As discussed in my previous article; Why The Mental Health System is Failing Men – it’s clear that mental health treatment is not a “one size fits all” type of thing; and there are obvious inequalities between the genders; with men getting the short end of the stick.
All of the evidence is signaling loud and clear that it’s time for systemic changes within the foundations of mental health treatment for men.
Men’s Mental Health Should Align With Masculinity
Men deserve and need to be given the option of treatment that is designed specifically to work in alignment with the traits of masculinity, and the male gender. Just in the same way that women have the option of treatment that works in alignment with certain traits of femininity; such as talking therapies, which provide the opportunity for verbal, emotional expression.
The entire mental health system for men needs an overhaul. Mental health professionals need to start providing men with a range of therapeutic tools that have been shown to produce better engagement, and treatment outcomes.
Furthermore, if all health professionals were better educated on the interrelated complexities that contribute to the formation of the male psyche; this would lead to an increased understanding and better outcomes for men’s health overall. That is why it is imperative that therapists and Dr’s increase their understanding of men, masculinity and emotional inequality.
The Mental Health System Is Changing, Slowly
The good news is that professionals within the psychological community are becoming more aware of this, and in recent years it has started to receive some attention. In 2018, the American Psychological Association, issued official guidelines for the psychological treatment of men and boys. This framework aims to educate therapists and Dr’s on all of the important issues that need to be understood around men’s mental health, such as, masculinity, socialization of gender, emotional inequality, gender bias, negative male stereotypes etc; to name a few.
This can be seen as a first step to increasing the understanding in America’s mental health system about how and why men’s experiences with emotions are different.
Furthermore, the guidelines also offer therapists more effective ways to engage with male clients, which have been proven to have positive results. For example, clinicians are encouraged to consider having sessions outdoors, in nature, while also carrying out physical activities; with a recognition that there doesn’t necessarily need to be a focus on talking.
This approach is being considered as evidence suggests that some men would prefer to use their reasoning skills to solve problems, rather than talking out their emotions. This in turn has been shown to help men relieve stress and pressure; while giving them time to process things.
Increasing Male Engagement: What Works.
- Removing the Stigma: Mental health support that is offered under the umbrella of more general support services, seems to encourage men to engage more e.g Local football clubs that offer free physical therapy after games, along with the opportunity to chat and have tea or coffee.
- Who Delivers the Treatment: Research shows that men are more likely to respond and engage with mental health treatment and interventions that are provided by other men.
- Language: The type of language used has been shown to be a predictive factor in whether or not men will engage. Using more straight forward “manly language” helps men to connect more with the activity e.g When working with the US Army, Dr. Martin Seligman, Professor of Positive Psychology, noted the importance of using “male friendly” language and therefore, instead of asking soldiers to carry out “Gratitude Exercises”; he encouraged soldiers to “Hunt for The Good Stuff”.
- Positive Media: Research shows that when well known male figures publish positive stories around their own mental health issues; such as how they sought treatment and achieved recovery, that helplines light up with calls from men seeking support.
Effective Treatment for Men’s Mental Health: What Works.
- Safe Settings: It’s crucial that the setting in which the intervention is offered in is a “safe space” for men. Research shows that treatment outcomes are improved when selected spaces are considered “male friendly”:
- Schools settings for young boys.
- Physical activity settings for young and middle aged men.
- Workplace settings for men who are in work.
- “Shoulder to shoulder” settings for adult men e.g the therapeutic effect is based around social engagement towards shared goals, rather than face to face discussions.
- Natural world settings, “green therapy”.
- Virtual settings for boys and young men can help remove some stigma & increase engagement.
- Activity Based: Research shows that activity based therapy is effective for men’s mental health e.g adventure weekends, with male, peer support.
- Exercise Based: Exercise has been shown as effective in treating men experiencing anxiety and depression.
- Stress Management Programmes: If delivered in the right settings, short 2-3 hour stress management sessions e.g meditation, mindfulness and CBT have been shown to be effective in helping men cope better with stress.
- Social Support Groups for Older Men: Group based activities have been found to be effective at improving wellbeing and life satisfaction in older men.
With this knowledge, some community initiatives are beginning to appear, that have been developed and specifically tailored to improve the wellbeing of men. For example, Men in Shed’s is an initiative in Ireland which provides a space where men can meet up, be social and build useful projects together for the community.
The scheme funds equipment, sheds and tools for the men and it has really taken off across Ireland. The focus of the group isn’t necessarily about discussing emotions; however, through the joint practical work the men form relationships and thus a support network, along with being outdoors and in nature; all of which improve mental health.
It’s also true that society has already been working on “normalizing” men seeking support and decreasing the stigma around men’s mental health; however, much more still needs to be done.
A Better Mental Health System for Men: How?
How do we support the cause and fight for improved mental health services for men?
Well, this is a two-fold answer. Along with providing men with high quality, mental health treatment that has been specifically designed to work in alignment with masculinity; there also needs to be a massive, systemic change in society’s understanding and socialization of gender.
Society needs to promote “Emotion Equality” amongst both genders, and ensure that males and females are treated equally across the expression of all emotions.
This will then help to protect boys from the negative effects of masculine socialization; hopefully leading to overall improvements in mental health.
What Practical Steps can we Take Today:
- Lobbying local politicians: The government needs to start funding more research on evidence backed treatment for men that is strengths based, goal orientated and activity based; which have all been shown to increase engagement from men.
- We can show support for men’s mental health on social media by liking and sharing positive information and campaigns like this one: Man Up.
- Educating yourself and others on the “Equality of Emotions”.
- Sharing articles like this with friends and family to increase awareness.
Furthermore, there are many scientifically proven steps that you can take to help improve your mood and wellbeing.
Also, if therapy is not something that you feel you need or want to pursue, there are other options like coaching for example, that can offer support with general self-improvement. In fact, there are specialized, male only coaches that can provide strategic help and support with things like, motivation, increasing confidence, and there is even specialized relationship coaching for men.
So this is another option, if you don’t feel like you need therapy; but you would still like to have the support of a professional man’s coach.
“Remember, The World is a Better Place, with You in it”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call 911, go to the nearest emergency room, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center, or text MHA to 741741 at the Crisis Text Line.
UK INFO: The CALM helpline is available 5pm – midnight, 365 days a year on 0800 58 58 58.