Whether we like it or not, society does have certain expectations around gender roles. Traditionally men are expected to be the provider and display certain masculine traits such as strength, dominance, and control.
Whilst these are not negative traits, some research suggests that a reliance on these ideals can negatively impact men’s mental health and provide a barrier, preventing them from getting the support they need.
Many men will have grown up with the belief that they should “man up” which may cause them to hide their true emotions from others whilst appearing to have it all together. This means that when men are struggling with their mental health, they do not feel safe to explore therapeutic support and may experience feelings of shame and inadequacy.
If men do not feel safe to seek the help they need, it leaves them suppressing their feelings and hiding their truth which will often result in things getting worse, not better. Being unable to express, and process those more difficult feelings can lead to anxiety, depression and impact
self-confidence and self-esteem.
Because of societal expectations and social pressures, many men are suffering in silence and facing many barriers when it comes to seeking therapeutic support. Thankfully, things are changing but we still have a long way to go before we see better results.
When it comes to seeking therapy, men may feel the stigma of having to have it all together and our culture has conditioned us into thinking that seeking support is a sign of weakness. When actually, asking for help is a sign of great strength and courage and I think many of the men that I have worked with would totally agree with this statement.
I am happy to say that I have many male clients which is an encouraging sign for future generations. However, there are still many men who are finding it difficult to get over these societal hurdles and why it is so important that we keep banging the drum to normalize therapy and reduce the stigma associated with it.
There is no shame in seeking therapy and this should be as normal as going to your doctor if you had a physical problem. I cannot tell you how many times, I have I heard my male clients say, “I wish I had come earlier!”
Therapy is not as daunting as people may think and the first step is really reaching out and saying, “I need help.”
In my experience as a therapist, men do well in therapy. Therapy provides them with a safe, non-judgmental space in which to explore their thoughts and feelings. Counselling helps people to understand themselves better, to gain clarity and find solutions. Having support when you feel like you can’t talk to anyone else can be so cathartic, rewarding and refreshing. I have helped many men with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and addiction. The guys that I have worked with really value the process of therapy as it has helped them to grow as an individual and alleviated symptoms of discomfort and distress.
Here is one man’s candid account of his journey back from depression. He has kindly shared his story in the hope that it may give other men the courage to access the support that they need.
This is my journey and battle with depression.
I have always considered myself to be a man’s man. I’m a big bloke at over six feet tall and built like the proverbial outhouse. My friends have always seen me as the person to rely on and have always come to me in their moment of need, be it a shoulder to cry on or for advice when things in their lives have been difficult. It’s great to be that person and to be able to offer yourself to those around you in any given situation. What I never thought about was who do I go to when I need the same. I consciously locked my own troubles away, put on a brave face and hid my darker thoughts and troubles from all of those around me. This has served me well for most of my adult life but 6 years ago after a prolonged period of uncertainty things did get on top of me and for a while, I felt very broken. My mannerisms changed, my devil may care attitude disappeared, I became withdrawn, my body language changed and at that time I had some very dark thoughts about taking my own life. I did recognise I had a problem and spoke with someone once who made me feel that all was actually well in the world and taking this as read, I went back to being me without addressing any of the underlying issues.
In 2020 the same depressive feelings started coming back to the surface, I must note it had nothing to do with Covid. There were issues around a loved one’s health that was the catalyst. I maintained the normal happy face that I present to my friends and colleagues but when I was behind closed doors, I was truly unhappy, withdrew from my family and started taking out my dark feelings on those closest to me. I sit back and admit I was horrible, I snapped at everyone at home, didn’t communicate and became the very worst version of me. Even I didn’t like me. The trouble was I didn’t know how to deal with it and quite frankly I didn’t want to deal with it which led to a cycle of happy boy / miserable boy depending on where I was and who I was with. It’s hard to describe just how low I was feeling so let’s just say it was close to the bottom but not at the level of considering ending it all. By this time my ability to concentrate on my work had been lost, my thoughts were scrambled, and my feeling of self-worth had pretty much abandoned me too. I was so adept at hiding how I was feeling from public view that nobody in my team noticed I was struggling.
My inaction and inability to admit to myself that I needed to deal with this led to me receiving an ultimatum from my wife, who I am ashamed to admit I was pushing to tears every day, it was a case of get help or our marriage would be over. DING!!! The wake-up call had arrived.
I knew in my heart of hearts I needed to reach out and find someone to help me and I was lucky to be pointed in the direction of a counsellor. Not being the best communicator relating to myself I was naturally apprehensive, but it really was a needs must situation so I took the plunge and booked my first counselling appointment.
From the moment of crossing the threshold and right through the weekly sessions I felt comfortable and was gently coaxed to lay my troubles out. I surprised myself how easy it was once I started talking in a friendly non-judgemental environment.
I was encouraged to be frank, honest, and helped to self-analyse while making sure I felt OK. Every week I felt a little lighter! Every week I felt a little better! Concentrating on me and all the good things about me was a great way to rebuild the damage I had done to my self-esteem. I wouldn’t say the sessions were easy, I left everyone emotionally drained but feeling very reflective. I was able to take away what was discussed and use it to help repair some of the damage I’d done in my marriage and family relationships.
One massive step was for me to reach out to people I care about and ask them the simple question ‘what is it you love about me.’ Totally overwhelmed with the responses. I’ve still not read some, I’m keeping these for when I have dark days to give myself a little pick up.
I’ve finished my sessions for now and cannot thank Karina enough for the difference she has made to the way I feel. Quite honestly, I feel brilliant at the moment. Life is good, my physical health has improved, I’m motivated, I’m working out harder than I ever have, friends and family are reconnected. I’ve been open with people around me and had some difficult conversations where I’ve had to say, ‘this is about me and how I feel.’ These have been received, amazingly!
Looking back on this journey there’s a few things that I will say to myself if I find myself in the dark hole again.
• Be open with myself and others.
• Do not wait to seek help – waiting until the world is dark makes it a longer journey back to the good place.
• Don’t be scared to admit being depressed – people really do understand.
• Being depressed is NOT a weakness.
• Talk about it.
• Spread the load, it’s impossible to deal with how I felt on my own.
• Look after myself- do the things that make me happy.
• Don’t push the people I love away.
• If someone asks if I’m OK and I’m not, don’t say I am because that’s what they expect. Say ‘Actually, you know what… I’m not OK.’
There may be dark days in the future, but I am so much better equipped to deal get through them. I am strong, I have people I can rely on, I am loved, is my new mantra.