Dubai: Twice as many men die by suicide, compared to women, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
A 2019 report published in the US’s National Library of Medicine found that across the globe, among many races, ethnicities and income brackets, men often avoid getting help for their psychological issues.
Why? Studies across the board point towards social stigmas that might equate seeking help for mental health with weakness.
“There is a common phrase in Hindi, which roughly translates to ‘a real man doesn’t get hurt’. You can’t show your emotion because you are not supposed to, as per society,” Siddhartha Trivedi, a 31-year-old Dubai resident said.
Sharing his observations over the years, he said that men’s experiences can be complex. From a young age, the idea is drilled into their minds that they need to work hard and achieve success. They might put in all they have to build a reputation and achieve success, so when they do face mental health issues, they often worry if it might make them seem weak or affect the reputation and respect they have worked so hard to build.
There is a common phrase in Hindi, which roughly translates to ‘a real man doesn’t get hurt’. You can’t show your emotion because you are not supposed to, as per society.
“I think women and men have very different experiences. Perhaps women find it easier to talk to their friends when it comes to mental health challenges. When it comes to men, if someone talks about psychological issues to other male friends, they might get the response – ‘Why are you talking about this? Let’s go out for a movie or party’,” Trivedi said.
While he has personally found meditation, listening to podcasts and finding mentorsextremely helpful for improving his psychological wellbeing, he said that men to this day continue to stay away from seeking any kind of assistance.
It is a sentiment echoed by 44-year-old Filipino expatriate, Roel Mecuesta.
“To be honest, when it comes to men’s mental health, we don’t seek help. If we have a problem, we try to solve it on our own. We want to project that we are strong, because we are men. We are born Alpha!”
If we have a problem, we try to solve it on our own. We want to project that we are strong, because we are men. We are born Alpha!
Shame and blame
Another major challenge when it comes to men’s mental health is the misconception about the kinds of mental health issues men face.
For example, did you know that post-partum depression is not just a women’s mental health issue?
As many as eight to 10 per cent of fathers suffer from postpartum depression, according to a review published by US-based psychiatrist Dr Jonathan Scarff in the American medical journal Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience (ICNS).
“Postpartum depression has the highest prevalence within three to six months postpartum but might insidiously develop over a year rather than four weeks postpartum. Additionally, irritability, indecisiveness, and restricted range of emotion might be observed more frequently in men,” Dr Scarff wrote.
These and other myths are what Dr Shweta Misra, clinical psychologist at Aspris Wellbeing Centre in Dubai, wants to highlight and dispel during the ongoing International Men’s Health Week.
Men's Health Week was created by the US Congress in 1994 to heighten awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys. The supporters of Men's Health Week also noted that prevention requires public awareness and designating a week would spread information on preventing illnesses affecting males, which includes events and screenings.
“It’s astounding that in the 21st century, gender roles can still have a negative effect on how men approach their mental health. Society in some cultures still demands that men need to be tough, independent and unemotional. This deters many from opening up emotionally, and that just isn’t compatible with therapy,” Dr Misra said.
Apart from the perception of postpartum depression, another mental health disorder that many people do not assume affects men is an eating disorder.
Society in some cultures still demands that men need to be tough, independent and unemotional. This deters many from opening up emotionally, and that just isn’t compatible with therapy.
“Males represent 25 per cent of individuals with anorexia nervosa, and they are at a higher risk of dying, in part because they are often diagnosed later, since many people assume men don’t suffer from eating disorders,” Dr Misra said.
Another myth that is prevalent in some cultures, according to Misra - ‘Marriage will solve a man's mental illness.’
“This idea is prevalent among some cultures, but the impact of such a marriage is actually likely to negatively impact the mental health of both partners,” she said.
Top 5 men’s mental health issues
According to the US’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most prevalent mental health conditions in men are:
1. Anxiety disorders
3. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
5. Other mood-related disorders
Dr Misra added that social expectations and traditional masculine ideals can also contribute to higher rates of substance abuse among men.
Change on the horizon?
But despite the deeply entrenched beliefs that are a hurdle to men when it comes to seeking mental health support, there does seem to be a shift towards the better, according to Nesma Luqman, a clinical psychologist at the Priory Wellbeing Centre in Abu Dhabi.
She said that while there is still obvious resistance and hesitation among her male patients to seek help, there has been a definite shift in attitudes towards mental health among men over the last couple of years.
“I have noticed how more men are coming to terms with mental wellness and are willing to take a step forward to try therapy for the first time. This is a positive trend, as it suggests that more men are recognising the importance of taking care of their mental health and seeking help when they need it.”
I have noticed how more men are coming to terms with mental wellness and are willing to take a step forward to try therapy for the first time.
Ozan Akbas, also a clinical psychologist from the Aspris Wellbeing Centre in Dubai, echoed this: “I now see more male patients coming forward for support compared to five years ago and strongly believe this is a result of the promotion of more diversified, positive masculinity role models, who are becoming great advocates and trying to reach more men who might be suffering from mental health disorders. This, in addition to increased encouragement and education of mental health in companies and schools across the UAE, is all making a positive impact.”
I now see more male patients coming forward for support compared to five years ago and strongly believe this is a result of the promotion of more diversified, positive masculinity role models, who are becoming great advocates and trying to reach more men who might be suffering from mental health disorders.
Fathers play a big role
One such man, who has tried to turn his personal struggles with mental health and toxic masculinity into a source of good for himself and other men is Michel Gerges, the founder of Rajul, an initiative based in Egypt, aimed at redefining what it means to ‘be a man’.
His own journey of unlearning the social conditioning and healing from it led him to extend similar support to other men around him and he has worked with hundreds of men, organising camps, workshops and trainings.
Based on his observations, men he has come across often struggle with psychological, social or emotional stability if they did not have an ideal male role model at home.
“A big part of their mental health has to do with the kind of father they had and the kind of childhood they had. Of course the mother is a big part of their mental health, too. But a lot of the imbalance they have in the emotional, social and psychological wellbeing has to do with whether their father played his role or not. Did he confirm for them what they can or cannot do? Did he tell them that they are his boys, his sons and that he loves them?” Gerges said.
A big part of their mental health has to do with the kind of father they had and the kind of childhood they had.
As his programme focuses on tapping into men’s love for adventure, he is a big proponent of encouraging men to truly enjoy what life has to offer from a similar sense of seeking adventure.
“I meet a lot of young men, older men, fathers, even grandfathers who are so caught up in the rat race … living without knowing the purpose that they live for, just running the race … and they are not fulfilled or satisfied. Subsequently, they are not emotionally, socially or psychologically healthy,” he said.
Finding out what makes you happy, what drives you and what battles you are willing to fight can help greatly. Once you have that drive, breaking the stigma associated with seeking mental health support may also become easier.
“When they find their purpose, find a healthy community of men, where they can lock arms with them and support each other and break the stigma and speak up and seek help, that is when they can hopefully get better when it comes to their mental health,” he said.