There are several Pakistani celebrities who have opened up about dealing with mental health issues, seeking therapy and mental health guidance over the years. Some names that come to mind are Juggun Kazim, Momina Mustehsan, Zara Noor Abbas, Yashma Gill and many others. Most of them have spoken in support of therapy and the importance of self care. Interestingly, none of the above mentioned names are men.
The stigma faced by men
There is a stigma attached to seeking mental health treatment for everyone. However, compared to women, men are more hesitant to seek help from medical professionals or friends for mental health concerns.
It is essential to talk about the stigma around men seeking mental health treatment because the consequences of this stigma can be severe. Men who do not seek help for their mental health issues may experience worsened symptoms and a decline in their wellbeing. This also has an impact not only on the person but on their relationships and everyday functioning.
If you are a man, you probably have many different reasons why you avoid visiting mental health professionals, such as societal pressures to conform to traditional gender norms, a general unwillingness to discuss personal issues as well as feelings of embarrassment and shame. Living in our society, you’re expected to abide by certain traditional gender roles. These roles encourage men to be strong, self-reliant, and able to handle their problems on their own.
Admittedly, these expectations can make it difficult for men to admit that they need help or to seek support for mental health issues. A scoping review conducted in 2022 identified this as the “Weight of Societal Stigma”.
The burden of toxic masculinity
“I am worried that people will see me as less of a man,” a client told me when he first approached me for counselling. The fear of being judged as less masculine is apparent in that statement. He had not disclosed to anyone that he was seeking professional help for his intensely negative thought patterns.
This is an example of toxic masculinity, which refers to a collection of characteristics that are traditionally associated with men and expected of them. Toxic masculinity is influenced by cultural expectations and pressure on men to conform to a particular behaviour.
Think back to your childhood — were you ever told by your parents or elders in the family to ‘be strong’, ‘be tough’ or that boys don’t cry? Did these statements ever lead you to feel the pressure or rather, burden, of being a boy or man?
Additionally, were you encouraged to play with toy cars or toy guns in your childhood? Were displays of aggression met with praise or encouragement? If so, you were being conditioned to fit the cultural stereotype of a ‘macho man’ — you were raised to live with toxic masculinity.
I will not deny that in moderation, these traits can have a positive impact on your personality. It can make you assertive and someone who probably knows how to stand up for themselves. However, when taken to extremes, they can lead to harmful consequences for both individuals and society as a whole. These traits actually taught you to suffer in silence, endure your struggles silently and not complain. It taught you to fear appearing weak.
Symptoms and manifestations of mental health issues
Let’s not forget that often symptoms of similar mental health issues tend to manifest differently in men and women. One of the most diagnosed mental health disorders is that of depression. Research shows that symptoms of depression tend to appear differently in both genders — women typically display more sadness whereas men tend to show hostility, anger, and different physical symptoms.
A study conducted in 2012 found that “women showed a higher mean level of internalising, while men showed a higher mean level of externalising”. In simpler words, the study found that women tend to ruminate more on thoughts and emotions whereas men tend to express their issues in impulsive or aggressive behaviours.
When to seek help from a professional
When should you seek out professional help for mental health issues? I would answer this by telling you to have a short conversation with yourself, ask yourself some questions.
First, do you notice any behavioural or mood changes in yourself? If yes, then ask yourself if you know the cause of these changes. If you do, and you recognise that the cause is something that you cannot deal with, then reach out to a professional. If you do not know the cause, then definitely seek professional help! The professional will guide you to analyse your behaviour and emotions and try to figure out why this change occurred.
Some other signs you should look out for are:
- Changes your appetite (suddenly eating more or less)
- Changes in your sleeping patterns (sleeping more, less, or bad quality sleep)
- Inability to meet daily life demands
- Impact on work or studies
- Inexplicable physical symptoms (such as constant headaches, backache)
Things to remember
Seeking out professional mental healthcare has become easier with time and technological advancements. Online therapy, telephonic therapy and even therapeutic apps have come into existence that make it easier and more convenient to seek out the help needed.
The internet, vlogs, blogs, and online anonymous discussions de-stigmatise seeking mental healthcare. They also encourage much-needed dialogue. Therefore, in recent years there has been a noticeable increase in the number of men seeking mental health treatment. However, we still have a long way to go to eliminate the stigma.