When it comes to men's mental health, there's a fundamental difference between the sexes. Women tend, generally, to look to support from partners, or they seek support from a network of girlfriends or family. Failing that, they often seek professional counselors. But either way, they express emotions and talk through a problem. Men often don't want to talk about their feelings, and may even deny having problems, emotional or otherwise.
"Guys," says holistic life coach and counselor Ken Ross, a certified professional coach who leads men's groups (www.tendingthefire.net), "traditionally, we tend to be islands. When it comes to men confiding in men, it doesn't usually happen. Men are actually more likely to confide in a woman. It's all because we're so competitive in nature. You don't show your cards -- it's not safe."
This basic survival of the fittest wiring goes back to the cavemen. Appearing strong and problem-free meant other males were less likely to challenge or attack. It might have worked for our ancestors, but in today's complex social environment, bottling up or ignoring troubled emotions is like adding fuel to the fire.
"There's a lot of depression that's not acknowledged and not expressed," Ross says. "Men feel ashamed of it. They feel like it's weakness, and men get eaten up alive by it. There's a lot of stress derived from holding it in so much, and physical health suffers too."
Ross stresses that opening up to someone isn't the weak route, and that taking care of your mental health is paramount to a fulfilling life.
"It's old wiring that doesn't suit us in the 21st century," he says. "What is thought of as strength and what is realness, we have it backward. Vulnerability is human, and that's true strength. It takes courage to be open and the more open you are, the more fully alive you are."
Do men and women have different problems?
“Often the problems are similar,” says Ross. “But the expectation of a man in our culture is different. Men are like, ‘Me? Have a need? I don’t need.’ If women are free-flowing streams, men are a stream that’s not only dammed, but also underground and covered in layers of dirt. Men need to say, ‘I have needs.’ What we do in our groups is help men express their feelings and be who they are and get support from other men.”