Common stereotypes suggest that men are far less likely to talk about their feelings than women. Whilst stereotypes are often reflected in real life, on welldoing.org we're seeing more and more men making contact with our therapists. This is particularly true of men between the ages of 24-45. So, why is this happening?
The emotional realm has long been - whether rightly or wrongly - associated with women. This has led to a society in which men are deterred from talking about their feelings, from displaying vulnerable emotions and from admitting that they are suffering. Sadly, these social expectations probably go some way to explain the tragic reality that suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45.
Thankfully, things are starting to change. Therapists on welldoing.org have shared with us that often 50% of their client base our men, which makes a stark change from previous years. What's helping men opening up?
How therapy is conducted might explain part of this shift. "I think technology helps", says welldoing.org therapist Karen Pollock, "In my experience a lot of men prefer telephone and video conferencing, and this has become more available now alongside traditional therapy settings."
Another is the undeniable influence of celebrities and sportsmen, respected individuals who take the brave steps to open up about their experiences: "Alistair Campbell's book, for example, showed that struggling with depression can happen to anyone, and is not a sign of weakness. I think this idea of weakness is very deep rooted; I always remember how men in WW1 with PTSD were described as 'lacking in moral fibre' and I think that mindset persisted - as if men made a moral choice to be struggling. This is why role models challenging this idea is so important."
In recent years we've seen the likes of Professor Green, Stormzy, Prince Harry, Terry Crews and Rio Ferdinand open up, and most recently Michael Phelps and Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose compassionate response to a male fan berating himself for being "lazy" because he was too depressed to go to the gym has gone viral.
Attitudes are changing, and men are beginning to see that therapy is "a legitimate and worthwhile thing to do", says welldoing.org therapist Ajay Khandelwal. "In my practice, there is a desire for men to explore and speak about their difficulties. The men I see are curious. They talk about work, relationships, families, and sometimes sex. In fact, contrary to stereotypes, the subject they end up talking about most are their relationships, and how painful and complicated it is to get them right. They are also much more ready to speak about their inner and personal experiences, and how much they might suffer, or struggle with life."
Therapists are also seeing big changes and re-evaluations of traditional gender roles, and gender as a whole. "In my own practice I have noticed a significant shift of what was predominately female cases to a much more evenly distributed mix", says welldoing.org therapist Peter Finlay. "It's not only an increase in men coming to therapy but a noticeable increase in clients not being totally sure what gender they actually are. This is a wider discussion of course, but the important point is that everyone should feel comfortable to explore their feelings regardless of gender or any other perceived constraint."
Changes in society might have a lot to do with mental health on the individual level, believes welldoing.org therapist Paul Weeden: "Most of us have not been through traditional rites of passage into man or womanhood the way our ancestors would have. There is a big deficit in knowledge and wisdom related to what it really means to be a man or women in modern society. I find a lot of my male clients are seeking encouragement and guidance around exploring all kinds of new areas in their lives that perhaps historically they would have spoken about these sensitive issues with elders or others they respected and trusted. I feel this is partially due to a loss of open connection and traditional communities."
And for anyone who is considering having therapy, but still feels embarrassed to do so? "When I am working with male clients who are struggling with the shame of seeing a therapist, I point out that it is in many ways no different to seeing a personal trainer at a gym," says Karen Pollock, "you have to have good sense to know when the time is right to pay a professional, and that is to be praised, not something to be ashamed off!" You don't have to be in crisis to reach out for support, and you don't have to deal with your problems - however big or small you deem them to be - alone.
If you think the time is right to get the support you need, you can find a therapist on welldoing.org