Men and Mental Health: The good, the bad and the difficult

Men and Mental Health: The good, the bad and the difficult

“So what do you want me to do, Doc? I’ve never done this. Where do I sit? Did you want me to lie down on the couch?”

I’ve grown accustomed to this kind of question—especially with men. Especially on their first visit ever to see a mental health professional.

I wondered, how is it that men of all ages, stages and persuasions seem comfortable talking about their concerns with a woman? I mistakenly assumed they would be more at ease sharing their distress with someone of the same gender. In some cases this could be true, but in my experience it was mostly not.

Our Focus for 2023

Over the next several months, we’ll be exploring the unique mental health needs of men—how they may be similar or different from those of women and how they are the same. We’ll be checking in with mental health professionals from around the country who work primarily with men—in the military, in the workplace, in professional sports. We’ll be getting their perspective on men and mental health today.

If you’re a man, this series is for you. Your life is important and has a bigger impact than you know.

If you’re a dad, this series is for you because it’s hard to be a good dad without good mental health.

If you love a man—a husband, father, brother, colleague, friend—this series is also for you.

Sometimes a caring relationship can make all the difference in someone getting the help they need. Given that men are also much more likely to commit suicide than women, there is every reason to pay attention to the mental health of the men in our lives, their unique concerns, and the barriers they face in getting the help they need and deserve.

What I’ve Learned

1) If you want a man to talk, you’ve got to listen.  

There’s an old joke that says that men will pay a therapist $100 (or more) an hour to hear what their wives have been telling them for years. While there may be some truth to this, I think the more important consideration may be that their wives might be more effective if they focused on listening rather than telling. Over the past three decades, I’ve repeatedly observed women interrupt their partner at just the moment he was about to be most vulnerable. She misses the opportunity to truly connect as he shuts down and withdraws into silence. If you want a man to talk, you must focus on listening.

2) Recognize men face unique barriers.

Men, perhaps more than women, find it difficult to admit or acknowledge they need help. Perhaps it’s the socialization or our culture. Perhaps it’s the impact of testosterone. Perhaps it’s a combination of both. Whatever the cause, it is critical to remember that just presenting for therapy or counseling can be a big step for a man to take. Women are more accustomed to asking for help, for direction, for assistance. Admitting the need for support is an action unfamiliar to many, many men. Although things are gradually beginning to change, most men have few role models when it comes to seeking help for mental health concerns.

3) Men may not say what they mean.

Mental health professionals have their own language, their own way of describing things. Women tend to be more familiar and comfortable with this lingo. They say, “I’m depressed. I’m worried. I’m anxious.”

Men, on the other hand, are less likely to use these terms. They are more apt to describe symptoms or behaviors:

“I’m just can’t fall asleep.”

“My wife says I’m grumpy all the time.”

“I just can’t seem to find the energy to do anything.”

“I just don’t care about things like I once did.”

Take a Chance. Make the Call.

Many men would rather rush into a burning building or jump overboard to save a friend than make an appointment to seek a mental health professional. It all feels very risky.  

But, if you have lost your zest for living, if you feel grouchy and irritable more often than not, if you wonder why everyone else is so difficult all the time, then it may help to talk with a professional. You won’t need to lie on the couch. You won’t need say anything you don’t want to say. Your concerns will be heard. Someone will listen with concern, not judgment. Things can improve. You can feel better. It is a risk worth taking.

In the upcoming weeks and months, we will focus on men’s mental health—the issues and concerns men typically find most troubling and perplexing. Listen to our weekly podcasts. Read our weekly blog. Subscribe to both so you don’t miss out.

You can find even more help at Good Dads Counseling—virtually or in person by contacting Drew Dilisio at (417) 501-8867.

About the Author

Dr. Jennifer L. Baker is the Founder & Director of Good Dads, and a clinical psychologist specializing in couple and family concerns. Dr. Baker is married, has two children and eight grandchildren. She can be reached for comments or question at [email protected].

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