Mental Health

Improving Men’s Mental Health.

It is no secret that men are currently suffering an overwhelming crisis of mental health, but mental health services are consistently failing men and the gynocentric models they are based on are doing more harm than good. It is not men or masculinity that need to change to fit into the current mental health services, it is men’s mental health services that need to change to serve the unique needs of masculinity.

It is safe to say there is a systemic mental health crisis in modern society that is hitting men hard. Just looking at the statistics of male mental health alone paints a bleak picture, and that is before you factor in the estimated extremely low rates of reporting and poor diagnosis.

According to the office of national statistics over three quarters of all suicides are men and this has remained unchanged in almost three decades. Men make up the absolute majority of the most dangerous and stressful professions and suffer significantly more from work related stress and mental health issues. At least one in eight men are currently known to be suffering from a common mental health problem and they are three times more likely to turn to destructive behaviours such as alcohol to deal with those problems as a result.

All of these just scratch the surface of the mental health crisis for men and yet women are far more likely than men to be actually diagnosed with a common mental health disorder and receive help for it. These statistics are well known but very little has ever been done about it. There have been some attempts of course, despite the fact very little has changed in decades there have at least been some strides forward in recent years with a number of male focused charities and organisations that are saying enough is enough, men need help. The problem is on the whole they are doing more harm than good.

The feminine approach to mental health.

Current mental health services for men focus very much on the traditional gynocentric model that men should open up more, they should talk about their emotions and learn to be more accessible. Men are told they should stop trying to tough it out, stop trying to be manly and just talk! In essence, men should be more like women.

This message is repeated endlessly through mainstream media and even new media, it is the clinical norm in the NHS and clinical mental health services, which is by and large a female dominated profession, and is the norm through all the leading charities and men’s mental health advocacy groups such as MIND, the Campaign Against Living Miserably or the Movember campaign. Even the trade unions who attempt to reach men through the workplace take this approach.

Men are told constantly they need to open up, they need to talk more. This message is mainstream and it is inescapable. But it goes against most men’s natural instincts and are turning most of them away.

Now let’s just get one thing clear there is nothing wrong with talking about your problems, far from it in fact, the problem is that this predominantly female approach to dealing with mental health problems – supported by a female dominated mental and clinical health industry and a gynocentric society – works extremely well for women, but doesn’t work for most men.

If some men do find this approach helpful – and I’m sure there are some – then that is great, any approach that works on an individual level is a good one, but pushing this approach on all men without any other option is causing significant harm by not only not giving men the support they need but by telling them they are the problem.

The big issue with this gynocentric approach is that it assumes that masculinity itself is the problem. Every conversation about men’s mental health assumes men don’t ‘open up’ or ‘talk about their feelings’ because of an outdated view of toxic masculinity. Feminism has written a narrative that masculinity itself is automatically toxic and has pushed this narrative through every facet of society. This paradigm assumes that men are emotionally stunted, repressed or illiterate, it is toxic masculinity that is causing them harm and that the help is there for them but they are too ‘traditionally masculine’ or macho to seek it.

But surely blaming men for their problems is part of the overall problem? Instead of assuming that masculinity is the problem and trying to force them into a feminine solution that is clearly not working, should mental health services instead be trying to change and find ways to work with that masculinity?

Mental health services are failing men. Men and women are different and it is wrong to apply the gynocentric model of mental health to all men. Mental health services should change to work with masculinity, not the other way round.

Men’s unique needs requires a unique approach.

Masculinity is very different from femininity for a reason, this should be an obvious fact and should not need pointing out but apparently this unarguable truth has been forgotten. The archetype of masculinity as a warrior, a leader and provider is as old as time. Men are built to be tough and stoic, we are built to hold back emotionally and be in full control of ourselves. These traits have been necessary throughout history as men were required to protect their tribe, to fight wars to both protect and expand their society, to hunt and provide. Men are built to protect others, not ourselves. The reasons men needed those traits may have largely been taken away by society but the instincts themselves haven’t, and this is a huge problem.

These traits in and of themselves are not a bad thing, there is nothing innately wrong or toxic about them, yet this is how society treats them. Society calls men toxic, it says that they need to forget these natural traits and instincts and instead act in defiance of them by opening up and being emotional, by talking about their feelings. It tells men that they should act and behave in a way that is not always natural for them and shows them at every level that society does not care about them.

Manning up is not toxic.

But if there is one message I want to pass on through this site it is this. Masculinity is not toxic. Manning up is not toxic. Masculinity is a man’s natural state and living up to it, being a man, aspiring to those masculine norms and ideals is a good thing, a positive thing!

Instead, it is society’s views of masculinity that is toxic. It is the feminist view that all male traits are inherently evil and that men need to change to become more like women that is toxic. The demonisation and vilification of masculinity is the problem, not masculinity itself.

A new approach to men’s mental health.

It is clear that current mental health services are not working for men. The female dominated and gynocentric paradigms of counselling, talking about feelings and ‘opening up’ are not only not working, they are increasingly harmful. Men are turning to mental health services for help and are being told they are wrong and broken, so they just stick two fingers up to society and try to suffer on alone until a bottle or a bridge seems the only answer.

If this were physical medicine and a doctor kept repeatedly killing patients by chopping off a leg and letting them bleed out when they only came in with a stubbed toe or a headache, surely someone would put a stop to it pretty quickly! But no, this is men’s mental health so it is obviously men who are in the wrong.

But how do we fix this? Well the answer is finding a way that works with and celebrates masculinity, not a way that punishes or denigrates it. It seems like common sense really doesn’t it? If you want to help someone, the best way to do that is in a way that works for them.

So after men’s mental health services and charities have stopped demonising masculinity, the first thing they should do is stop telling men to open up and hug everyone in a big circle while talking about their feelings. Men do not express themselves wrongly, or in a toxic manner, they just do so differently to women, so the traditionally feminised approach of face to face talking about feelings and emotions has to stop being the only option available to men. That approach is great for women, and can work for some men so if they want that, fine, but it should also be supplemented with other approaches.

More men in the female dominated mental health professions would certainly help, but in the meantime an approach that concentrates on specific, action orientated solutions rather than just talking about feelings and emotions would be a good start. A change in the approach of these conversations would also help. Men tend to use jokes and banter when talking to each other, not as an emotional barrier or a defence as it is assumed to be now, but simply as a means to connect and bond.

Men still have that innate need to be stoic and tough, so mental health services should respect and celebrate that. Forcing men to talk about their feelings endlessly is the antithesis of that natural instinct, so instead mental health services should encourage men to take action, to do something positive, to fight their problems head on and provide them with spaces that allow them to seek support but keep control at the same time. Services like Men’s Sheds are making great inroads in this area, but it can be expanded to include clinical partnerships with gyms or sports clubs, places that use that specifically male culture of camaraderie and a sense of being needed and useful to its advantage.

This is obviously not a comprehensive list of the way’s mental health services can provide help to men, but it does hopefully convey one very simple message. If we stop demonising masculinity and vilifying manhood, and instead find a way to celebrate it and use it whilst giving men the help and support they need through a masculine and not a feminine approach, then we may finally start putting an end in the crisis in men’s mental health.