Although mental health issues in young men globally are widely publicised, are there any issues that are specific to this region?
I am not sure if I agree that mental health difficulties in men are widely publicised. There is a lot of stigma around addressing mental health in men globally and more so in the Middle East and East. Issues men struggle with in this region are not that much different from other parts of the world but we typically see:
• Pressure from rigid gender role expectations of financially supporting the nuclear and the extended family.
• Addictions such as gaming or nicotine.
• Financial pressures — even very well-to-do men feel they need more money because they and their families themselves have high materialistic expectations to keep up with the Joneses.
• Trauma — the region is war-torn and many men have witnessed violence and war and have been affected psychologically.
• Relational traumas — young men who have been raised by authoritative fathers who believed in harsh, critical parenting and also used corporal punishment to discipline. Many have/had emotionally absent mothers as they were raised by caretakers, nannies or grandparents.
• Occupationally expected to take over the family business and not explore what their passions or purpose might be.
• Shame of struggling. Culturally boys and young men are told ‘boys don’t cry’ and are expected to deny their feelings and ‘man up’. This often results in them not processing difficult emotions in childhood, which they carry into adulthood negatively impacting their adult relationships.
Is there a difference between how you approach the treatment of men with mental health issues in comparison to women?
Men address physical health without feeling like their masculinity is in question. They need to be more pragmatic about their mental health also.
Yes, I believe that men and women need to be approached differently since they have been socialised about feelings, vulnerability and relationships differently.
Most of the men whom I have worked with do not have the language to describe how they feel, because it was not something that was encouraged (it was actually even discouraged) when they were children. Whereas women will very often sit down with a therapist and start talking about their feelings and their difficulties, men find it more difficult to know where to start, how to navigate the rough and unpredictable terrain of emotions, and how to tolerate the distress that often comes from allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
What steps would you recommend young men take to reduce their anxiety and improve their mental health?
• Learn the difference between stressed and anxious or depressed. Men often use stress as a catch-all word for any feeling that they do not understand or that is overwhelming.
• Realise that you do not have to tell everyone in your life if you do not wish to, but it helps to have one trusted individual be your companion, witness or guide through difficult emotions. It really does help to talk about it — with a friend, or with a professional.
• Don’t judge therapy before you try it. Many men will dismiss therapy as being too soft and feminine. They will say things like ‘talking will not help’ or ‘I can handle it on my own, I don’t need therapy’. I would suggest they try a few sessions of therapy and maybe even a few therapists before you make a conclusion about the efficacy of therapy.
• Name it to tame it — build your emotional vocabulary. Saying you are hurt will be less cathartic than saying you feel betrayed when such a life event is experienced.
• Be practical about addressing mental health. Men address physical health without feeling like their masculinity is in question — they need to be more pragmatic about their mental health also. Decoupling emotions from femininity and making them more about humanity is a mindset shift.
How would you suggest men approach dealing with anxiety about everyday issues such as concerns about money or job security?
I would like to normalise these issues for men. A man’s masculinity and identity are often tied to his professional and financial success — which is why when these things are threatened, he can feel that his whole being is under threat. And to fail in the professional and financial sense is experienced as he is a failure in every sense.
I think many men feel that they are alone in experiencing these concerns or anxieties. They carry a lot of shame for not being strong enough to deal with these issues by themselves.
But many men, if not the majority of men, feel anxious about their finances, job security, being able to provide for their family, etc.
Most men carry the burden of being the provider for the family — and money and a job are linked to the basic human needs for survival (food, clothing, shelter), which when threatened will and should create anxiety in anyone.
If a young man believes they are suffering from some form of mental illness, such as depression, but they don’t want to let their friends and family know, what would you recommend they do?
You should seek professional help as you would for any physical ailment or injury. Men should also learn skills to cope with it. Many men have lived with these feelings for so long that they do not realise that there is a way to live without such feelings.
Do not ignore it in the hope that time will help or that time will heal. Time only helps or heals when people are addressing or have addressed the issue. If you wrap the wound before cleaning it or disinfecting it, the infection will spread and it will get worse.