with the newborn and experience frustration because they cannot be as supportive to their partner as they wish.
  • Financial difficulties due to increased food and medical costs and other expenses. These may also place stress on a father’s relationship with any partners.
  • Prioritization of the needs of the newborn, which generally leaves less time for partners to focus on their relationship.
  • Sleep deprivation, which may exacerbate mental health issues.
  • Paternal postpartum depression, which may occur in 4 to 25% of men and closely resembles the diagnostic criteria for maternal postpartum depression.

Fathers play an important role in the lives of their children. Research indicates that increased father-child time reduces a child’s risk of developing substance abuse issues. Many studies show that fathers, like mothers, can greatly influence child development. Stress and mental health issues in fathers was shown to have a negative impact on child behavior and social skills.

Currently, some fathers report biased treatment by family courts when going through the process of divorce. While caretaking roles have shifted dramatically in many American families since 1970, state laws regarding custody have not, and they may still be more likely to view the mother as the primary or sole caretaker of any children. Some argue that this has caused fathers to be separated from their children when they wish to continue being an active caretaker for their child. Due to a fear that the family court system may separate them from their children, some fathers stay in unhappy relationships to avoid the risks of divorce. 

What Is Toxic Masculinity?

Toxic masculinity is most often defined as harmful beliefs about the nature of masculinity and behavioral characteristics of masculinity. These beliefs may feed into a man’s fear of emasculation should he choose to reach out for mental health support. The rigid standards that toxic masculinity often holds men to may make the concept of masculinity fragile rather than flexible and robust. Some examples of beliefs related to toxic masculinity include:

  • Having more sex makes someone more masculine.
  • Being more aggressive or physically forceful means someone is more “manly.”
  • Being emotionally vulnerable or acknowledging one’s emotions is a sign of weakness or femininity.
  • A person isn’t a “real man” unless they can display a certain level of physical and mental toughness. 

Toxic masculinity often begins to take root during boyhood. Boys may be brought up being taught that it is not appropriate for them to show or talk about negative emotions like sadness or fear; meanwhile, they are permitted to show anger or aggression. This may help explain why mental health issues in men can manifest as anger. 

Sometimes, boys are expected and encouraged to prefer certain toys or colors and to pursue particular activities. Boys who express different preferences or who attempt to pursue activities considered to be feminine may be gently discouraged, redirected, or in some cases, mocked. This behavior may be connected to homophobia and transphobia or fears that a boy will not "become a man."

A boy's preference for the color purple over the color green or his inclination to take ballet classes rather than to play football does not necessarily indicate sexual orientation, gender identity, or masculinity at adulthood. As an increasing number of parents and educators understand and accept this, children may develop less mental health issues related to repressing healthy parts of self. 

Cultural Beliefs About Masculinity

Today, a growing number of psychologists, research scientists, and other experts are contributing to our psychological and interpersonal understanding of men. Fields such as anthropology and modern brain science come together, often through the study of masculinity theory, to help men define themselves in ways other than previously conceived ideas of manliness, such as the “macho man” stereotype. Other similar stereotypes, which have often been cultural standards through the 20th century, still commonly impact male behavior today. 

A greater understanding of early human behavior and recent findings from modern brain science have helped created a deeper understanding of some emotions, behaviors, and attributes that may be particular to some men. This knowledge may help facilitate an understanding of certain actions, thoughts, and feelings that men may be more likely to experience, especially those that relate to traditional cultural ideas of masculinity.

Some research claims that stereotypes of men as “protectors,” frequently seen in literature, movies, television, and so on, have contributed to the development harmful beliefs and mental health issues in men. In recent years, many see these ideas as problematic, and a number of social norms and cultural expectations are changing. Some men may find it helpful to deepen their understanding of harmful beliefs about masculinity that harm their mental health. The current societal understanding of masculinity may also make it more difficult for men to recieve care when they attempt to speak up about a mental health issue or seek help. 

Historical Perceptions of Masculinity

Male psychology and methods of therapy designed specifically for men are both relatively new. Throughout human history, men have frequently been defined by distinct roles as hunters, warriors, and providers for their families, tribes, and communities. The roles of men in these systems were seldom questioned or debated and generally were not psychoanalyzed. Leading pioneers in the fields of psychology and psychiatry, such as Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis and modern psychology, had little to say about a distinct male psychology.

Many male-dominated cultures may have often given men a higher status than women. Male rulers and military leaders as well as largely male-led businesses, churches, and societies have contributed significantly to cultural and social expectations of men. Today, the power men have in society is often seen through the lens of hegemonic masculinity, which is a term for the subordination of femininity by masculinity.

References:

  1. African American communities and mental health. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.letserasethestigma.com/african-american-communities 
  2. Ballas, P. & Nelson, G. A. (n.d.). Men and mental illness. Retrieved from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=4565 
  3. By the numbers: Men and depression. (2015). Monitor on Psychology. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/12/numbers.aspx 
  4. Clemens, C. (2017, December 11). What we mean when we say, “toxic masculinity.” Retrieved from https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/what-we-mean-when-we-say-toxic-masculinity 
  5. Donaldson, M. (1993). What is hegemonic masculinity? Retrieved from https://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1149&context=artspapers 
  6. Eaton, N. (2011, August 18). Study finds sex differences in mental illness. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2011/08/mental-illness.aspx 
  7. Evaluating an individual’s treatment needs: Addiction among males. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://sunrisehouse.com/addiction-demographics/men 
  8. Fifield, J. (2016, March 15). More time for dads? States weigh changes to custody laws. Retrieved from http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2016/03/15/more-time-for-dads-states-weigh-changes-to-custody-laws 
  9. How does depression and substance abuse impact men differently than women? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.drugrehab.us/news/how-does-depression-and-substance-abuse-impact-men-differently-than-women 
  10. Infographic: Mental health for men. (n.d.). Mental Health America. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/infographic-mental-health-men 
  11. Kim, P. & Swain, J. E. (2007). Sad dads: Paternal postpartum depression. Psychiatry (Edgmont), 4(2), 35-47. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2922346 
  12. Nelson, G. (Ed.). (n.d.). Men and mental illness. Retrieved October 19, 2015, from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=4565 
  13. Results from the 2012 national survey on drug use and health: Mental health findings. (2012). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association. Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/2k12MH_Findings/2k12MH_Findings/NSDUHmhfr2012.htm
  14. Suicide statistics. (n.d.). American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Retrieved from https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics 
  15. Tsui, V. & Cheung, M. (2010, July 13). Help-seeking among male victims of partner abuse: Men’s hard times. Journal of Community Psychology, 6(38), 769-780. doi: 10.1002/jcop.20394 
  16. Understanding suicide: Male suicide in the UK. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.caba.org.uk/help-and-guides/information/understanding-suicide-male-suicide-uk 
  17. Vallotton, C. & Henlon, A. (2016, July 14). Dads play a key role in child development. Retrieved from https://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2016/dads-play-key-role-in-child-development

 

Last updated: 08-31-2018

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