Man receives mental health counseling.

Three Ways Mental Health Professionals Can Help Men Speak

Women and men are both affected by mental health issues, but the scales are skewed when it comes to the types of issues each gender faces and the way they seek treatment.

For example, men are much more likely to have a serious drug or alcohol problem or die by suicide when compared with women. On one hand, women are more likely than men to experience certain mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and eating disorders.

Women also receive treatment for mental illness at a much higher percentage than men. They are often more willing to reach out for help, try therapy, and express their emotions than their male counterparts. This can mean that men experience more severe consequences of mental ill-health. Things that simmer for a long time can eventually boil over which is why early treatment is so important.

Mental health professionals can help. They specialize in connecting with people in relatable ways and adapting their approaches to each individual’s communication style.

Here are some ways they can support men specifically.

Ravel Mental Health is revolutionizing access to mental health care. Learn more.

Understand How Men Communicate About Mental Health

Everyone knows that men and women communicate in different ways. However, research done by Mental Health America indicates men respond more strongly to humor than women and may “check out” as soon as the conversation becomes focused on feelings. The recent Man Therapy campaign leaned on these insights to connect to men, creating billboards with slogans such as, “You can’t fix your mental health with duct tape.” As you can see, it’s funny and uses very direct language.

Sachin Doshi, Director of Development at Mental Health America, says mainstream awareness strategies, which are generally much softer and more conversational in style, are also often better received by women who are more comfortable discussing this subject matter. His view is that this messaging can make men feel “out-of-place or vulnerable” when seeking help for mental health issues. Importantly, this also means they may be less able to recognize symptoms of mental ill-health.

Beyond initiating the conversation, it’s important to note that men talk about mental health struggles differently than women. Men tend to want to fix problems straight away instead of talking about them, which is one of the reasons that consequences of mental health issues can be more severe amongst males. Many men also struggle with unhelpful societal expectations – for example, that they’re strong, brave, tough, successful breadwinners, that they can’t show emotion, and so on.

Interestingly, Mental Health America reports that men are also more likely to accept help when they can help someone in return, because this means they can avoid dealing with a perception of weakness. This can be a helpful strategy to include in a client’s mental health care plan, because it may help them identify ways to reach out to members of their social circles to get support in a reciprocal way.

Another effective approach is to adopt a “shoulder to shoulder” style of communication in sessions, which minimizes eye contact. Think of two men watching sport, playing video games, fishing, hiking, driving, or chatting over a project in a workshop. Generally, they’re doing something together and not just focusing on conversation. This is a small change that can significantly lower barriers.

Acknowledge That Men Experience Mental Health Issues Differently

Symptoms of mental health issues can present differently in men or women.

Take depression as an example. Women might talk about feeling sad, feeling exhausted all the time, struggling to feel motivated, feeling overwhelmed or struggling to cope, among other things. Men, on the other hand, might feel angry or irritated. This can lead to symptoms such as aggression, loss of control, increased risk-taking, increased alcohol use, and behaviors like working excessively.

It’s a similar story with anxiety. Anxiety is an excessive and uncontrollable response to perceived threats. This can present as feeling nervous or tense, breathing rapidly, sweating, feeling weak, having an increased heart rate, or difficulty concentrating. Commonly, in men, it might present as reacting too strongly to a perceived threat, which can also cause embarrassment, guilt and shame.

With that in mind, it’s really important to factor social expectations of men into treatment.

Many men, who were raised to believe that “being a man” means being the strong-and-silent type, may not respond to being asked how they feel. It’s likely that they may initially attend therapy only after being coerced by a concerned loved one. Once treatment starts, men are also more likely to quit early, express anger towards their therapist, or resist different therapeutic approaches.

One of the most effective was to start is with empowerment. Society may expect men to be dominant in many settings, such as home and work environments. However, that is often not the reality, which is why it’s critical to work on develop a strong sense of self. Themes that commonly occur at this stage are success, importance, self-reliance, confidence, aggression, competition, power, and strength.

These often go to the core of a man’s identity and his struggles with mental health.

Take a Collaborative Approach to Treatment

An article published in the American Journal of Men’s Health in 2018 called ‘Engaging Men in Psychological Treatment: A Scoping Review’ found that in counseling men, it was critical that clinicians consider the impact of “masculine socialization” on their clients. This article has several interesting and practical insights that can be applied in practice:

  1. Men respond best to treatment styles that are collaborative, transparent, goal-focused, and action oriented.
  2. It’s helpful to focus on specific micro-skills that clients can put into practice in their daily lives, such as self-disclosure.
  3. It’s important to adapt language when counseling men, because they respond much better to male-oriented metaphors.

Therapy is effective for both men and women, but the approach much be tailored. Research shows that men are initially much more reluctant to ask for help, more likely to drop out, and more likely to defer or avoid seeking therapy in future which can contribute to worsening symptoms. That’s why it’s essential that counselors take the wider social context into account when treating men.

Interesting, there are still no clear clinical guidelines available to guide therapists who are working with men. There is a lack of consensus in the industry and more research is definitely required. However, there are lots of helpful insights available that can inform the way we counsel men through the mental health challenges they experience. Let’s quickly recap some of the insights we’ve covered so far:

  • Men react strongly to humor and direct language.
  • Men tend to want to fix things quickly instead of talking for a prolonged period.
  • Men typically prefer to “shoulder to shoulder” style of communication.
  • Men experience symptoms of mental ill health differently to women.
  • Societal expectations play a critical role in men’s mental health.
  • Men are typically much more resistant to receiving help through therapy.
  • Empowerment is often the key to successful therapeutic outcomes with men.

Access to mental health services is also critical to improving mental health outcomes for American men. That’s where Ravel Mental Health comes in. It’s a mental health platform that is revolutionizing online bookings for therapists, making it simpler and easier to connect with clients than ever before.

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