The question then remains, why are men less likely to seek treatment or talk about their feelings than women? And how do we raise mentally healthy boys and help them develop mental strength as well as social and emotional skills?
The Stigma Around Men’s Mental Health and Traditional Masculinity
While the answer is anything but simple, some therapists suspect the traditional male’s inability to deal with uncomfortable emotions stems from the role of traditional masculinity thrust upon males at a young age. Every generation uses new phrases, but a general theme taught to male children for more than a century has been to hold their emotions inside. Growing up, did your parents, a caretaker, teacher, other kid say something like “man up,” “boys don’t cry,” “you’re too sensitive,” or “stop acting like a girl”?
It turns out, those rigid beliefs based on dated societal constructs are anything but healthy for a person’s psyche and can lead to mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and addictions in men. When suffering from these mental health concerns, men refuse to seek treatment until they are pushed by a loved one or suffer in silence until they turn to self-medicating.
Raising Mentally Healthy Boys
As a parent, you want everything for your children, but mostly you want them to be safe, happy, and loved. Focusing on raising boys that are comfortable dealing with emotions can help protect them from struggling through depression, anxiety, and stress and teach them how to better understand and cope with a wide range of emotions. Here are some tips for teaching boys how to work through their emotions constructively:
- Avoid labeling children. Labels can be very damaging when heard on repeat. If you tell someone they’re not good, too rough, or too soft (for example) constantly, it works into their subconscious.
- Boys DO cry. Females at any age are often excused for crying often – when they’re sad, mad, angry, or happy. In fact, females cry four times more a month on average than males. Crying is a perfectly natural and human reaction to an event. A 2011 study even showed that crying made people feel better, but only if they had someone supportive around them. The opposite then held true; crying made someone feel worse if they were embarrassed that they cried or were around an unsupportive person. By letting boys know it’s ok to cry, we’re acknowledging it’s ok for them to feel and express those feelings around others.
- Accept their feelings. Have you ever been scared or mad or upset and had someone tell you what you felt was “stupid”? It probably didn’t make the situation any better. Feelings don’t have to be rational, and you don’t have to agree with your child’s feelings. Let them know it’s ok to be feeling the way they are and name the feeling if you (or they) can. If they’re lashing out in anger, once they’ve calmed down, remind them it’s ok to be mad, but it’s not ok to verbally or physically hurt another person when angry.
- Talk about mental health. Children are taught from the time they’re young about eating right and exercising to maintain physical health. However, they aren’t talked to about mental health very often. It’s ok for children to see parents sometimes struggle with their emotions. It’s also ok for children to know when you’ve sought help to deal with any mental health concerns. Talking to kids about what mental health doctors do helps them learn from a young age that it’s ok to seek help.
Mental Health Struggles as an Adult
Mental health doesn’t have to be the taboo topic it’s perceived to be, especially in men. Breaking the cycle of traditional masculinity in society starts with making a choice. Choose not to suffer from depression, anxiety, stress, or addictions in silence any longer. Choose not to self-medicate your feelings away – because the problems will still be there in the morning. But most of all, choose to seek help for your mental health concerns. Working with a team of experts can help you develop mental strength and coping skills so you can live a happy and fulfilled life.