Why You Should Care About Men’s Mental HealthWritten by Adela Cardona
What is Mental Health?
Mental and emotional health is just like physical health, it affects our well-being and needs to be taken care of. Having good mental and emotional health means “having a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community,” according to the WHO.
A person with a mental health condition may “deal with changes in emotions, thinking, and/or behavior. For some, this means extreme and unexpected changes in mood – like feeling much more sad or worried than usual. For others, it means not thinking clearly, pulling away from friends and activities you used to enjoy, or hearing voices that others do not,” as stated by Mental Health America.
There are a variety of mental health disorders, ranging from depression to anxiety, bipolar, borderline personality disorder, to schizophrenia. Some causes for concern that may show up in your or your loved one’s lives can be: isolation, losing interest, having trouble focusing, or having a short temper.
As a brand that helps men look better, we understand that comes from feeling good on the inside. And as a company that values people and the planet, we have a responsibility to our team and our community to use our platform to address pressing issues of our time that resonate with our values. One of those issues is mental and emotional care.
We are publishing this piece during Mental Health Month to open the conversation about this important topic.
Men’s Mental Health
Men don’t cry, ‘real men are in control of their emotions, ‘manly men don’t need any help’, are common phrases that reflect attitudes that have contributed to men discounting their own emotions. “No wonder men weren’t able to manage their feelings: as boys, they had been taught they didn’t have any.” writes journalist Liz Plank in her book For the Love of Men: A New Vision for Mindful Masculinity.
This way of raising boys to think that experiencing and expressing emotions is weak has led to a lot of grown men with suppressed emotions who are unaware they may be suffering from a mental health issue or are ashamed to ask for help.
In fact, men are way less likely to seek therapy or confide in their families or friends than women are. According to a 2018 study done by the International Journal of Mental Health: “In Canada, 19.7% of men (fewer than 1 in 5) had contact with mental health professionals in the year leading up to suicide, compared to 35.0% of women.”
This is a symptom of how stereotypical forms of masculinity, such as always having to be ‘strong’ and ‘stoic’ are causing men to suffer in silence, and sometimes take their own lives. In 2020, men died by suicide 3.88x more than women, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
A statistic tied to what psychologist Dr. Jeroen Jansz from the University of Amsterdam defines as “modern masculinity,” which he divides “into four components: autonomy, achievement, aggression and stoicism,” and concludes that stoicism particularly encourages a disconnection from feelings, vulnerability, and pain. This, he argues, disproportionality affects men’s mental health due to their lack of practice in allowing themselves to feel and express their feelings and troubles.
But it doesn’t need to be this way. We can end the stigma surrounding mental health in men, and even raise our boys to be comfortable with their emotions from day one.
Organizations such as Heads Up Guys and Movember are leading the movement toward a world where vulnerability is seen as a strength in men, and where they can get the help they need.
Additionally, everyday individuals, celebrities, and experts are bringing the conversation forth in fun and engaging ways, such as:
- Actor Justin Baldoni, journalist Liz Plank, and musician and producer Jamey Heath host the Man Enough podcast. A place where they interview guests in order to undefine masculinity and make it cool for men to care.
- Men Talking Mindfulness is a podcast where mindfulness and yoga expert Will Schneider and ex-Navy SEAL turned mindfulness coach, Jon Macaskill, speak to experts on topics such as why men don’t go to therapy as much, the capacity to forgive, or leading through listening.
- Actor Maurice Benard, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, converses with other actors about their mental health challenges on his vlog State of Mind.
- The Mask You Live In is a documentary that examines the narrow construction of masculinity in America and how it has affected society.
As a part of this conversation, we wanted to dig deeper into the obstacles that men face on the journey to take care of their mental and emotional health. So we reached out to mindfulness and yoga teacher Will Schneider about it. Here’s what he has found in the nineteen years he has been working on helping men find peace.
Why do men struggle to work with their mental health?
WS: We had Edward M. Adams and Ed Frauenheim: the authors of the book Reinventing Masculinity: The Liberating Power of Compassion and Connection on our podcast. Their book defined what I refer to as hyper-masculine men. They say that these men are rewarded for only four or five ways of being: dominant, aggressive, frustrated, and angry. This means that physically and emotionally as a man you are confined to a very small space. You are discouraged from showing characteristics like being nurturing, being a good listener, or helping other people because they are not seen as manly. And what’s sad is that this masculine paradigm is all around the world.
