Article by Laura A. Gutierrez, MA
Studies show that men of all ages and ethnicities are less likely to seek out help for mental health issues. This is so even though men suffer from mental health issues as much as women or more. APA President and Nova Southeastern University psychologist Ronald F. Levant feels the cause of this social problem is masculine role socialization.
“Marlboro men” do not talk about their emotions and may not even realize they have emotions. Ronald explains that many boys learn from their parents and from other children that they are not supposed to express vulnerability or caring. They learn to suppress their emotional responses–like crying or even sad facial expressions. By the time they reach adulthood many men are genuinely unfamiliar with their feelings and have difficulty putting their emotions into words. Ronald has coined this phenomenon “normative male alexithymia” which means “without words for emotions.”
This lack of awareness of emotions can in some cases result in an inability for men to recognize in themselves symptoms of depression. As a result, the men that do seek out help often come in for issues such as anger and substance abuse, both predominantly male problems. Anger may be the only emotion that men feel comfortable expressing. Hence, when a man expresses anger it can really mean many different things. Anger often is a secondary emotion masking other emotions or deeper issues. What happens often is that instead of exploring what those deeper issues are and what is underneath anger (e.g. shame, sadness, and fear) many men end up drinking or using other drugs in order to avoid this process. Going deeper after all requires courage, it means allowing yourself to be vulnerable and feel pain. This is the only way to break the negative cycle of anger issues or substance abuse issues; it is an integral part of that process.
The over-identification by many men with the “Marlboro men” stereotype and the susceptibility by many men to “masculine role socialization” is often the result of father hunger. “The father wound is epidemic among us,” says Gordon Dalbey. As a result, we see unfathered men growing up armored with a counterfeit of masculinity to overcompensate for this void. Until men face the reality of their emotional abandonment, they may never seek the healing they need. The father-wound does not refer to just physical absence. It can also result from emotional distance or absence from the father. This can make it more challenging to identify when one is experiencing father hunger.
Studies show that men make up over 75 percent of suicide victims in the United States. Men living in small towns and rural areas have particularly high rates of suicide. Flyover states such as Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico and Utah have the highest rates of suicide in the country. Alaska also has very high rates. Some experts feel that the massive decline in traditional male industries such as manufacturing, forestry and fisheries could be a contributing factor. Such decline leaves large groups of men in certain regions unemployed or under-employed leaving many men finding it difficult to fulfill a breadwinner role. This in turn triggers feelings of shame, unworthiness, and in some cases, even an existential crisis raising hard questions such as what is my purpose or what is the meaning of life? Veterans, young American Indians and gay men also have very high rates of suicide. A common factor among these groups appears to be perceived (or real) rejection from mainstream society, leading to feeling alienated and loneliness.
If you are experiencing depression or sadness, counseling can help you navigate these difficult feelings and assist you in healing. If you or anyone you know could benefit from therapy, please contact one of our knowledgeable counselors at 303-655-9065, Ext. 10.