One of the biggest issues that men face in their lives is a sense of embarrassment and shame for having an emotional, vulnerable side. In times of serious distress and poor mental health, notions of masculinity can hold men back from getting therapy, as well as speaking up in general. Many men, however, are still desperate to get some things off their chest.
This is where male support groups come in. Many men find that they are an ideal space to express themselves. Speaking from personal experience, I have found a lot of relief from finding the courage to speak honestly in a room full of strangers.
Therapy Can Be Expensive
No one should have to suffer in silence just because they can’t afford therapy. In the UK, where I live, healthcare is free at the point of use, including psychotherapy. However, you can be on a waiting list for a very long time (even up to two years). Also, you could get assigned a therapist who just doesn’t work for you.
When you’re experiencing severe symptoms of a mental health condition, you need immediate and effective help. So seeing someone privately, who you get on with, can do you a lot of good. But this can be very expensive, perhaps unaffordable. Even if you can afford private therapy, you may diminish the importance of your mental health (which I feel men tend to do more than women) and so you say to yourself that it’s not worth it.
Support groups, on the other hand, are a cost-effective alternative to therapy. They’re usually free. And if they’re not, you may just need to make a small donation to the facilitator at the end to cover the cost of renting out space.
Male support groups are worth considering if you’re strapped for cash or think that therapy is too expensive.
Feeling Less Alone
I recently started going to a men’s support group for depression and anxiety and for me, personally, the most relieving thing hasn’t been speaking my mind but listening to others. Obviously, I know that other men out there struggle with depression. It’s something, different, though to actually hear people talk about issues that are very familiar to you.
I found myself relating a lot to what others were saying, from the causes of depression to its symptoms. The stories resonated deeply with me. I had experienced these exact same thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It was a massive relief to know I wasn’t alone. And although we would be talking about some quite painful and sensitive topics, the fact that we could relate to each other, I think, helped to create a more light-hearted atmosphere of Oh, you too? Thank God it’s not just me! It became easier to connect in a friendly, non-judgmental way and joke about our situation.
Depression and anxiety can make you think in very irrational ways. This can be serious, with debilitating consequences. But being able to find some space for laughing at the ridiculousness of it all, I found, offered some much-needed relief.
A Space for Men to Express Themselves
Many men have a hard time opening up to their family, friends, and partner about their mental health. There’s a lot of resistance. This often comes from an intense fear of losing face and emasculation. We don’t want to be seen as vulnerable, overwhelmed, and in need of help, while other men seem to be getting on just fine. In a men’s support group, however, since it’s a room full of strangers who are also struggling, shame and embarrassment may not be so much of a roadblock.
In the support group I’ve been going to, the topic of masculinity often comes up in conversation. We can recognize that we find it difficult to be open with others and tend to express our pain as irritability and anger, because this is a more ‘manly’ way to experience depression. Men’s support groups can be a vital space for discussing and challenging harmful notions of masculinity.
I’ve thought about why men need their own space. Why can’t the group be mixed? Well, I think, first of all, men might be less likely to feel vulnerable and try to ‘man up’ if it’s a male-only group. A mixed group could make you feel more awkward about expressing strong emotions or discussing specific topics, such as relationships. Maybe this isn’t ideal or ‘emotionally mature’, but it’s the reality of the situation.
Women’s support groups, I’m sure, are also gender-specific because many women feel more comfortable sharing and supporting each other in those kinds of spaces. Men want to feel that they are understood on certain issues (such as masculinity) which, perhaps, is best met by a group made up exclusively of men. Fred Rabinowitz, a professor of psychology at the University of Redlands in California underlines some of the benefits of male-only support groups. For example, these groups help men to trust other men again.
In a competitive, macho culture, men may find it hard to connect with other men in a deep, emotional, or non-judgmental way. In a men’s support group, however, each person will talk about who they really are. In this space, you can drop your personas and find acceptance from other men.
When you’re experiencing isolation, a personal crisis, or a mental health issue, speaking to other men can be an effective way to find some relief. But support groups for men are lacking in numbers. We really need more of them. If there isn’t a group where you live, you could help yourself – and many others – by setting one up.
Facilitating a support group doesn’t have to be a huge responsibility; all you need to do is share relevant information about the group online (maybe on Meetup.com) and then announce some ground rules at the beginning of each meeting (such as respect for confidentiality, not speaking over each other, and not offering treatment recommendations). Also, someone else (or multiple members) can also take turns in facilitating the group, in case you’re ever absent or don’t want the sole responsibility of running things.
About Sam Woolfe
I'm a freelance writer who is interested in mindfulness, mental health and the evolving concept of masculinity.
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