'Man Up' and Mental Health Stigma
“Man up” is some of the most unhelpful, stigmatizing advice a person can give to a man with mental illness. Recently, Piers Morgan has come under fire for questioning a statistic that says two-thirds of Britain’s population has experienced mental illness in their lifetime (Mental Health Statistics and Facts). The problem wasn’t necessarily that he was questioning the statistic, but his statement of Britain needing to “man up.” When this is applied to mental illness, "man up" just increased mental health stigma.
Mental Health Stigma and the Pressures on Men to 'Man Up'
Perhaps me, as a woman writing about this, isn’t as effective as if a man were; however, I have seen the stigma that men with mental illness face. One of my friends who struggles with depression is afraid of seeming weak and won’t seek treatment, and many more men I know don’t want to talk about mental illness at all because of the negative image. I’m tired of seeing the men in my life and men in general, suffer silently because they think they’re going to be emasculated if they admit to having and needing treatment for depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness.
According to the American Psychological Association, nine percent of men experience depression and anxiety daily and are four times more likely than women to turn to suicide.1
In our society, men are supposed to “have it together”—in other words, be strong, emotionally stable, and able to figure things out. Society has this image that men are supposed to be the rocks in our lives whose struggles don’t bother them and they can get through by just grinning and bearing it. And when they don't, the response seems to be that they need to "man up."
'Manning Up' Will Not Cure Mental Illness but the Notion Will Increase Mental Health Stigma
There are several problems with telling men and boys to “man up” as a solution to their mental health issues. For one, it invalidates their struggles; two, it blames them for their problems by insinuating they’re too weak to handle things; and three, it shows complete ignorance as what mental illness is.
Mental illness, as I’ve said in many of my other blogs, is not a matter of willpower, nor is it a matter of strength or weakness. It originates in our brains and has something to do with the chemicals or makeup of them. I feel like it’s an obvious and very broken-record thing to say at this point, but mental illness is an illness and our brains can get sick, too. It's just a fact, not a character flaw.
How to Support Men Who Have Mental Illness and Not Increase Mental Health Stigma
Whether you’re a woman or man, here are a few things you can do to help men who are struggling with mental illness.
- Create a safe space for them to open up about their mental illness. Providing them with a stigma-free zone and showing them they can trust you is a good way to help them begin to open up.
- Give them gentle encouragement to open up. Going from complete silence to spilling everything on the table isn’t for everyone, especially when their experience is so heavily stigmatized. Never force someone into baring their soul right off the bat, but, instead, let them know that it’s okay to do so at their own pace and that you'll be there to listen.
- Help them find resources such as support groups or treatment options. Because they hide their mental health struggles so much, they may not even know where to turn (How to Find Mental Health Services in Your Area).
- If you’re in a position to do so, help them understand what they’re going through, or at least let them know you’re willing to learn with them. Going through and trying to understand mental illness alone is a daunting experience; having someone who can be there with you for it is incredibly helpful.
- American Psychological Association (2015). By the numbers: Men and depression. Retrieved May 13, 2017, from http://www.apa.org/
Barton, L. (2017, May 14). 'Man Up' and Mental Health Stigma, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2017/05/man-up-and-mental-health-stigma