Saturday, October 17, 2015

Masculinity & Mental Health

I want to shout this from the rooftops to all my dudes out there who are suffering and struggling in isolation. There is no shame in asking for help. Truly. I've said this before: men have the very same needs as women in terms of emotional support and healing. But men often erroneously believe they can handle everything on their own, or that they *should* be able to, and that the fact that they maybe can't is a glaring sign of weakness. It is not. (I promise).
(Obviously I'm generalizing, so if you're a super emotionally competent male adult, please don't be offended. This comes from a place of love and wanting all the dudes to get where you are and be happier!)
Anyway, I think a layer of the story is also that men often don't even know how to name how they feel. Part of the "stigma of masculinity" includes that old outdated adage that "boys don't cry" (for example).
Here is an an analogy I often use in my work:
Through socialization, women get a whole built-in emotional vocabulary instilled in us whether we like it or not. We get free access to all the feels. For better or worse, the world at the very least *accepts the idea* that we are emotional creatures to varying degrees. We learn how to name our feelings, and how to distinguish between closely-related feelings. How this works in our life: most of us can open up our neatly organized emotional spice drawer and be like, "here is my anxiety! here is my fear! here is my frustration! here is my vague sense of insecurity! here is my loneliness! here is my not-good-enough feeling! here is my sadness! here is my grief!" (etc etc) ….
Whereas, conversely, men basically are handed a sh*t bucket where all the feels get dumped in a decidedly disorderly fashion. They're all mixed up and squished together, but for some reason, anger tends to want to float to the surface. So when men get overwhelmed with emotions of any kind, they may reach in blindly and pull out whatever is closest to the top and use that to cope. Since anger is the easiest to access, it is often the emotional response we *see* from men. However, generally speaking, that anger is merely an expression of any number of other, more complicated feelings that sank to the bottom of the bucket, into the uncharted, messy depths where they tend not to go.
In part due to this lack of access, men often just feel vaguely unhappy or irritable or angry, but don't know why or how to say how they're feeling. Depression in men can look so different from women that it gets overlooked as such. While woman may present with tearfulness, feeling like they can't get out of bed, weight gain or loss, and various other visible classic symptoms that are clearly linked to what we understand as "Depression", men may report feeling something more vague like "a crippling sense of responsibility" or "like I can't breathe" or something along those lines.
Read this article- it speaks to the idea that men have the same needs for emotional support and mental health services and basic human connection as women. Opening up is like medicine for many men, especially men who generally have not practiced opening up and emotionally connecting. Slowly, there seems to be a shift. I am seeing more and more men in counseling, (although I will say black men seem less likely to seek counseling than other demographics, which I realize speaks to a whole slew of additional barriers/issues/extenuating circumstances unique to black men.)
Anyway. I love this article. I am so happy there is more attention being paid to the emotional and mental health needs of men.

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