Superman or human?

Noreen Coomey of Transition Coaching and Psychotherapy looks at why men don’t ask for help.

When a man does not ask for help with a problem (which he has tried to solve on his own without success) he may end up in one of three places – the hospital, the courtroom or the morgue. 

Men can resort to various unhealthy coping mechanisms when dealing with their escalating problems. These strategies include, denial, isolation, angry aggressive behaviour, compulsive or risk-taking behaviour, substance abuse, escapism through social media or overworking.

According to there were 504 recorded deaths by suicide in Ireland in 2020: 138 of these were female and 366 (83 per cent) male. Eight out of 10 suicides are male, eight out of 10 prisoners are male.

Why don’t men ask for help?

Firstly, they grew up thinking they needed to be strong and handle everything on their own – the Superman Syndrome. They are slow to admit when they’re struggling or need support. They may lean towards task-oriented communication, focusing on solving problems, while women lean towards more emotionally expressive communication.

Secondly, some men worry that if they say they’re having a hard time, people will judge them as not being strong or capable. The stigma of being seen as weak can stop them from reaching out for the help they really need.

Thirdly, asking for help goes against the idea that men should be able to fix everything by themselves. When they admit that they can’t handle things on their own, it brings up the fear of rejection, ridicule and loss of independence, making it hard for them to open up.

And finally, some men may not know where to find the help or resources available for everyday challenges. They may even believe that getting help is only for really serious problems or that they can’t financially afford it.

So what can we do to change this?

1. Encourage a holistic approach to coping with challenges – addressing wellbeing, healthy lifestyle, social connections and self-care practices.

2. Acknowledge and validate emotions to help create a more inclusive, comfortable environment for men expressing those emotions. It’s ok to show feelings and ask for help – that’s the strong, smart, ‘human’ thing to do. It doesn’t make someone less of a man – in fact it shows courage.

3. Create environments that validate open communication, where various ways of processing challenges contribute to healthier more inclusive discussions around problem solving. Encourage men in ways that feel authentic to them whether through problem-solving discussions or emotional sharing.

4. Make it normal to seek professional help for mental health or personal challenges. Spread the word about the help that’s out there. Resources are available for men to access the help they need – coaching, therapy services and support groups.

In simple terms, it’s about breaking down the idea that men should always be tough and hide their distress. Asking for help is a strong, healthy and human thing to do. We also need to support each other and create a culture where it’s OK to talk about how we feel.

WCP Staff

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