by Scarlett Sykes
Not to generalise (hear me out!), men seem to reach out for help less than women do. Research shows that men are just as likely to need (and want) to talk about any issues they have but are a lot less likely to seek help.
From personal experience it’s a mixed bag in my life, I have men very close to me who don’t talk and likely never will and then the other extreme of males who really love to talk about their emotions, I would like to understand how to support both types of people. Men are positioned as ‘strong’ and ‘emotionless’ a lot of the time, which is fine in some capacity, but they have emotional needs just like women and those should be respected and supported.
We spoke to Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Sheetal Kini from Lighthouse Arabia to find out what we can do to support the men in our life, when it comes to asking for help.
Why is the percentage of men seeking help so much lower than women?
There are numerous cultural norms that perpetuate the expectation of men to be “strong, courageous, brave, independent” so on and so forth. While these are not negative traits to be associated with, there is an implicit understanding that men must ALWAYS embody these traits. To have moments of struggle, difficulty, needing support, and then show these traits to the world feels unacceptable by social and cultural norms.
Seeking help, particularly for mental health is one such area where the existing stigma around mental health is compounded by the stigma of a man asking for support. This may explain why the percentage of men seeking help for mental health is so much lower than women.
What do men usually seek from a support system?
It is a myth that men have different emotional needs or fewer emotional needs than women. Societal norms often portray women as emotional beings who need support and men as strong, emotionless, independent beings that “rescue” the women from their distress. These norms may imply that men do not really need a “support system”; that they are so independent that they are the ones who support their families and friends, not the other way around.
However, research shows that men engage in just as much social connectedness and intimacy as women do in their support systems. The being said, men usually seek out different kinds of support from their male counterparts than they do their female ones. Research shows that (on average), men form friendships with other men that are built on common interest, in engaging in similar activities together, and where they can be logistically useful to each other.
In such situations, men rely on this kind of support system because they can count on their male friends to help them out when they are in trouble (where the support is tangible/logistic vs emotional). On the other hand, studies have shown that men seek out more emotional support from their female friends or partners.
However, given how it may be more difficult for men to verbalize their emotional needs, they seek out others in their support system who tend to understand them more implicitly; who can support their needs through actions as opposed to words.
It is very important to state that these patterns exhibited by men are based on what has been found for a larger percentage of men in any given sample size. This may not apply to all men and they may affiliate differently or seek support differently.
As a partner, friend or colleague, how can we support the men in our life to ask for help?
There are many ways in which we can support the men in our lives to ask for help
When you notice that your partner/friend/colleague is in a difficult place, understand that it may be difficult for them to open up and talk about the situation. Don’t become impatient /frustrated with them.
Don’t close your communication
Ask open ended questions about what they may be going through- “How are you feeling/how are you doing? As opposed to “Are you okay?” If they do not open up entirely, give them time and show them that you are there in case they need you.
Lead by example Modeling vulnerability can be a very powerful way of supporting the men in our life to ask for help. If you have benefited from therapy or reaching out to a mental health professional, sharing your story openly reduces the stigma around it, even if you are a woman sharing the story.
Sometimes, despite sharing your own experience, your partner/friend/colleague may not open up about whether or not they will seek out support. In such situations, even sharing resources that allow your partner/friend/colleague to reflect on and reach out in his own time may be a way to support him because he may find it easier to think about this privately.