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Eugene Farrell

Why do men find it difficult to ask for help?

7 April 2022

Eugene Farrell

Written by Eugene Farrell

With 30 years’ experience in the UK healthcare arena (both public and private), Eugene provides thought leadership for AXA and is our Mental Health Consultancy Lead.

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Feelings and emotions are common to all of us as human beings, and sometimes we might struggle with things and need emotional support. But if you have always been told, and indeed tried to live up to a view that men don’t show feelings, they must remain strong and in control, then it’s going to be difficult to go against the stereotype that is masculinity.

"Boys don’t cry”, “get over it”, “man up”. These are messages that reinforce the gendered view about what it means to be a man in our society. It’s a strong social process that’s hard to resist and it begins early, research shows that boys are emotionally astute when young1.

Parents and teachers use less emotional words with boys2 and begin to lose their emotional awareness. As boys grow, they adopt the behaviors around them in order to be accepted by their peers or face ridicule and mocking. Described by Niobe Way in her book Deep Secrets, as a “crisis of connection” this becomes the trap of masculinity that holds men.

It’s no surprise then that men often struggle to express their emotions when all around them it is considered not “manly” at all.

What are the consequences of not seeking help?

Not reaching out for support may come at a cost. Reluctant to reach out, men who adhere to these traditional stereotypes of self-reliance are more likely to struggle on alone and use unhelpful coping strategies such as drinking and smoking3.

Men are also three times more likely to end their life by suicide than women and, in England, the numbers are highest amongst men aged 45-49.4 Men with high traditional masculinity are nearly two and half times more likely to die by suicide than those men with low traditional masculinity.5

But, there is an opportunity for change. Our collective mental wellbeing has been under the spotlight like never before. While men might be more reluctant to share, the challenges they face are familiar. Samaritans identified three common themes from their conversations with men during the first months of the pandemic:

  • loneliness and social isolation,
  • concerns about the financial and economic future
  • strain on existing relationships6

If you worry about these or other things, you are not alone. And if you find it hard to ask for the support you need, then use our top tips below:

Top tips to help you ask when you need it

Emotions aren’t gendered

They are human. And they all belong to us all. Emotions serve an evolutionary purpose and signpost us to the things that matter. Tuning in to them helps us to understand our wants, needs and desires. Try and notice them; in yourself and in others.

We are designed to respond to threats

The limbic system triggers a fight or flight response in the body which demands attention and is designed to keep you safe. But these feelings should pass. When we feel under constant, real or perceived threat, we don't have time to recover and that can be detrimental for our health and wellbeing. It also impacts our ability to cope.

For ways to reduce stress see 80 ways to reduce stress | AXA Health

Take notice of yourself

The brain is just like any other organ, in that it needs the right conditions to function optimally. We might not notice it's not well without looking for symptoms and signs. If you’re not attuned to your emotions, you can spot these in your behaviour, thoughts and body.

Problems don't always need solving

Often, we can improve our wellbeing just by sharing our difficulties and connecting with others. Over 40% of men said that just talking to others helped with concerns and worries they had during the pandemic.7

You don’t need a ‘reason’ to seek help

You don’t need to be able to articulate a ‘cause’. “Things are tough” or “I don’t feel myself” is more than reason enough. We often don’t fully appreciate how much pressure we’re under, or how hard things are until we pause and take stock.

Don’t wait

We can think of our capacity to handle stress as a bucket; which slowly fills with the drip, drip, drip of each stressful event or thought. We may not know that we’re just one small trigger away from breaking point, until it happens. The earlier you reach out, the better.

Be optimistic

Things can and will change. It can help to follow the stories of others and find yourself positive role models who have gone through similar experiences to yourself.

Making changes takes work

Old habits die hard so that might mean changing long-held patterns of behaviour in reaching out. Know it gets easier with practice! Start now in whatever way you can. Share with a trusted person or professional or use a service or app. Seek support in whatever way works best for you and pay attention to how it feels when you do.

See How to form healthy habits for an insight into the science behind habit forming.

What we can all do to help

We can all do something to address the stigma that still exists around men, mental wellbeing and help-seeking.

  1. Show others some of your vulnerabilities and struggles. Each time you do you model behaviour and give others permission to do the same.
  2. Check in with people. Ask how they’re feeling. Ask if they’re finding something hard. If you’re worried, ask again. You won’t create problems for someone by asking about them and you’re letting them know that you’re there and willing to listen.
  3. Be a mental wellbeing advocate. Speak up if you see the signs of stigma and watch the language you use around mental wellbeing. Know where and how to access help and support for yourself and signpost to others when you can. See below for more info:

AXA resources

How To Find A Counsellor or Therapist

80 ways to reduce stress 

7 signs of stress on your body

The mind-body connection

Further resources

References

  1. Judy Chu – When boys become boys
  2. Anzar et al 2014, King et al 2019
  3. Frąckowiak-Sochańska, Monika. Men and Social Trauma of Covid-19 Pandemic. The Maladaptiveness of Toxic Masculinity. Society Register 2021 5(1) (PDF) MEN AND SOCIAL TRAUMA OF COVID-19 PANDEMIC. THE MALADAPTIVENESS OF TOXIC MASCULINITY (researchgate.net
  4. Samaritans  Latest suicide data | Suicide facts and figures | Samaritans
  5. Coleman et al 2020
  6. Samaritans Coronavirus and middle-aged men | One year on: data on Covid-19 | Our policy and research (samaritans.org)
  7. Coronavirus and middle-aged men | One year on: data on Covid-19 | Our policy and research (samaritans.org)

Where we provide links to other websites or third party resources within this article, these links are provided for your information only and are correct at the time of publication. AXA Health has no control over and is not responsible for the content and resources within external websites or apps, nor any link contained therein, or any changes or updates required.

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