Create safe spaces for men to share their struggles

Being raised with stereotypes such as “boys don’t cry” can lead men to suffer in silence.

Being raised with stereotypes such as “boys don’t cry” can lead men to suffer in silence.

Published Jun 15, 2024


AS WE observe Men’s Health Week, we look at how mental health may manifest differently in men. While women tend to seek help for their mental health more often than men do, this does not mean that men are any less affected by mental health issues. Some men do seek help but many refuse to because they feel it’s unmanly.

Being raised with stereotypes such as “boys don’t cry” can lead men to suffer in silence and not seek help because they believe that being vulnerable is a weakness. How we understand and express ourselves emotionally is largely shaped by social learning. Men who grew up in homes where they never witness their fathers speak about or show emotions or who were punished or mocked for showing emotions, learn early along in life that it’s not okay to cry.

So it’s not uncommon for men to struggle with identifying, understanding and regulating their emotions. In my own professional experience, men struggle more than women to name negative emotions. The most common negative emotion that men identify is anger.

Yet anger is mostly a surface level emotion, which masks the vulnerable emotions, such as hurt, sadness, disappointment, betrayal, grief, etc. Anger is an emotion that seems more socially acceptable to men as anger is not seen as weak. The reality is that the emotions we do not express can create other problems in our lives.

Men and women may present with the same mental illness in different ways. For example, depression may present as anger or irritability. Aggression is another consequence of suppressed emotions. Because it may not come naturally to a man to recognise and speak about his emotions, they may be expressed in harmful ways, such as domestic violence.

Domestic violence, while a complex issue, can be linked to poor emotional regulation. It is not unusual for men to use substances such as alcohol and other drugs as a means of numbing emotional pain or as an escape from their stressors. This can sometimes lead to addiction, which negatively impacts other areas of life such as finance, relationships, work and health.

The suicide rate for men is higher than for women globally. This is a reflection of poor mental health, the stigma surrounding mental health (which is higher for men) and societal expectations for men to be “strong”.

Eliminating the stigma begins with parenting and being mindful of gender stereotypes in our own homes. Boys and girls should have the same opportunities and both taught on talking about emotions. We need to create safe spaces for the males in our life to share their struggles, without feeling that they are weak.

Women need to be empathic to men in their lives, realising that men are human too. Be mindful of the expectations that you have, share the load where possible, have open conversations about how you can be more supportive.

For the men:

– Start getting curious about your emotions in different situations.

– Build supportive relationships where you can be vulnerable.

– Make use of healthier stress reduction, for example, physical activity or meditation.

– Seek professional help when necessary.

– Recognise that it is only human to struggle with emotions.

– Read up on or listen to podcasts on mental health and emotional well-being

– We need to replace toxic masculinity with emotional intelligence.

Rakhi Beekrum

Rakhi Beekrum is a counselling psychologist in Durban North with more than 14 years’ experience in individual and couples therapy. Her expert advice has been featured in print and digital media, on radio and television. She uses her social media platforms to spread mental health awareness and to reduce the stigma.

Related Topics:

mental health