Men and women are different. They differ biologically, neurologically, psychologically, socially, and all of these differences have evolved through millions of years of natural selection to ensure the survival of our species, allowing us to advance in the incredible ways that we have. This means that men and women approach their environments and their issues in different ways. This is true with mental health.
The way mental disorders manifest in males sometimes looks like aggression, fury, withdrawal, feigning wellness, obsessive needs to distract themselves, and often substance abuse. Depression, for instance, affects men in these ways. Women are more likely to cry and recognize their emotional turmoil, which is juxtaposed to men’s tendency to blunt their emotions and curve them into destructive behaviors. They are different. So why are the depressive elements we recognize usually the ones associated with women?
I believe this is because we are not doing a good job of recognizing the needs that men with mental health conditions have.
First, our mental health system is more beneficial to women than it is for men, which is why men are often unwilling to go to a therapist or counselor. They focus on emotions and discussing feelings and perceptions, but men are typically less responsive to that kind of approach. Men need a place where they can critically think about the specific issues in their lives, come up with solutions, and tackle them head on without the need to focus on how they feel about it.
I like to say, and have said this about myself, if a man’s problems with anxiety and depression were a physical entity, a dark, amorphous figure that was standing in front of him, he would want to fight it and beat the hell out of it until he had conquered it, and then move on. He wouldn’t want to stand there and try to neutralize it by discussing how he feels about it or how they can work together in order to succeed and not get overwhelmed. He needs to confront it and defeat it. It is how men have evolved to face threats and dangers. This was necessary in Paleolithic and Neolithic times when humans fought to survive. Now the environment is different, but the biology is the same.
Men need to be able to find control and consistency in something tangible, something physical, but with mental health issues they are not physical and cannot be wrestled with except through thinking and problem solving.
The majority of therapists are women, which can sometimes create a divide between her and a male client who needs specific approaches to treatment unique to men, something that not all women can provide.
About 80% of suicides are men in our society, which I believe is because men are less likely to tell someone they are dealing with such intense pain. When men are constantly told they need to express their feelings, they close up more because that is not how men solve their problems. They need solutions that they can actively put into practice. They need mentors who can relate to them and show them along how to get to where they need to be. Discussing how they are feeling is not effective, even from my own perspective. We have to stop treating men with the methods that are more beneficial to women. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the way women deal with their struggles. But they are different and do not always work with men.
When I say we need a reform in our mental health care system, I am saying that we need to recognize the different needs that men and women have, and allow each sex to solve their problems in the way that is most effective for them. I have found in my own experiences with therapists, they are not always helpful in helping me deal with my problems in the way I need to. In the same way that men do not always know how to relate to a woman and her issues, a woman does not always know how to relate to a man and his struggles. We need to address this.
There are men out there who are dealing with suicidal thoughts and will never tell anyone until they pull the trigger or step off the chair and it is too late. This, I believe is not because of so called “toxic-masculinity” and the idea that men need to be encouraged to share their feelings and emotions. I believe it is because men are not able to solve their problems the way they need to since our society is more sympathetic to women and the way they solve issues.
Men are sometimes told that women don’t need them, that they are unnecessary in the family structure and that fathers are not as good for kids as mothers are. This gives men the sense of not being needed or being obsolete. They are discouraged from behaving according to their biology. A rambunctious boy is medicated for being too hyper and not conforming to environments in which he does not function according to his nature. Boys need to be out learning actively and engaged in physical and mental challenges where they are not constrained to a chair and desk. And when they are dealing with mental health issues, they need to be able to work through it the way they are naturally inclined to do so, not by sitting and discussing emotions, but by actively engaging in activities that give them a sense of accomplishment and help them learn how to conquer the problems that are invisible.
Not all men work this way. Some men do well expressing emotional distress and talking about it. But I would say most men would do much better handling their mental disorders with activity and constructive tasks. When it comes to addressing the men with depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions, we have to recognize their needs as males, drawing from evolutionary biology and history.
Also, we need to recognize the importance of men in the home, in the family. In the same way that women need to feel loved and appreciated, men need to feel appreciated and needed. Men need to be able to provide for those they love in order to show their love for others.
Men and women complement one another. It should not be a competition to see who is better than the other. When we recognize that we are different, we will be able to start fixing the relationship we have with one another.
I understand one cannot generalize. There are some men out there who are much more sensitive and need more emotional coaching, and there is nothing about that that is wrong or that makes them less of men. For the sake of brevity, I am speaking in overall terms, but I know that it depends on the individual; however, if we can see that as a whole, men need mental health treatment that differs from that of women, I think that, from my perspective, we might see an improvement of prevention in the male suicide rate.
Men, there’s nothing wrong with the way you are. Women, you neither. So let us simply know that our differences require different approaches. I will go into this much further in later posts, because a lot of this starts early in life, before the fact instead of after. Anyway, that is for later.