As the saying goes, women are from Venus and men are from Mars. We might be the same species, but there’s no denying that as men and women, there are considerable differences between us. Not just physical but social too- the way little boys and little girls are raised and what society expects of each gender does shape and mold us over the course of our lives. As women, society promotes soft, nurturing and caregiving qualities. It’s seen as more acceptable for women to cry and seek help when they need it; in general, women are more freely ‘allowed’ to express their emotions. Boys, on the other hand, are often raised not to cry or be ‘weak’. Women are often more expressive between themselves and speak about their emotions, whereas men are much less likely to do this with their male friends. This can lead to bottling things up, feeling like they have to keep things to themselves and generally keeping a stiff upper lip which can lead to problems over time. Of course, this isn’t absolutely specific to gender- there will always be men out there with very open friendship groups and women who feel that they can’t let the mask slip to reveal emotion. But for the most part, from a psychological and sociological standpoint, we can say that men and women often follow these trends, which can be one of the reasons why men’s mental health can be particularly problematic.
Coping strategies men are more likely to use
Again, this isn’t specific to gender but if we look at trends, we can see that certain things tend to be more of an issue in men. Gambling is one example (men are seven and a half times more likely to gamble) and also using drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism (men are more than twice as likely to take up these habits). This could simply be because they’re looking for an escape and don’t feel they can open up and talk about their problems. It could also be because men have higher levels of testosterone which can factor in when it comes to risk/ reward processes in the brain and spontaneity. It could also be a result of social factors too, ‘lad culture’ often promotes things like drinking and gambling and it’s frowned upon less than it is for women. One of the most worrying and disastrous coping mechanisms men can use is suicide, men are a whopping three times more likely to commit suicide than women
How can men keep their mental health in check
A problem shared really is a problem halved, as a guy, if you have someone you can speak to about what’s bothering you you’ll often find it will do you a world of good. It could be a friend, a partner, a family member or even an online forum or helpline like the Samaritans if you don’t have anyone you feel comfortable opening up to. Speaking to another person helps you to see your problems from another perspective, we all live inside our own heads and it’s easy to get tunnel vision towards an issue. While some men can be worried about sounding ‘weak’, you’ll be surprised at how understanding your loved ones will be if you tell them how you’re feeling. There’s nothing weak about admitting you’re not doing ok, and it actually takes a lot of strength and bravery. Another way you can keep your mental health in check is by keeping things fun. Arrange to spend time with friends, doing things that don’t involve alcohol or dangerous vices. Travel, days out, amusement parks, walks in nature, the options are endless. Take up a hobby to keep you busy during your downtime, it will give you some focus and keep your mind off spiraling thoughts. Have a think about what hobbies you’ve enjoyed in the past- sports, woodworking, music, building computers- they are all productive things that are great for your mental health.
What can we do as mothers, partners, daughters, and friends?
If you know or have your suspicion that a loved one is dealing with a mental health issue or just going through a hard time, just letting them know that you’re there if you need them can be incredibly reassuring. Check-in on them, arrange to spend time together and do fun things to help them find their zest for life again. If they’re having a bad mental health day, cooking them a meal at home or sitting on the sofa watching Netflix for the day can be helpful. Importantly, gently pushing them to see a doctor, therapist or seeking help is worthwhile. If they’re struggling with substance abuse, a men’s detox center and drug rehab center could be what’s needed for them to get clean. If they’re suffering from PTSD, bipolar disorder, anxiety or depression then often a combination of medication and therapy is usually the most helpful. Taking that first step to getting help is often the most difficult, and many men often won’t make it and instead will suffer in silence. If you can help them to be proactive and get the help they need, they can start taking steps to get back to themselves.
Thankfully, mental health is becoming less of a taboo topic which is great news for all of us, regardless of gender. But there’s still more to be done, we still lose far too many people to suicide and dangerous coping mechanisms.
What are your thoughts on this?