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We often hear stories and statistics about women suffering from mental illnesses. But oftentimes, men are sidelined in this conversation. The stigma around mental health often hurts the chances of people suffering from mental illness to get help. This may make an even larger impact in the lives of men who are stereotyped as "strong" or "independent." They are often shamed or seen as "unmanly" when seeking for help. Mental health impacts everyone.
The Mental Health Stigma
As we all know, there are many stereotypes and rumors about mental illness, and those with it. Mental illness only recently has been accepted as a real issue. Health professionals are now required to know basic psychology after multiple cases of patients mistaking panic attacks for heart attacks (along with other things). Although this is a big win for the mental health community, we still have a long way to go. There are still beliefs about those with mental disorders being violent and dangerous, along with criticism about the legitimacy of certain disorders, like addiction. People with mental illness are more accepted now than in the past, but there is still a sense of segregation and shaming. This shaming often leads to many cases going unreported and untreated.
Stereotypes Against Men
Women are not the only ones stereotyped. Some men are just as worried as women are about appearances and reputation. For example, scrawny men are often seen as "less manly." But this also applies to mental health. Men are more often criticized for asking for help. They are supposed to be strong and independent in the eyes of society. When they are suffering from a common disorder like depression or anxiety, they are called weak, or seen as less. They are not supposed to be as emotional as women. These stereotypes hurt both men and women.
These stereotypes are often further exaggerated based on job occupations. First responders and military personnel are at higher risks for developing anxiety disorders, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unfortunately, these are the people that tend to seek help the least too. This is most likely due to the nature of the job and the culture within these occupations.
Many people refuse to get help for fear of losing their job. While there are protections against discrimination due to mental disorders, it still may happen. Such cases are much more likely within the military, fire safety, police, and medical fields. While there are practical reasons for these regulations, they also attribute to the lack of mental health care among individuals serving in these fields.
There is a culture among people in these jobs that also makes people less likely to get professional help. A sense of pride comes with service. It is essential to keep going in such testing environments. However, that pride also keeps people from recognizing their need for help. People take pride in taking care of themselves, and feeling like they don't need help. The reality is that everyone needs help sometimes. A failure to realize this keeps individuals isolated, and battling with their demons on their own.
How to Break the Cycle
As history has proven, it is difficult to change stereotypes, and make dramatic changes in society. That being said, it has been done. Just look at the Civil Rights Movement, the development of women's rights, LGTBQ recognition, and the protection of people with disabilities.
The first step in making a change is recognizing the problem, and spreading awareness. Many people do not realize the problem exists. Education is the most important part of any movement. People can not change what they don't know about.
Education should start young. It is difficult to teach children about the darkness of the world. We attempt to preserve their innocence as much as possible. However, childhood is when people learn best, and when they first start developing their belief systems. It is easier to learn something the first time than it is to relearn after years of experience. Teaching children about mental health, and how it impacts everyone is important.
One thing that everyone struggles with is recognizing their own prejudices and flawed thinking. Practice recognizing your thoughts about others in your everyday life. When you start to consider the flaws in your judgments, you can work to change your mindset towards others. You never know what others are going through, and you are much more likely to ask them if they need help if you are open to their situation.
Keep up to date on research, but remember that every case is different. Research is a valuable tool. It is how we move forward and create change. However, pop culture tends to use studies to stereotype groups. Make sure the research you are looking at is coming from a reliable source, and that it has been replicated. Finding the original study is often beneficial.
Finally, be part of the support system. Friends and family play an important role in therapy and recovery, whether they recognize it or not. Check in on the men in your life, and reach out to those who might be in need. Be willing to listen and be there for others.