Why Do So Many Powerful Men Suffer in Silence?

For Men’s Mental Health Awareness Week, Paracelsus Recovery explores how stigma and gender-roles prevent successful men from seeking help.

Men’s Mental Health Awareness Week

While anyone can suffer from mental health issues, gender-norms influence how we respond to these emotional difficulties. Speaking in generalized terms, for young boys, growing up means learning how to ‘man-up.’ As teenagers, girls often bond over their vulnerabilities, whereas boys learn to never speak about their feelings, for fear of being seen as insecure or inadequate. As a result, thousands of young men suffer in silence, which can exacerbate symptoms and introduce other challenges such as loneliness and low self-esteem. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, and the mental health stigma embedded in masculine ideals plays a part in this mental health crisis. For example, data collected by the WHO shows that nearly 40% of countries have 15 suicide deaths per 100,000 men, while only 1.5% show the same rate for women.

For men in the C-Suite or other positions of power, these gender-norms are confounded by the hard truth that if word got out about their mental illness; it could affect their company’s stock price, public image, and their authority as a leader. Since the Covid-19 crisis began, many CEOs, regardless of gender, are struggling to cope with vast financial loss, relationship difficulties, and the pressures of their role. Thus, to ensure that men who are struggling receive the help they need, we must challenge the stereotypes of what it means to be a ‘man.’

The Underside of the ‘Strong-Silent Type.’

The ‘ideal’ image of masculinity often involves projecting an image onto the world of assurance and authority. It reflects a man who sacrifices, takes responsibility, and is never arrogant. However, this idea implies that vulnerabilities, insecurities, and fear — all of which make us human — make a man weak. As a result, it acts as fuel for our inner critic, increases stress levels, lowers self-esteem, and prevents so many men from speaking out about their difficulties.

Further, the pressure to ‘hold it all together’ increases our likelihood of developing an unhealthy coping mechanism. For instance, research shows that men are far more likely than women to abuse drugs or alcohol. Addiction can arise when we are struggling with negative emotions, and do not know how to process or express them. As a result, substances give us either the confidence to talk about these feelings, or they numb us from their impact.

The Loneliness Epidemic.

Social connections are the ‘apple-a-day’ of mental health, but to build meaningful social relationships, we need to be honest, vulnerable, and intimate with our loved ones. However, all of these traits are viewed as being in opposition to these ideals of masculinity. As such, research shows that a loneliness epidemic is pervading modern male relationships.

Loneliness is lethal for both our mental and physical health. It increases our chances of developing depression, cardiovascular diseases, and substance abuse issues. The cards are stacked even more against a successful man because wealth attracts opportunists. Thus, if a wealthy man is struggling, he may not share this with those around him for fear of looking weak, not trusting his peers, or ‘failing as a leader.’ As a result, the negative relationship between the mental health stigma and gender-norms about masculinity can result in many wealthy men feeling isolated. If you are struggling, try to remember that, tinted in poetic irony, you are not the only successful man feeling lonely.

How Can Men Look After Their Mental Health?

  1. Challenge Your Concept of ‘Weak.’

Try to look at mental health as similar to physical health — everyone has it, and no one has it perfect. As such, try to use these masculine qualities in response to emotional difficulties. For instance, in the poignant words of Brene Brown, “vulnerability is not our weakness; it is our most accurate measure of courage.” Thus, to be a strong man could mean finding the bravery to express your fears, insecurities, and vulnerabilities.

  1. Reach Out for Support From Other Men.

When it comes to the mental health stigma and the pressures to always be in control, it often expresses itself as a fear of judgment or ridicule from other men. To combat these fears, try to speak openly about how you feel with your male friends. This doesn’t require a grandiose outpouring of your inner world, but rather just a small comment about how you don’t always feel calm.

For example, if you are a CEO — try to reach out to find another man who is, or once was, a CEO to discuss the pressure you feel. They will empathize with the specifics of your stress, and it could encourage them to speak about the challenges they face. In doing so, it will increase connection, decrease loneliness, and help to combat your inner critic.

  1. Examine Your Coping Mechanisms.

However, if you live in the public eye or are simply unable to speak openly about your mental health, try to ask yourself, ‘Am I responding to these emotions with compassion or with negativity?’ When we punish ourselves for feeling sad or afraid, we deny our human need for love and support — even from ourselves. Instead, if we respond by taking an hour each day to do something we love, we are showing compassion to ourselves. Exercise, taking time for ourselves, a balanced work-life ratio, and a healthy diet are ways to nurture our mental wellbeing and create a support system within ourselves.

Finally, the Covid-19 crisis is making way for a subsequent mental health crisis. To ride this storm, we must allow ourselves — regardless of gender — to process the anxieties, losses, and fears we have encountered over the last four months. But to do so, we must also challenge the stereotypes and stigmas that prevent men and those in positions of power from speaking about their mental health.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The newest posts

Our private articles and press releases