September is National Recovery Month, and although we should be doing it year-round, it’s time to start really paying attention to men’s mental health needs. We’ve seen time and again how trying to be the strong and silent type does more harm than good, encouraging men to hide their emotions and shy away from seeking treatment.
But amid the stress of modern living, social isolation and the chaos that is 2021, we could all use a little extra help, even if we don’t like to admit it. For those that are treatment-averse, peer support can provide all the benefits of therapy and reduce the stigma associated with mental health care, opening the door to other treatment options that might be more suitable if mental illness or addiction is a concern.
Men’s Mental Health Struggles
Although society likes to pretend otherwise, men go through plenty of crap, too. At some time or another, we all struggle with paying the bills, raising our children, navigating double standards and trying to be a good spouse or partner. And that’s on top of trying to hide our emotions and put up a front in the face of it all, lest we be labeled as “weak.”
Yet it’s more than just the stress of daily life. Men’s mental health is also impacted by problems like anxiety, depression and trauma, but cultural norms discourage us from expressing our emotions or dealing with them in a healthy way. For men, the only “acceptable” feelings to have are pride or anger, thanks to unrealistic ideas of masculinity and what it means to “be a man.” As a result, positive coping mechanisms are branded as feminine and self-care falls to the wayside as too many men try to power through any difficulties instead of actually dealing with them.
You’ve probably seen firsthand how this can lead to self-destructive habits from trying to address problems in other ways. Bottling up your emotions, for example, can cause you to lash out and sabotage your relationships while sleeping around to combat loneliness can put your health at risk and leave you feeling unfulfilled. Some men may also turn to drugs or alcohol to alleviate the symptoms of stress or mental illness, but all of these “solutions” ignore the underlying issues and only make things worse in the long run.
The Biggest Obstacles
Men are often pressured to live up to certain expectations, so pride, culture and toxic masculinity can prevent us from truly honoring our mental wellness. And when we’re discouraged from doing that, it gets in the way of seeking real help or developing sound coping strategies. Worst of all, we’re shamed for having normal, human emotions, putting us at a disadvantage when it comes to managing our mental wellness.
That’s because when you don’t acknowledge your feelings, you can’t process them, which is crucial to maintaining good mental health. We’re taught early in life that being sensitive is a sign of weakness, so rather than embrace our emotions, we tend to dismiss them and keep to ourselves when faced with a difficult situation. Denial is the go-to coping strategy, making us more likely to ignore our issues until they become a crisis.
A quick look at men’s health statistics will tell you where this leads. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), men are 3.7 times more likely than women to commit suicide and twice as likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. Considering that those who are better at accepting and regulating their emotions are less inclined to binge drink, self-harm or engage in other maladaptive coping strategies, it’s clear that the stigma surrounding men’s mental and emotional health is a threat to our well-being.
After all, how can we be expected to deal with difficult emotions or feel comfortable asking for help if we’re never taught how to? This is one of the main obstacles in getting men with mental health or addiction issues into treatment. The classic image of sitting on a couch and talking about your feelings just doesn’t appeal to a lot of traditionally-minded men, and some might fear being judged or ridiculed for going to therapy. Thankfully, there are now more options that appeal to men who want to take ownership of their mental wellness without feeling stifled by the usual approach.
A Promising Alternative
Technology has given men new therapeutic options that are more flexible and inviting than traditional techniques. Examples include mental health apps that promote meditation, mindfulness and stress relief, as well as teletherapy, which expands access to care by eliminating the barrier of distance. While these solutions have been helpful for some, they don’t always address issues like cost or stigma. We’ve found that one of the most promising alternatives to therapy for men is a low-tech option that has been around for decades: peer support groups.
Peer support groups let men address their mental health issues in a way that works better for them. Rather than talking with a therapist one-on-one, support groups provide a more casual, comfortable experience where men can connect with others who will understand them. Studies have shown that men who are surrounded by peers in a supportive setting find it easier to let their guard down and be more open about what’s bothering them. They’re also less likely to feel judged, and hearing others share their own authentic feelings encourages them to do the same. A support group shows them they’re not alone and fosters a sense of camaraderie, community and belonging among participants.
Peer support groups can also help men overcome the pride, stigma or shame that has prevented them from seeking help in the past. As they experience the therapeutic benefits of sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings, men who join a support group may also begin to see the value in other kinds of mental health treatment. This can be especially positive for those dealing with issues like severe depression or substance abuse, encouraging them to enroll in a recovery program designed to meet their unique needs.
For those who are more resistant to mental health treatment, whether with a therapist or in a group setting, modern adaptations of peer support also include free, flexible and anonymous options available online. While not all of the advantages of an in-person support group can be replicated in a virtual environment, this type of treatment allows men to take the first steps toward getting help without feeling vulnerable or exposed.
At Choice House, we know it isn’t always easy for men to take charge of their mental wellness. Traditional therapy can seem overwhelming, but we’ve found that peer support groups are a great way to help men get in touch with their feelings and connect with others in a meaningful way. Peer support groups are also incredibly versatile and available for men dealing with addiction, mental illness, gambling, disordered eating, relationship problems and more. That’s why they’re such an important aspect of recovery at Choice House, encouraging a sense of community and camaraderie among clients no matter what they’re dealing with.
If you want to learn more about peer support groups, don’t hesitate to contact your local treatment centers, mental health professionals and other providers who can connect you with resources in your area. To learn more about Choice House and how our programs can help men achieve lasting recovery from addiction or mental illness, contact or call us today at 303-578-4975.