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Wellness & Beyond

Overcoming the Stigma for Men Seeking Mental Health Care

June 10, 2024

By Jessie Joachim

Graphic depicting man in suit carrying mental health weight on shoulders.

As we celebrate Men’s Health Month in June, it is easy to focus on all the ways to improve physical health. However, mental health care also deserves consideration. Just like our physical wellness, mental health is on a continuum, and there can be times when life stressors overwhelm our ability to cope.

While the past few years have brought increased awareness of the importance of mental health, there is still a significant amount of stigma, particularly as it relates to men seeking help. Research indicates that because of societal definitions of masculinity, men may not seek help for fear of being perceived as weak or overly sensitive.

In our society, it is generally more socially acceptable for women to express certain emotions, such as sadness, without fear of judgment. Men, on the other hand, often get the message that they should “man up,” which is damaging and counterproductive. To comply with such rigid gender roles, men may unconsciously suppress their feelings or avoid talking about them, which can contribute to mental health symptoms or risky behavior.

Men of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other people of color) population and the LGBTQ+ community face additional pressures such as discrimination, systemic inequalities, and social injustices that can have a tremendous and long-term impact on their mental health. Additionally, the lack of access to high-quality, safe, and supportive services is discouraging.

Within the legal community, professionals needing mental health assistance may fear that seeking help will negatively impact their careers (i.e., termination), interfere with their ability to be barred, and result in negative perceptions from colleagues or supervisors.

Eric Webber, Legal Professionals Program coordinator at Caron Treatment Center, is familiar with the pressures legal professionals face. “We’re all expected to have the answers. We’re all expected to take care of people at their worst, so we must be at our best. If we don’t do a great job, we feel like we fail people, and sometimes their lives are on the line. There is little room for error, and when there is error, it’s not taken well,” Webber says.

When individuals ignore the warning signs of a mental health crisis, the toll can be catastrophic. Without therapeutic interventions, mental health issues in men can manifest into anger management problems, interpersonal challenges, and addictive disorders involving drugs, alcohol, and gambling. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, men in the United States die by suicide at a rate four times higher than women despite being diagnosed with depression and other mood disorders at lower rates than women.

When we realize we need help, knowing where to turn can be one of the biggest obstacles. Seeking support from people and places that we trust is human nature. If you are concerned about someone close to you, Webber recommends breaking the ice by talking to them. Because it can be scary to raise health concerns, even with a friend, Webber suggests starting the conversation by making a nonjudgmental observation first, followed by gentle, supportive questions. For example, you could say, “It seems like you have struggled lately; you haven’t been yourself. Is there anything you want to talk about? Would you be open to talking with a counselor? Is there anything I can do to help?”

As a close friend or family member of a man who is experiencing mental health challenges, you are in a position to help. By paying attention to changes in behavior, mood, and/or speech, you may be the first person to notice when the man you care about is having a hard time. You can be the bridge for them to get help.

If you want to learn more about men’s mental well-being, please join the D.C. Bar Lawyer Assistance Program for the webinar “An Honest Conversation About Men’s Mental Health” on Tuesday, June 11, at 2 p.m.

If there is someone in your life struggling with mental health issues and you don’t know how to start the conversation, please reach out to the D.C. Bar Lawyer Assistance Program at [email protected]. We are here to help.

Jessie Joachim is senior counselor for the D.C. Bar Lawyer Assistance Program.