The surprising group of people struggling with their mental health

The COVID pandemic was hard on everyone. As I’ve written before, the pandemic caused many of us to develop new mental health conditions while it also exacerbated already existing ones. It was particularly hard on children and young adults, disrupting their learning, relationships, and even their high school graduations. 

While there weren’t many silver linings to the pandemic, one good thing that did happen as a result of it was that our culture developed a fresh appreciation of the importance of mental health care. Insurance companies liberalized their coverage of telehealth services making counseling more widely available, and many Americans took advantage of this to improve their emotional health.

But a large block of Americans has been left behind. This is in spite of the fact that they make up nearly 80% of all suicides, have fewer friendships and social connections than other groups, and are also more likely to binge drink and have substance use disorders than other groups.

This block of Americans struggling with their mental health are our nation’s men.

While women have taken advantage of the greater availability of psychotherapy and mental health medication, men have lagged behind. A Swedish study seems to suggest that men are under treated with antidepressants and research has consistently demonstrated that men are significantly more reluctant than women to seek out counseling, even when they desperately need it. 

Why are men so reluctant to seek out the sometimes lifesaving care that mental health professionals provide? While there’s no one single answer to that question, I think one important factor is the fact that mental health professionals are overwhelmingly female. About 75% of psychotherapists are women, and it was telling that when I searched the Psychology Today website while writing this article, I found not a single male therapist working in private practice in all of Three Rivers and Sturgis.

Men often prefer to work with male therapists just like many women prefer to work with female therapists. But when male therapists are not readily available, many men decide to just pass on going to counseling altogether.

Another problem that keeps men out of therapy is the perceived anti-male bias of the mental health professions. In 2018, the American Psychological Association (APA) released its first ever practice guidelines for treating men and boys. The report framed traditionally masculine traits like competitiveness and stoicism as inherently unhealthy. One prominent psychologist went so far as to write that with these practice guidelines the APA was “waging war” on men and boys. 

Reports like this from prominent professional organizations don’t exactly help men feel like their masculinity will be respected if they go to therapy. But that’s not the only issue that men have with therapists.

Another problem is that while forty-one percent of men identify as politically conservative, psychotherapists as a group are overwhelmingly liberal. This has caused some men who would otherwise benefit from therapy to forgo it for fear that their therapist will attack their traditional values. I’ve heard this concern voiced a number of times by men in my own practice. Men are understandably reluctant to open up to therapists who they fear will attack them for their political beliefs.

If you don’t believe that this is a real concern for conservative men, then please check out this special directory that has been developed to direct people to conservative psychotherapists. While I think choosing a therapist based on their politics is an absolutely terrible idea, it’s telling that such a resource exists.

There is one other significant factor I believe has played a significant role in the deterioration of men’s mental health; the proliferation of pornography. More than 60% of young men are now single and the same study also reported that 30 percent of young men have not been sexually active in the past year. Ubiquitous pornography has convinced some men that relationships are not worth the trouble, and their sexual needs are better met through online porn than with a real partner. While many men use porn in moderation, making porn a replacement for primary sexual relationships can often lead men to lives of loneliness, isolation, and poor social functioning.

If we are going to get serious about addressing the unmet mental health needs of our nation’s men, then we are going to have to do something to address the causes of this mental health crisis. We can’t create a better world for our children if their fathers aren’t getting the mental health care that they need. 

Because men do need therapy. Some need it desperately. If we’re serious about addressing men’s mental health struggles, we need to make therapy as useful to men as it has become to women. 

Charles D. Thomas is a writer, psychotherapist, and Main Street Media Group board member who made Three Rivers his home for over a decade. Feedback is welcome at [email protected]

Any views or opinions expressed in “Big World, Small Town” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Watershed Voice staff or its board of directors.