Bilinovich: A conversation about men’s mental health

Beau Bilinovich, Development Editor

Trigger warning: suicide, addiction.

Nov. 19 is International Men’s Day, so in honor, I thought it would be necessary to have a much-needed conversation about an issue that affects all men: mental health.

To start, we need to understand that there is no shame in talking about mental health issues. These problems can affect anyone of any age and any background, and yes, that includes men.

With all of the societal stigmas surrounding the topic, having conversations about mental health and illness can be difficult for many men. Many men are told to just “man up,” push their emotions down and move forward. They are told to solve their problems not by seeking help from trusted individuals and professionals, but by fighting against them through sheer stoic willpower.

These demands are harmful; they make it harder for men to seek help and also contribute to a negative mindset that further feeds into men’s problems with mental health.

For example, a National Institute of Health study finds that men in Western countries are less likely to receive therapy than women. In the United States specifically, women are 1.6 times more likely to receive any type of mental health treatment than men.

This discrepancy exists because society expects men to conform to a set of ideals for how they should behave—chief among these ideals being stoicism, competitiveness and individuality. These expectations tell men that they should shut away their emotions and shield themselves from outside help. Many choose instead to deal with their mental health problems on their own, even when they might not know how to deal with those problems.

And as a result, many men skip therapy, believing that it makes them look weak or not manly enough, as others have told them. Without that help and insight, they are left unable to deal with their complex emotions properly and are worse off.

You might likely know someone who struggles with various kinds of mental health issues, including addiction. In fact, the Pew Research Center reports that substance use disorders are more prevalent among men than women, which can be comorbid with other mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety.

Millions of men struggle with mental illness, yet societal pressure and stigma place them into a position where asking for help is discouraged. This feeling of shame has led to a striking gap in suicide statistics: in the U.S., men are nearly four times as likely as women to die by suicide. The disparities are even larger for men who identify as LBGTQIA+, who are twice as likely to die by suicide compared to their non-LGBTQIA+ peers.

We need to be honest here: The ideals that men are told and expected to emulate are disastrous. A commonly used term to refer to these behaviors is toxic masculinity. But sometimes, words like that can invite their own set of problems, especially when people misinterpret the meaning behind the term. We could instead refer to these behaviors as the unrealistic and harmful expectations that they are. Either way, they do not help men achieve a better sense of self, nor necessarily make men stronger.

The point is not that masculinity as a whole is harmful or that we should completely discard it. There is nothing wrong with doing stereotypically masculine things or being more individualistic. There is, however, an issue when expectations become harmful, actively hurting men as opposed to helping them.That is what we need to take away from this. 

There is no shame in having mental health issues; millions of people suffer in similar ways. You are not alone. There is nothing wrong with talking about your feelings or wanting support from others. That is only natural. Seeking help does not make you weak, no matter what others may say. If anything, it only helps you become stronger.

Allow yourself the freedom to confront your emotions and experience them, because denying them serves no benefit. Do not be afraid to talk to the people you trust about any issues you may be facing. Chances are they are more than willing to have a conversation with you and might even have good insight. And most importantly, seek help if you need it. There are a multitude of resources available online—University Health and Counseling Services being one among many. Take advantage of them.

Being a man should not mean you have to carry the impossible burden of your emotions all by yourself, locked away from the outside world. You are worth more than that. So take a stand and let yourself heal.