June is Mental Health Month and it is a month that focuses on the specific physical and mental health needs of men, adolescent boys and children. It is important to note that men and women experience and encounter much different challenges when it comes to their mental health, including stigma, symptoms and social and professional experiences and struggles. It has been approximated by researchers that men die five years earlier than women and die at significantly higher rates in approximately 9 of the top 10 causes of death. Perhaps the biggest challenge men face when it comes to their experience with mental health is the stigma attached to it and the fear of judgement that may follow if one self-discloses their personal struggles or shows any signs of ‘weakness.’ While I have recently seen in my practice, many young men from ‘Gen Z’ (those born between the years of 1997 and 2012) that have no
resistance to or second thought of seeking help for any mental health issues they are experiencing… it is still evident in all older generations, that the unfortunate and unnecessary stigma that has lingered when it comes to being male and having mental health struggles continues in 2021.
Stigma, Facts and Myths Surrounding Men’s Mental Health
As mentioned above, males who are considered to be a part of ‘Gen Z,’ and a significant number of males who are considered ‘Millennials,’ have shown that they tend to not show much consideration to any ‘stigma’ attached to their mental health experiences or fear of
judgement from others. When it comes to other generations, such as ‘Baby Boomers’ (those born between 1946 and 1964), they often have much more difficulty revealing and speaking about mental health and personal struggles. In fact, according to the Society for Human
Resources (2019), only 32 percent of Baby Boomers are comfortable with opening up about mental health issues. This is a statistic that I believe, through personal observation in my practice as a counsellor, has likely improved slightly. That being said, this statistic must improve even more if we are to normalize the fact, for men in particular, that it is healthy seek help for and view mental health as being as important and ‘normal’ as all other aspects of a man’s overall health.
Another thing I, and many other mental health practitioners, often encounter are the ‘myths’ and false beliefs a large majority of male clients either personally believe or are enforced upon them, by family, friends and/or coworkers. These myths and false beliefs include:
Men should always be tough and never reveal their feelings and struggles… and if they do, they’re ‘weak’…
False. We must understand that we as human beings, no matter one’s gender or identity, cannot always control and ‘hold in’ how we are truly feeling if we are to live what I consider a genuine and healthy life. A common concern men face when experiencing mental health issues is that, if they admit to others that they have a ‘problem,’ those people will assume that they are now unable to not only take care of themselves and their responsibilities, but are unable to care for those that they care about (I.e. family, children, etc.). Concerns such as being viewed as incapable of carrying out one’s job duties effectively is also common fear and concern men with mental health struggles face when the consideration of seeking help passes through their mind.
Believing in having restrictions as to what is OK and not OK to express when it comes to our feelings as men only limits our ability to progress and develop as human beings… and by holding this belief, we restrict ourselves from becoming better friends, husbands, partners and colleagues. By no longer holding on the these ‘restrictions,’ this, we as men can start a new trend, letting generations of males to come know that is not only 100 percent OK to discuss their feelings and struggles, but that it is a normal, safe and acceptable thing to do without experiencing shame or judgement. A man is truly showing strength when he is willing to be vulnerable in discussing and expressing his true feelings and demonstrates a willingness seek help for his mental health when struggling.
Men should not need to seek or ask for help…
False. When I hear a young male client state to me that his father, grandfather, coach, uncle, or any other prominent male in their life, has voiced to them that ‘real men’ should not and/or do not need to look to others for help when struggling; it signals to me just how much further we must go in changing the narrative around the stigma regarding men experiencing mental health issues. An analogy I often use with younger male clients, when discussing mental health and shame of seeking help, is that of someone trying to get in better physical shape by going to the gym and lifting weights, but eating poorly and lacking other supports while trying to make ‘gains.’ Sure, this person may get so far with their muscle ‘gains,’ but compare them to someone who has the support of a knowledgeable ‘gym buddy’ or personal trainer, who eats healthy and nourishes their body, the ‘gains’ this person makes in their physical health is far superior. This can also be looked at like trying to push a broken-down car up a hill by oneself… they will not have to suffer and struggle as much if they have and are willing to accept, extra support to help them along the way.
Counselling and therapy do no work and will not help…
False. While this is actually true IF a man is not open to and is not ready and willing to participate in the counselling/therapy process, but if one IS open to and willing, then
counselling and therapy are absolutely options that DO work and help immensely in addressing mental health struggles. While it is understandable that, for many men, it may already be difficult enough for them to discuss personal matters with those close to them like their family, friends or colleagues, we must strive to let men in our lives know that it is not only ‘OK,’ but healthy and safe to speak to a counsellor or therapist when struggling. Letting these men know that they will not be judged or viewed as ‘weak’ for seeking help is also essential to our progressing as a more accepting and non-judgemental society. Counselling and therapy are proven, safe and highly effective ways for men to learn the tools, strategies and coping skills needed to manage and overcome mental health struggles.
As a man, letting others’ know that I have ‘issues’ will make me a ‘burden’ to them…
False. In counselling we refer to this type of thinking as ‘distorted’ or ‘irrational.’ What this means is that this form of thinking is often not fact, but fiction and the least likely scenario to take place. When it comes to a man having the feeling that if they voiced their need for help with a mental health issue, they will then become a ‘burden’ to others (E.g. Romantic partner, friends, coworkers, etc.), it may seem like a highly likely scenario that will take place… but in fact, the majority of people in their life would not want them to suffer and would want to help them in any way they can. In most circumstances, those close to us want us to live the happiest and healthiest life possible. In order for this to become more of a reality, we must all let the men in our lives know that it is not only acceptable and healthy to lean on one another at times, but that it is OK to ask for and seek help for their mental health so that they do not have to suffer needlessly in silence.
How to Support Men’s Mental Health… What Can Be Done?
As someone who is well-versed in the Ontario mental health system and available mental health supports and services, I can say that while many supports for men are available, more must be done by our provincial leadership, local government, and ourselves when it comes to the following:
- Ease of access and affordability to services
- Targeted educational campaigns and confidential forums were men who are struggling can easily connect
- More unique and specific treatment options tailored towards the needs of men in particular (E.g. addressing the fact that men often experience mental health differently, such as depression appearing as irritability or anger)
- More attention paid by local and provincial leadership to the opinions and ideas of outside mental health experts, including current research aimed specifically at men’s mental health
- Vulnerability and self-disclosure by men who have sought help for their own mental health struggles, to other men in their lives, to let them know that seeking help does not equal ‘weakness.’
Mental illness and the workplace. (2019, August 3). Society for Human Resources.
Jordon is a counsellor and coach at Brant Mental Health Solutions, located at
139 Grand River St. N. in Paris, Ontario. Jordon holds a Master of Arts in
Counselling, is a Certified Coach Practitioner and is currently working under the
supervision of a Registered Social Worker. Jordon specializes in helping clients
manage stress, overcome anxiety, low mood, interpersonal issues and difficult