At some point in their life, every man has likely heard phrases like “boys don’t cry” or “take it like a man.” A “man”—at least in the stereotypical sense —means to keep your emotions to yourself. To many it can also mean suffering from your emotional or physical pain in silence.
People love to say, “man up”, but what they don’t know is that this mentality fails men and boys, especially when it’s keeping them from seeking mental health treatment. A 2019 report from Movember found that despite the fact that 77 percent of men think talking is an effective way to deal with their problems, more than 50 percent of men have avoided talking about their problems for fear of being seen as less than a man.
Over the last few years, there has been a growing concern and interest around the issue of men’s mental health. After the recent tragic passing of barbering legend, Sam Wall, the barber community, in particular, has been highly focused on addressing the stigma surrounding mental illness and working to get men the help they need.
A Damaging Stigma
“There still exists a stigma that says anyone seeking therapy or other mental health treatment is “crazy” or mentally weak,” said Dr. Ryan Howes, a clinical psychologist and author of the Mental Health Journal for Men. “Traditional masculine culture tends to view mental health issues as a sign of weak character, and that men should toughen up and overcome their problems on their own. This leads to fewer men acknowledging emotional issues and seeking help.”
This notion of men getting mental health support being viewed as a sign of weakness is one that continues to force men to suffer in silence.
“Men since the dawn of time have been the provider, the fighter, the warrior, and the head of the household,” said Mark Peyton, owner of Sailor Bups Barbershop in Nova Scotia. “We’re ingrained not to ask for help.”
Peyton suffers from depression and anxiety and has been a huge advocate for men’s mental health awareness in the barber industry. Not to mention, he was a very close friend of Wall. For him, speaking out about mental illness is important in helping to finally break the stigma that currently exists as well as ultimately, help save lives.
“We live in a day and age where being vulnerable is a pathway for personal attacks,” he said. “When someone is battling a mental health condition that can mean life or death. Literally.”
The stigma surrounding men’s mental health continues to be ignored and it’s literally killing men. Men’s Health reports that “male suicide is rising at such an alarming rate that it’s been classified as a ‘silent epidemic.’” In fact, according to a report from the American Psychological Association, men are four times more likely than women to die of suicide worldwide, but are less likely to be diagnosed with internalizing disorders like depression.
It’s a statistic that needs to change and the only way to do that is to normalize conversations about men’s mental health.
Changing The Culture
As of late we’ve seen a number of famous men shed a light on their own mental health struggles in the hopes that society will finally begin to acknowledge the experiences of men who deal with mental illnesses.
Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps openly discussed his long-term battle with severe anxiety and depression. Wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson shared that he dealt with depression for years following his mother’s attempted suicide when he was a teenager. Not to mention, back in 2018, Cleveland Cavaliers player Kevin Love even penned a groundbreaking essay titled “Everyone Is Going Through Something” that shared his journey with anxiety and panic attacks.
“Current efforts from prominent male sports figures and celebrities are helping men see that even the strongest and most idolized men can have emotional problems and seek help for them,” said Dr. Howes.
When celebrities speak, people listen and hopefully, seeing male celebrities address their issues on a public scale will have a positive impact on society and help to push the conversation forward.
According to Michael Mejia, Andis Company educator and owner of Frank E’s Barbershop, increased awareness is critical to driving change and breaking the stigma surrounding mental health, especially in the barber industry.
“As men, we don’t really talk about mental health so it can be difficult just talking to somebody or getting over the initial fear of seeing a therapist,” he said. “But, if you’re not in the right frame of mind, how are you going to help your client? If you’re not dealing with your issues, how are you going to help anyone else deal with theirs?”
Barbers deal with a lot in their day-to-day that can make it hard to give their own mental wellbeing the focus that it needs, according to Mejia.
“What tends to happen with barbers, when they get home from work, is not a physical tiredness, but more of a mental and emotional one. We carry a lot of the emotional burden of people who just vent to us,” he said. “So not only are we dealing with our own issues, but we’re hearing and being bombarded with everybody else’s as well.”
Mejia adds, “You have to make sure that you handle yourself first and you’re in a good spot, so that way when your clients come in, they can feel that and then you can get them in a good spot, too.”
For more information about mental health and to seek treatment in your area, please call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Treatment’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).