Probably the most effective thing people can do to improve their mental health is, in fact, to seek help from mental health professionals. But many people who stand to gain a lot from seeking psychological help never do, or they wait much longer than is necessary. Why?
Part of the answer seems to involve gender.
Men who adhere more strongly to traditional views of masculinity report having more negative attitudes to seeking help with psychological problems. This makes a certain intuitive sense, as traditional views of masculinity promote a view of men as independent and unemotional.
This lack of outward emotion, which psychologists call “normative alexithymia,” has likewise been shown to have a negative correlation with help seeking among men. Fear of intimacy, which is related to normative alexithymia, is another factor linked to less help seeking among men.
For men, whether they are aware of people they know seeking psychological help seems to influence how likely they in turn are to seek psychological help. Men who are aware that their friends or family have sought psychological help are much more likely to seek psychological help themselves. And the more people they know who have sought psychological help, the more true that is – more so than for women.
There’s no doubt that traditional stereotypes surrounding masculinity can exacerbate mental health problems. A 2016 review found that subscribing to traditional masculine norms impacted men with depression in three ways: it modified the way their symptoms were expressed, it made them less likely to seek help, and it interfered with symptom management.
However, this is a problem that can be overcome. The result that men are more likely to seek help when they’re aware that others they know have sought help is important because it shows that there is a cultural solution to this cultural problem. Being open about discussing mental health treatment and seeking psychological help is a key step to creating a society where people feel empowered to access help that will drastically improve their lives.