Over the past 6 months, I’ve been researching and… no… it goes back much farther than that. I’ve spent most of the past decade working in health communication – the longer I worked the more I became interested in research and treatment of mental health issues. My formal work researching and writing about mental health has also been coupled with years of really intense personal exploration through talk therapy, running, writing, and lots of reading/practicing mindfulness, CBT and ACT. I’m also a feminist.
As I got deeper into my work, and read more, and observed more, one theme that kept coming up again and again was that many men do not seek external resources to help them process their emotions. I’ve experienced this in my own love life, and also heard it time and again from acquaintances and in other people’s writing. “I tried to talk to my partner, but he just shut down”, “I feel like I undermined his sense of manhood”. This, or I have just seen men in my life walk away from difficult situations and bottle up their feelings despite the fact that I can plainly see on their faces that their insides of being gnawed away by their own anxiety or depression.
When women feel this way, we get tarot card readings, we go to the spa, we take a yoga class, we share a bottle of wine with our girlfriends – many men don’t seem to give themselves the space to find healthy outlets.
It worries me. It worries me, because I have acted as therapist to many men that I’ve been involved with, and I see other women in my life playing this same role more often than they’d like. How does one navigate the line between wanting to help your partner because you see that they are in pain, and becoming a bullying mother figure? How do you continually push your partner to seek out mental health support while still maintaining your desire to have sex with each other?
I’ve noticed a lot of anxiety and depression in a lot of people across the board, but once the feelings are identified, I have found women to be far more proactive in seeking help.
Anyways… this year I decided to create a series of workshops and retreats that sneakily address mental health issues through other means. Currently, a friend and I are running a writing workshop that draws on mindfulness techniques to get over creative doubt, and we’re planning on developing another that uses the same techniques to help people get better at public speaking. The next round after these two will have a physical activity focus. Part of my hope in developing these, is that they would offer a gateway to men. If you frame mental health tools as creative productivity tools, will men be more likely to seek them out??
But for the first round of the writing workshop, all those who registered were women. Granted, I DID post it only on my own social media, and in two FB groups that have only women as members, but still… I was a little disheartened that very few men showed any interest.
So the questions that I’m left with: (1) How do we help men to feel safe talking through, and seeking help for difficult feelings? (2) How do female partners support their male partners to better themselves without making them feel emasculated? (3) How do we make mental health resources more appealing to men? (4) How do we market mental health coping strategies to men in a way that’s enticing and doesn’t sound like “TALK ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS, SAD SACK! YOU ARE BROKEN!”
I am worried about men, because they die younger, and have heart attacks more frequently, and I want my future partner to feel like he can talk to me about issues in our relationship and in life, and also to not feel like I’m criticizing his entire being when I bring up issues that bother me. I’m worried about men, because I know what it’s like to live with at times crippling anxiety and depression, and I cannot imagine what I would do with myself if I wasn’t enabled to take care of myself through healthy outlets.
Later this week, I’m going to be releasing a Typeform survey on some of these topics, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What’s your experience with men’s mental health? How have you helped yourself, or your partner, access the resources they need?