Our culture doesn’t always leave space for men to express inner struggle. These men are trying to change that.
For anyone living with mental health problems, talking about it with anyone — let alone a mental health professional — may seem scary and difficult. Even intimidating.
For men in particular, who’ve been told all their lives to “man up” and “be strong,” accessing mental health resources can seem to go against cultural expectations.
But over the past several years, there’s been growing activism and interest around the subject of male mental health, partly thanks to those in the media spotlight who’ve been vocal about their own experiences.
It’s so important to speak up and fight stigma. Here’s what mental health experts, celebrities, and men dealing with their own mental health issues want others to know, including what it’s like to have a mental health diagnosis, how to ask for help, and what they think the future of men’s mental health will look like.
“Men are taught from an early age, either by cultural referencing around them or by direct parenting, to be tough, not to cry, and to ‘crack on,’” says Dr. David Plans, CEO of BioBeats, who has done extensive research in this area. “We train soldiers and professional warriors, and then expect them to be emotionally intelligent enough to open up when they need help. Worse, we expect them *never* to need help. We must bring vulnerability, as a core principle of emotional strength, into the framework of masculinity.”
Essentially, experts say, the messages men receive as children and up through adulthood discourage them from ever letting anyone know they need help. Although thankfully, this is starting to change.
“It can be very difficult to admit you are struggling as a man,” Alex MacLellan, a therapist and anxiety coach, tells Healthline. “Logically, you know that everyone gets down, has a problem from time to time, or finds it difficult to cope, but it often feels like you are the only person who can’t seem to handle it. You lie awake at night alone, wondering why you can’t be as in control as you should be and desperately trying not to let anyone else see how you are really doing.”
“I’ve experienced many men who do not want to ask for help because they’re afraid of looking weak or stupid,” says Timothy Wenger, a men’s mental health professional and blogger at The Man Effect.
“This is something I am working hard to change. I want men to know that their internal struggles are just as valid as any other struggle, and these do not make them less of a man. What I’m finding, though, is many men don’t know how to ask for help.”
“As the only child and son of a licensed professional counselor, you would think seeking therapy would be easy,” says A.D. Burks, author of “The 4 STEPS: A Practical Guide to Breaking the Addictive Cycle.”
“However, it was just the opposite! I thought, ‘What is a therapist going to tell me that I don’t already know?’ After considerable prompting from two close friends, I decided to schedule my first appointment. Unfortunately, that particular therapist wasn’t a good fit — prematurely confirming in my mind that I knew it all. Yet, I was still struggling with addiction. Thankfully, my mentor challenged me to visit a specific therapist. My initial visit to that therapist changed my life and ultimately helped me formulate the 4 STEPS.”
“It’s good to keep in mind that ‘asking for help’ isn’t always a laborious, difficult task,” says Matt Mahalo, an author and speaker who has dealt with his own mental health struggles.
“Sometimes, something as simple as a few hours trawling recovery stories and tips on YouTube can be enough to get you started on the road to recovery. Sometimes it just takes a simple trip to the library. For example, my first significant step forward happened while reading ‘The Art of Happiness.’”
This includes singer Zayn Malik, who recently went public about his experiences with anxiety and an eating disorder.
“I’m definitely glad I got that off my chest, as anybody is when you feel like you’re keeping something from someone. You have to speak about it and clear up the air,” he told Us Weekly in an interview.
“I can tell you, I’ve probably had at least half a dozen depression spells that I’ve gone through. And the one in 2014, I didn’t want to be alive,” Michael Phelps told TODAY.
Considering that 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience a mental health condition in any given year, it’s crucial that these issues get normalized — and that’s exactly why Phelps made it a point to share his experience with others.
“You know, for me, I basically carried just about every negative emotion you can possibly carry along for 15-20 years and I never talked about it. And I don’t know why that one day I decided to just open up. But since that day, it’s just been so much easier to live and so much easier to enjoy life and it’s something I’m very thankful for,” Phelps said.
In his song “In My Blood,” pop star Shawn Mendes confronts his personal experiences with anxiety, singing, “Help me, it’s like the walls are caving in. Sometimes I feel like giving up.”
Talking to Beats 1 about the song, he said, “It was kind of something that hit me within the last year. Before that, growing up, I was a pretty calm kid, super steady.”
He also noted that it can be hard to actually understand what people living with anxiety are going through until you experience it yourself. “I knew people who had suffered from anxiety and found it kind of hard to understand, but then when it hits you, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, what is this? This is crazy,’” he said.
In 2017, Pete Davidson of Saturday Night Live opened up about his experiences with chronic depression and his recent diagnosis of borderline personality disorder.
“Depression affects more than 16 million people in this country and there’s no cure per se, but for anyone dealing with it, there are treatments that can help. First of all, if you think you’re depressed, see a doctor and talk to them about medication. And also be healthy. Eating right and exercise can make a huge difference,” Davidson recommended.
He continued with a smile: “Finally, if you’re in the cast of a late-night comedy show, it might help if they, you know, do more of your comedy sketches.”
“As more men (especially those in the public eye) speak out about their struggles and experience with mental health difficulties, other men can see that the struggle is real and you are not alone,” says Adam Gonzalez, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and founding director of the Mind-Body Clinical Research Center at Stony Brook Medicine.
“We can continue to spread awareness and normalize the fact that it can be difficult to manage stress and everyday demands,” he points out.
“Most importantly, we need to continue to get out the message of hope,” Gonzalez says. “There are effective psychotherapy treatments and medications that can help with managing stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.”
Julia is a former magazine editor turned health writer and “trainer in training.” Based in Amsterdam, she bikes every day and travels around the world in search of tough sweat sessions and the best vegetarian fare.