Let's break the toxic masculine stereotypes about stoicism that can make it hard for some men to talk about their emotions and ask for help.
Thanks to organisations like MindHK, Talking Mental, Red Door, and many others, it is easier to talk about mental health issues in Hong Kong. But, due to common gender stereotypes, there is still a stigma around men’s mental health, and it can be very difficult for men to seek help. In many cultures men are expected to be strong, protective, and tough. For fear of being judged, or thought of as weak, these expectations can often make it harder for men to deal openly with their feelings.
Let’s talk about men’s mental health
The stigma around men’s mental health has a big impact on society. The struggle to recognise and process their feelings often leads men to experience anxiety and depression. As a result, men in Hong Kong and around the world are more likely to commit suicide than women. This is largely because many men are ashamed to look for help and admit that they are dealing with mental health issues. We are making efforts to empower and encourage women to be bolder and stronger. Yet, we often forget that to achieve real balance we also must empower and encourage men to be sensitive and expressive.
In addition, men’s difficulties in recognising and processing their emotions can often create difficulties in their relationships with others. Many men have to work to unlearn the gender roles that boys don’t cry and if you feel sad you just need to man up. Men feel so much pressure to hide their negative feelings that they often bottle them up or use unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as alcohol, drugs, or aggressive behaviour. This in turn impacts the community around them.
Mental health knows no gender
We have been taught to take care of our health. Mental health is health. If you have a toothache, you go to the dentist. If you have depression, you go to a therapist. There is no display of weakness in this. Now, we don’t all have serious toothaches that require a dentist. The same way we all don’t have depression or anxiety that requires therapy. What we do require is to attend to our mental health, the same way we brush our teeth.
So how can men let go of the stoic masculine stereotype that men don’t show their emotions? Let’s start with the truth that knowledge is power. To be connected to your emotions doesn’t mean you need to cry in front of people. It means that it is healthy to:
- Recognise your feelings
- Allow yourself to feel these feelings
- Find positive coping mechanisms to deal with those feelings
- Talk to friends, family or a therapist about your feelings
The doctor will see you now
Clinical psychologist, Dr Alvaro Gomez, explains: “Many men don’t talk about what they feel because they don’t have the words, but instead they act on them. So we can help them by actively listening without judgement. Instead of judging or repressing – unless it’s a violent or dangerous behaviour—we can encourage men to name their emotions. For example, ‘You got angry,’ or ‘It must be really sad for you,’ or ‘I can see you’re disappointed.’ In this way, we can give men a tool that they never had—a name for their inner experience. All of this requires a lot of empathy, and if it comes from other men it grants them permission to feel and adopt positive coping mechanisms.
“The way to overcome the stigma around men’s mental health is by helping men join the conversation about mental health and giving them the chance to question stereotypically masculine behaviour patterns that have been passed on from one generation to the next. The capacity to recognise emotions, to express them, and to regulate them could change the game for men’s mental health.”
If you want to start a conversation about mental health with the men your life, Dr Gomez suggests: “Always leave judgement out. It is incredible how ingrained in our culture it is to make fun of men’s feelings. So keeping that in mind, asking them how they feel is one step in the right direction. Another option is to let them know when you’ve noticed they’re upset or their behaviour has changed; something like ‘Hey, I noticed you’ve been ________ (different, distant, quiet, very active, sleeping a lot) lately, anything on your mind?’ and then if they share what the situation is you could use empathy and name the emotion: ‘Oh, I imagine you’re frustrated.’ This helps some men a lot; it’s like training a muscle, the more they get used to the mental movement the better they will be at emotional regulation.”
Mental health is the new sexy
Let’s create change for the better by letting men know that asking for help is a sign of strength; that tough men show their vulnerabilities, and that emotionally authentic men are sexy.
Looking for a place to start? Red Door Counselling offers individual talk therapy and they will restart their men’s group in 2022. You can call the at 9378 5428 for more information.
How have you been feeling lately? When it comes to emotions, it can sometimes be hard to recognise or admit that we’re not feeling 100%. Try this self assessment to better understand how you’ve been feeling.