This is connected to a big obstacle in men’s path to mental wellbeing: the unwillingness to ask for help, because if you are a man you are expected to know everything. And asking for help shows you don’t know it all. I have no problem admitting I don’t know what I am doing or where I am going.
Another factor is the circle of influence, there’s this weird unspoken tribalism around men where they keep each other in this confined masculine way of being, that has been wired into our brains. This makes them have the same conversations and judgments with themselves and their tribe.
The other issue is the habits men usually pick up to ignore that there is something wrong on the inside: drugs, pornography, lots of sex.
What have you seen works in communicating the importance of mental health to men?
Language is very important for men. For example, if instead of saying meditation you say cognitive fitness. They become curious. And then I just tell them that just like with getting bigger muscles, you gotta put in the reps. I also tell them that it can help them be more courageous, and go after the life that they want. It also accesses tremendous amounts of creativity because there are two sides of the brain and it has been proven that meditation creates more synaptic connections between the right and left sides of the brain. I also let them know it’s okay to be where they are and tell them how happy I am that they are taking steps to find peace. Secondly, I talk to them in a way that is nurturing, that does not threaten that hyper-masculine sensibility. It’s okay, who you are and the life you’ve led, if you wanna see and experience something different, we are here for you.
But was has been most successful is to model this journey of finding peace and getting in contact with being nurturing and playful and working on my emotions. When other men see me, a tall, masculine-looking, fit man be in contact with my softer side and live an authentic life, they become curious and reach out. That’s also why I co-host the podcast, Men Talking Mindfulness with John, an ex-Navy SEAL turned mindfulness coach. Listening to two dudes talk about it, speak to experts and even share meditations is an easy gateway for men to see what’s possible.
How would you define mindfulness, breathwork, meditation, and yoga, and why are they helpful to our mental health?
Mindfulness is simple non-judgemental awareness, moment to moment. Awareness of the outside world, of being in nature; awareness of your emotions, of how you are showing up with other people. The important part is that it is non-judgmental, because the ego, especially in men, is gonna want to stamp things with good, bad, weak, and strong. There are all these practices that help you become more mindful.
Meditation is an ancient practice that helps you know yourself on a deeper level. There are many different ways to meditate, but at its core, it is about focusing on just one thing. So it could be something like how your breath is flowing through your nostrils or a body scan meditation, or focusing on the way your hands are on your lap.
Meditation helps you become aware of what’s on the way to being peaceful or present. Usually, it’s the mind bringing up the past, or the to-do list. It’s really gonna let you get attuned with your mind and how much bullshit it puts in. It also helps with getting in touch with your emotions. That anger, dominance, and rage that are rewarded in hyper-masculinity come from your emotional life. But what if instead of letting it come through us verbally or physically, we could sit and allow it to move through us in a different way? By calming down the mind and feelings, you will be amazed at what comes through.
Yoga can be thought of as moving meditation. It is about connecting the body with the mind and the breath. In my class, I challenge people to the point where their mind is agitated so that they can have peace in agitation. If you hold a pose for a long time and your mind is all around, what if you just took a breath. It shows you how you are showing up in the midst of a challenge. It is a great way of opening the body and the mind.
Finally, breathwork is a great way to change yourself energetically. In the yoga tradition breath is called Prana, it is energy. The breath can wake us up, calm us down, and put us to sleep. What I do a lot of times with men is I show them yoga and breathwork and then go into meditation.
What Can You Do About It?
Here are some resources and actions that could help you or a loved one:
- If you or someone you know is in crisis, you can reach out through the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741), contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255), or dial 911 in case of emergency.
- Find educational resources and directories and first aid training on organizations such as Mental Health America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, HeadsUP, Movember, Project Healthy Minds, Mental Health First Aid, American Psychological Association, Medicare, or Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
- Reach out to your support system
- Schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional.
- Bring the topic forward in safe spaces, among people you trust. This helps lower the stigma. You can also practice the best way to speak with a man who is struggling with Movembers’ Chat ALEC.
- Share stories or resources with your circle and on social media. Well Beings is a great source of original digital content that hosts stories of people who have struggled with mental health issues. Mental Health America hosts Mental Health Month every May and has a toolkit of sharable info on the topic.
- Donate skills or income to organizations that are doing the work on the ground for men’s mental health, and promote bills that aim to make mental health coverage better.
Are there any organizations, projects, or media helping men care for their mental health that you follow or are a part of? We would love to learn about them and highlight them. Please let us know in a comment below.