“Mental health is inherently a taboo topic, and I think even more so with men,” says nutritionist and functional medicine practitioner Josh Gitalis. He believes societal messaging depicting unattainable stoicism is partly to blame. This, in turn, makes it difficult for men to seek health-related help. “Unfortunately,” adds Gitalis, “this sets up many men to suffer in silence.”
Psychotherapist Daryl Vineberg views the differences men experience around mental health as stemming from “how men have been socialized: what it is to be a man in this society, what men are ‘allowed’ to feel or not feel, what men can express or not express.”
Same but different
“Research indicates that men experience mental health difficulties differently from women,” says Psychologist Dr. Jesmen Mendoza. “Quite often, I may see men struggle more with alcohol and substance use, expressions of anger, and violence.” He adds that men who perceive it to be emasculating to request support may not seek and access the help they need.
Minding mental health, together
“Traditional gender norms would have men believe they should be self-reliant,” points out Mendoza, “but we are social beings, and self-reliance is incompatible with being in community with one another.” Instead of impermeable independence, Mendoza encourages men, and all of us, to find community, cooperation, and mutuality.
It begins with boys
“Allowing boys to feel their feelings,” says Vineberg, “and not make them bad or wrong for having them,” is the way to begin a men’s mental health culture change. This, he says, means that dads or uncles or teachers or coaches are allowing themselves to feel the full spectrum of their own feelings.
MENding emotional well-being
Mendoza offers this analogy: “If you have legal problems, you would consult with a lawyer, just as if you have financial questions, you would consult with an accountant.” Similarly, he points out, if one is struggling with emotional well-being, it can be very useful to connect with a mental health professional.
Mendoza makes it clear that “positive help-seeking attitudes and health-seeking behaviors assist men in having healthy emotional states.” Some recommendations from Vineberg include
- individual therapy with a professional who can hold space to dismantle limiting beliefs
- group therapy to connect with others and take risks
- movement or exercise
- expressive outlets such as music, art, and dance
- an active, satisfying sex life
“One of the best interventions for improving and maintaining mental health,” stresses Gitalis, “is exercise. It increases natural mood-boosting hormones like endorphins. One study showed that regular exercise was as effective as medications and psychotherapy.”
Important foundations for mental health
Put simply, says Vineberg, “it’s hard being a human, especially today.” We’re trying, he adds, to “juggle all things—work, children, relationships, spirituality—all while life is throwing us curveballs.”
“The longest-lived people in the world have a good community, healthy relationships, a job they enjoy, and a passion they pursue,” says Gitalis. Taken together, these, he says, “are the most important foundations for lifelong mental health.”
By Deena Kara Shaffer, PhD