Man Up – Finding Strength in Mental Illness

By: Patrick Kelly, Communications and Office Administrator at BANA


Mental illness is not a sign of weakness.  It’s a legitimate, genuine and common medical issue, and everyone who suffers should feel comfortable seeking help.

While both women and men share many of the same experiences when it comes to mental health disorders, more often than not, their willingness to talk about their challenges and feelings vary drastically.

The perception of masculine ideals and inherent stigmas on men when seeking support for mental health disorders present challenges to their overall health and wellness.

As a society, stigmas associated with mental health are prevalent and common. Men face the added stigma that ‘real men’ don’t ask for assistance; they should “Man-up;” and shut up –  messages implying that talking about mental health issues won’t help. In fact, the opposite is true: limiting open conversation surrounding mental health and the related challenges may result in a worsening of underlying conditions and to a more prolonged state of the presenting symptom(s).

Men often experience further bias within male counterparts with the perceived belief that mental health challenges make men a burden to others, and men should be able to control and manage their own feelings.

Researchers at Ipsos MORI surveyed 1,000 Canadian men between the ages of 18 and 75, and the results are astounding.

Twenty-eight per cent of Canadian men said they believed their job could be at risk if they discuss mental health issues at work, and more than 33 per cent of men worry they could be overlooked for a promotion if they mention a problem.

As well, 42 per cent of men surveyed said they are also worried about colleagues making negative comments behind their backs.

Whatever the stigmas, we as a society need to stop shaming men into thinking that there is something wrong with them if they express a need to address mental health challenges or concerns. Without fundamental changes on how we perceive masculine roles in mental health services, men will continue to suffer in silence and  could experience worsening concerns.

Seeking mental health support is totally normal, healthy, and can even be life-saving. So how can we help men reach out?

  • Recognize the unique ways in which men experience and express mental illness, and addressing the stereotypes that prevent men from seeking help.
  • Becoming an ally for those in need, provide a safe, unbiased and supportive environment.
  • Allow men to speak openly without judgement
  • Be aware of the signs and symptoms that a male in your life may be experiencing mental health-related concerns including:
  • change in mood
  • difference in work performance
  • weight changes
  • sadness, hopelessness, or a loss of pleasure and pulling away from things that used to provide enjoyment
  • physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach issues

Although changes in behaviour are common and not cause for immediate concern, if these changes continue for an extended period – typically two to four weeks – it may be a warning sign that there is a more significant mental health issue.

If you have concerns that you or someone you care about may be struggling, the following are great starting points geared towards wellness:

  1. Become better informed. Reach out to local men’s health organizations.
  2. Ask what you can do. Simply asking the question can be a significant step in providing the right support to this individual.
  3. Be there to listen. It takes a lot of courage for someone to open up about their mental health. Listening can be one of the most powerful ways to help someone, as it allows the individual to process and share their challenges.
  4. Don’t blame or judge. The best support you can give is being empathic and compassionate.
  5. Guide the person to appropriate supports. You can either direct them to their Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP), local support groups, a counsellor or a therapist. But always ask first.
  6. Be optimistic and encouraging. Reassure the person that this is a medical issue and that they are not alone in what they are experiencing.
  7. Take care of yourself. You cannot support anyone with mental health challenges if you are emotionally drained. Protect your physical and emotional health above all.

…and maybe it’s time to redefine the term “Man-up.”  Perhaps going forward this can be a rallying cry not only for men, but society as a whole.  Let’s make it less about holding issues in and more about letting them out. When we speak our mind, lets speak about what’s on our minds, openly, and listen with understanding an acceptance. Let us do better, by being better.

There is strength in mental illness. In admitting it, in sharing it, in accepting it and in allowing yourself to receive  the help we all deserve.

It’s ok …to not be ok.

Yeah…maybe that’s what “Man-up” should really mean.