This Sunday is Father’s Day, and June is Men’s Health Month.
Mentally healthier dads means healthier children, families, communities, and even workplaces.
But men seek mental health help significantly less often than women. This holds true across all channels: traditional therapy, tele-therapy, even therapy via apps. If we drill down on why that is, we emerge with an understanding of what actually does help, and how we can encourage more men to seek support for emotional struggles.
As a father to two young girls, my own mental health experiences led me to create Supportiv, an anonymous peer support network which enables men to open up about emotions in a judgement-free online space. It’s free for the first 24 hours, and is a resource for anyone whose dad might want to dip his toes into some father-friendly emotional support.
The Biggest Obstacles Between Men And Emotions
When you don’t notice your emotions, you can’t identify them or let them out to process them, key factors in mental health maintenance. Mental Health America notes, “People who are good at being specific about identifying and labeling their emotions are less likely to binge drink, be physically aggressive, or self-injure when distressed.” The stigma surrounding men’s emotions presents a clear and present threat to our overall well-being.
We guys typically struggle to engage with difficult feelings. A lot of the time we don’t even realize we have a problem until it’s too late–we ignore issues until they become crises. For instance, according to the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention, men are three times as likely to die of suicide than women.
We tend to dismiss our own struggles. We are told that sensitivity equates with weakness, and that our feelings make us weak. We are told that all emotions other than anger are unbecoming of men. This leads us to stuff important feelings down, so that we can still feel “good enough.” We aren’t taught coping mechanisms, so we often default to denial. And the idea of therapy, for many, produces gut-wrenching denial.
In addition to stigma’s impact on our self-esteem, that stigma also creates a society where men don’t talk about their coping mechanisms other than anger. How can we be expected to deal with our emotions if we were never taught? And what if we only associate emotional expression with unpleasant things, like our mothers and wives nagging us? We don’t want to be “nags” by talking about what’s bugging us.
Alternatives To Therapy That Appeal To Men
If therapy doesn’t provide the ease, flexibility, and de-stigmatized experience guys need, what can men do to take ownership of their mental wellbeing?
The Internet Age has brought many attempts at digital solutions. But most hinge around either therapy, meditation, or chatbots–none of which hold very much appeal for your average dad, and some of which may be less effective for men than women.
One promising alternative is known better in its outdated form, but has seen great efficacy in its high-tech evolution: support groups. Peer support groups can be oases for men, and modern adaptations of the peer support concept give men a way to seek support without disrupting their usual routine.
Support Groups Have Been Shown To Work for Men
While traditional support groups retain the barrier of accessibility, they do approach mental health in a way that seems to work better for men.
As I recently shared in Men’s Health, in-person support groups are what opened my eyes to a comfortable way of approaching mental health. It was cathartic to let my guard down in front of other regular guys who aren’t as likely to feel judgy like a therapist can. Hearing others’ vulnerable, authentic feelings obliterated my need for denial. Others’ honesty showed me that I was gaslighting myself, denying the reality of my emotions, due to fears of others’ judgement.
I wanted to return to this support group, and I wanted every single one of my guy friends to experience the freedom of shared experience. After living a life thinking I was alone in my emotions, I didn’t want others to suffer alone in fear of judgement anymore. But everyone had no free time, or they lived too far away from any meetings, or were embarrassed to tell their girlfriends and wives.
Pride, stigma, and disconnection were at the root of our characteristic male approaches to emotion, and yet there wasn’t a reliable way we could all access the healing power of support groups. How else can men connect without risk of feeling personally stigmatized for what they share?
My answer to fellow men: remove personal identity. You can safely talk about anything you’re going through, if nobody has any idea who you are.
There is an alternative to traditional therapy that allows men to benefit from getting stuff off their chests when it’s convenient or top-of-mind, and without any risk of judgment, condescension, or identification. Mental health treatment for men should capture the effect of an in-person support group, except with flexibility and ease.
Supportiv Is A Better Version of Support Groups For Men
I’m one of the creators of Supportiv, the anonymous support network that operates 24/7 with less than a minute wait time. Here’s why it’s better than everything else out there:
- There is zero planning involved.
- It’s easy. No profile to create, no pain-in-the-*ass forms to fill out.
- You don’t even have to type out a single full sentence. There are prompts to help you describe what you’re going through.
- It’s anonymous, so no one can judge you.
- You get to see how many other people actually feel the same way you do, even if they’d never admit it in person.
- It’s cheap. Supportiv is free for the first 24 hours, and pennies per minute after that.
Why Anonymous, Online Peer Support Works So Well For Men
At Supportiv, you get perspective to reassess just how normal your emotions are, in a space where nobody is worried about hiding their own reality. And you can work through tough feelings and depressing situations with others who may have been there, too.
With 57% of their user base being male, Supportiv has been featured in Men’s Health, The Good Men Project and more, as a tool that guys feel comfortable using to manage their mental wellbeing.