“When men suffer from mental health problems in silence and fall victim to substance abuse or suicide, it’s often women and girls who are left to pick up the pieces and take on caregiving burdens.” – Wizdom Powell
I was crying to my mother over a long-distance call from Rome to New Jersey and what I remember most was probably the strange looks people on the street were giving me, but also the distress in her voice. I’d just found out that my boyfriend had cheated on me…again. I wanted to sound tough, so I told her my plans to move out and stay with a friend for the remainder of the semester. That idea lasted about as long as the phone call did. Instead, I ended up enduring another 6 months of emotional abuse. Throughout the relationship, there was a lot of crying and drinking over personal and familial issues on his end. Seeing him so inebriated that he couldn’t stand up straight, the third time we saw each other, probably should have been a red flag, but nineteen-year-olds delight in learning the hard way. When I went to therapy for my own issues, I could tell he wasn’t thrilled about anyone else knowing. Eventually, I learned to look past the stigma of therapy and embrace it (as long as a lot of self-deprecating jokes count as embracing). Luckily for me, therapy isn’t as looked down upon for women the same way it is for men. We’re allowed, even expected, to communicate our emotions in a very vulnerable way.
It’s not just my ex-boyfriend who lives under a stigma regarding therapy: according to the study conducted by Who seeks psychotherapy, only one third of those who seek therapy are male. Ronald F. Levant of the Center for Psychological Studies at Nova Southeastern University says, “By the time they’re in elementary school, boys have gotten the message that showing sadness or fear is a sign of weakness.” In American society, men are expected to be tough, unemotional, and independent. From a very young age, boys learn from their peers and parents that they should not express any vulnerability. They are constantly bombarded with comments like, “you’re crying like a little girl,” and “don’t be such a pussy.” Comments like this encourage boys to detach from their emotions, objectify women, and use violence to solve problems. Because of the stigma of reaching out, boys internalize these feelings which leads to depression, and in some cases, suicide.
Statistics show that men commit suicide at three-times the rate of women. It is the third leading cause of death for American boys and men and this rate only increases as they get older, Men are also more likely to use all types of drugs, which results in a higher overdose rate than women. A tricky part of depression for men, is they are less likely to recognize their symptoms as depression because men can appear angry, irritable, and aggressive instead of sad. This difference in symptoms heightens the risk of violent or reckless behavior in men, and makes them less likely to talk about their depression or seek help.
We all have men in our lives that we love and care about. We would do anything to make sure that they are happy and healthy, so the problem also lies in the fact that the mental health of men directly affects women. At one level, it causes a disconnect in relationships. Depression can cause sufferers to lose interest in work, friends, and family. This puts a strain on those friends and family that care about the person, causing loved ones stress and anxiety about the person’s well-being. On another level, depression can lead to heartbreaking situations, if the sufferer partakes in risky behavior such as drug use or self-harm. When men do not receive the therapy they so desperately need because of societal expectations for them to “tough it out,” the women in their lives suffer, as well.
So, when a man in my life felt like he was unable to reach out and talk, even to his own friends, let alone a professional, all he had left was self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, and acting out in a way that hurt the women around him. His sisters and mother would message me making sure he was okay; my own mother was in distress that I was far away and dealing with the situation. Her friends were distressed in return. Even the old Italian woman who passed me on the street gave me a quick look of concern before deciding my snot covered face wasn’t worth it. The ripple effect went surprisingly far when I stopped to look at it. This situation affected my own mental health and I still notice the effects of that relationship, years later. There are countless women in this country who have experienced much worse trauma in their relationships with fathers, brothers, and significant others that has left them hurting and in need of their own access to mental health treatment. We can strive to practice all the self-love and personal development approaches in the world for ourselves, but if the men we care about cannot receive the help they need because they face stigmas for seeking it, then it is uncertain that we are doing the best we can for ourselves.
© Alyssa Hohorst 2018
Vassey, John T. and Kenneth I. Howard. “Who Seeks Therapy?.” Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, Vol 30(4), Win 1993, 546-553. Web. 27 Oct 2018.
Sherman, Carl. “Therapy: Man’s Last Stand.” Psychology Today. 1 Jul 2004. Web. 27 Oct 2018. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200407/therapy-mans-last-stand.
“Suicide Statistics.” American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/.