The developments in our understanding of mental health are evident from news articles and striking statistics of depression and suicide in our society. These statistics may shock us, they may even call us into action to develop awareness, understanding and interventions to help improve services that those suffering from mental health issues face. However, as much as these efforts are vital and impactful, populations within our society are still left behind when it comes to mental health care.
For me, the stand out group is men. As a counselling psychologist in training and as a man, I have a developing understanding of the dichotomy of in depth emotional understanding and masculinity. It can be hard, it can be volatile at times, but it must be understood if we are to tackle the growing issues of men’s mental health.
In my own opinion, it is this understanding of what it means to be a man, masculinity and the stigma surrounding men and seeking therapeutic help that are the most prominent barriers to understanding men’s mental health better and developing treatment that is both applicable to men and effective in outcomes. Mental health fascinates me, largely due to the number of people it effects and the lack of a full understanding we possess regarding it. In part, I feel this lack of understanding stems from stigma that surrounds mental health and men’s mental health primarily.
Seeking therapeutic assistance or admitting you experience mental health difficulties still holds with it perceptions of weakness and inabilities to cope. On the contrary, I feel that reaching out for such services and confronting mental health issues is one of the strongest and bravest steps a person can make, however our society chooses to view it differently.
The fact that men are more likely to suffer from mental health issues and much less likely to seek help than women should call us into action. We lack an understanding of the subjectivity of mental health. Depression may affect someone in different ways than others, it may be sparked by a different set of circumstances. With this subjectivity comes a lack of understanding of how mental health affects people. I can think of no other group where mental health has a lack of understanding, or is stigmatised more than men’s mental health. So far, our developing research and understanding of men’s mental health stems from our understanding of mental health in general. In order to enhance the understanding of men’s mental health we need to understand the two entities, mental health and men. The issue is so advanced that as I write now as a 27 year old man, over the next 10 years of my life, I am most likely to die from suicide than anything else. This fact shocks me, it leads me to think of my own mental health, it opens up considerations of the support I may receive, if and when I potentially experience advanced mental health challenges. Perhaps my fear stems from the fact that I know I could very well experience such difficulties in time, combined with my knowledge of a system that is failing so many men year on year due to a lack of appreciation, research and understanding. Our success in challenging these issues stems not only in a development of mental health understanding, but primarily in masculinity and what it means to be a man. With expansion in this understanding we will hopefully come to a deeper appreciation of the mental and emotional challenges men face, how they deal with these challenges, what services would be best to provide them with and how best to assist them accessing these services. For too long our approach to mental health treatment has been reactive, it’s time to be anticipatory and work from the ground up to not only treat poor mental health in men but develop and help facilitate good mental health. When conducting my research, I am reminded of the concept of the ‘wounded healer’. Of all the topics in therapy and psychology that lack research, why does my passion lie with men and their mental health?
As an only child, raised primarily by my single mother, I think back to my childhood and the male role models that were around me. I had a relationship with my father that remains today, but it was inconsistent. As I think back to this relationship with him, I think about what his perceptions of what being a man meant. I feel they are very different to what I understand today. I also reflect on his mental health and what he experienced growing up and how this shaped him. In short, I had no consistent male role model, my understanding of masculinity came from external source and from my mother. Who, for all she did for me, could only go so far in informing me of the challenges of growing up as a man.
Perhaps then my passion for men’s mental health stems not from direct experiences of it, but instead to learn more for myself of what masculinity is, what challenges present themselves to men, how this effects their mental health and how they seek help. Perhaps this is me trying to educate myself in a field I have lacked awareness of throughout my life.
My passion lies in counselling and therapy and how this can facilitate and assist men through mental health challenges in their lives. I feel my work can only go so far if the stigmatised foundation of men’s mental health is not challenged first.
In the coming years, I aim to conduct a systematic analysis of studies conducted in men’s mental health and later a thematic analysis on establishing the stigma of stereotypical masculinity and how it effects the perceptions and treatment of men’s mental health.
GetPsyched - Fraser Talks Emotional Intelligence
Fraser is a counselling psychologist in training, studying in Glasgow and has a vested interest in mental health, especially men's mental health. Currently working as a psychology seminar tutor and researcher, Fraser also hosts his own YouTube channel 'GetPsyched' which is rapidly becoming quite popular. Fraser also blogs from his website.