brought to you by HEALTHY MINDS THERAPY | story by Dr. Michael Deitz
It's become a problematic term for many reasons; however, this phrase is internalized for generations of men when it comes to displaying emotions. Mental health is a taboo topic in this community. It takes discomfort, authenticity and advocacy to change that.
I encourage you to think about your childhood heroes. Okay, now think about the heroes you’d admit to having when asked by others. Something tells me you weren’t always comfortable admitting that Kimberly, the pink one, was by far the best Power Ranger. More likely, the answers included figures such as Superman, Batman and Spider-Man. If you are familiar with these characters, you’ll notice their admired qualities of toughness. Among these are emotional withdrawal and stoicism; they don’t cry and they don’t show vulnerability. They say, “Up, up and away," and they never fear. Males in our society are taught to be like this. There’s just one problem (okay, there are plenty): they are all fictional!
"REAL LIFE DOESN'T WORK LIKE THIS..."
These are stereotypical characters created for entertainment. Real life doesn’t work like this, yet men are expected to strive for this level of emotional stoicism. Therefore, when overpowering feelings emerge, we may feel the urge to pretend these don’t exist. According to the World Health Organization, men tend to suffer alone from mental health concerns. This leads to higher rates of self-medication with drugs and alcohol, suicide and reduced help-seeking behaviors (Sagar-Ouriaghli et al., 2019).
I am a licensed professional counselor. Through my career, I’ve worked with numerous males who display shame related to their emotions. It ties directly to the impact of gender stereotypes. Many men fear that others perceive seeking therapy negatively more than they acknowledge the positive outcome that is possible from therapy. This reaction makes sense. Not everyone knows how to respond to the topic of therapy; therefore, men internally fill the silence with assumptions.
I was recently at a reunion and was catching up with some old college teammates. As we were catching up, one friend casually mentioned his therapist. While this seemed like such a minor part of the conversation, much less the reunion, I was quite moved. After those words were said, the world kept moving! He did not lose respect from his male peers. He was not outcasted. I want to fully acknowledge this is not the same in every scenario and I feel very grateful to have this positive experience. The thing is, these conversations should be normalized somewhere. That’s how they catch on. That’s how people seek therapy.
Following my friend’s casual disclosure, I noticed a shift in communication patterns. People seemed to lean in more to what others were saying, conversations were somewhat deeper and the night went from exchanging platitudes with classmates (and, let’s face it, bragging about successes since graduation) to discussing how therapy needs to be normalized since everyone could benefit from it, whether there is a pressing crisis or not.
Through conversations like these, males can combat the stigma and shame around seeking therapy. In therapy, we realize, “Wow, I can actually feel this way. I'm not alone." We learn to challenge questions like, “Why do I feel this way? How do I immediately fix it?” and replace them with, “What am I feeling? What can I do with it?”
It is going to take buy-in from society. We need to create a place that feels safe. So ante up already, so we can start this! It’s okay to fear. It’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to seek help! Vulnerability builds connection. So, let’s start the conversation and continue to normalize men seeking therapy. Then, we can go out there and unapologetically be ourselves. Circling back to the beginning of the article, maybe some of us will even gain so much self-acceptance and confidence, we will happily admit that our childhood hero was actually Britney Spears, not Batman, and that’s okay! No matter the topic, you find out you are not alone through therapy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Michael Deitz is a licensed professional counselor, Assistant Clinical Director, Chief Wellness Officer and supervisor for interns at Healthy Minds Therapy. He also serves as an adjunct professor at various universities. He received his Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in 2020 and joined Healthy Minds immediately after graduation. Prior to VCU, he graduated from the College of William & Mary with a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. His passions are in adulthood development, interpersonal psychotherapy and providing emotionally corrective experiences for clients as they process past and present distress. As a former NCAA Division I student-athlete and coach, he also enjoys focusing research on mental health and athletics.