Talk Like a Man: The Language of Male Mental Health

Thinking hiker

“You can say something in ‘female language,’ and then you have to translate it into ‘male language,’” Dr. Weigand, Intermountain Budge Clinic says.

For example, a woman might come to a therapist and say, “I’m suffering from anxiety.” A man in the same situation might come in and say, “My wife made this appointment.” The therapist must then delicately probe the situation, Dr. Weigand says, and put the scenario in practical terms: “What I hear you saying is that you want better relationships with your kids.”

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Dr. Weigand approaches male patients a bit differently, asking questions such as: Do you want to worry smarter rather than harder? Are you interested in having fewer power struggles with your teenagers? Would you like more enjoyable sex with your spouse? Wouldn’t it be great to lower your stress at work?

“It’s the same thing as working with a woman, just from a different angle,” he adds. “How you pitch it to men is very important. You have to use guy wording.”

The stereotype that women are more verbal has been borne out in research, although that doesn’t mean that every male patient follows the same pattern. Dr. Weigand recalls one man who, after a therapy session, gave a response rarely used by a male: “Just putting it into words helped.”

What – me worry?

Around 6 million American men suffer from depression every year, but men are far less likely than women to seek help. And although women actually attempt suicide more often, men are four times as likely to die from suicide. Men are twice as likely to abuse alcohol, and three times as likely to be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. Boys are more likely than girls to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It’s not as if men simply don’t suffer from mental health issues – it’s just that many do so in silence.

Dr. Weigand says that socialization has much to do with the average male’s reluctance to seek out a mental health professional. For most men, he says, mental health topics equate to talking about feelings, which is a stereotypically female thing to do. Men are socialized to avoid discussing “girly” feelings, and are tagged with demeaning labels for any behavior that doesn’t qualify as “tough” or “strong.” “Nowhere in those definitions of tough and strong will you find ‘talking about feelings,’” Dr. Weigand notes. In fact “some of the names reserved for boys or men not measuring up to a certain degree of toughness have very feminine roots.”

So it’s little wonder that so many men lump mental health in with other unwelcome topics, such as colonoscopies, The Hallmark Channel and shopping for clothes. Many males won’t seek therapy until prompted by a loved one or friend, or until the stress becomes intolerable. Others never do seek help, and suffer needlessly.

Dr. Weigand’s goal is to expand the definition of being a man to include mental health. When a guy breaks his arm, for example, he usually seeks medical help. If he would apply the same reasoning to mental health, he would be able to head off some problems before they got worse. “And you’re scoring brownie points with your wife,” Dr. Weigand points out.

Where to turn

When it comes to non-professional help, many women find great support from having close friends. Men can benefit similarly. One of the top predictors of mental – and medical – health is being part of a supportive community. And often the final straw preceding a suicide attempt is a feeling of isolation.

“Belonging needs are huge,” Dr. Weigand says. “Whether it’s going hunting or bowling, belonging to a larger group is very helpful.”

Some men find that community in sports, or in the workplace, where many males find a basis for self-esteem. Often males find it easier to talk about deeper topics while, say, riding bikes or driving in a car, where they’re not forced to look at each other directly. Simply having a best friend is good, Dr. Weigand adds.

If professional help is needed, most people decide who to see by word of mouth, and are more willing to see a therapist who has been recommended to them.

“Guys need to be on the lookout for each other,” he says. “Tell them it’s OK to go see somebody. That’s being a good role model.”

Online resources, such as mantherapy.org, are also available.

Get ’er done

If you know a man who might benefit from counseling, Dr. Weigand says, try these suggestions:
  • Offer to go to therapy with them (or at least accompany them as far as the waiting room)
  • Give them the name of a therapist with a good reputation (ask around if necessary)
  • Find a way to talk about therapy (make it acceptable for them to go)
  • Invite change rather than accusing them of having a problem
  • Use something like mantherapy.org as an ice-breaker to start a discussion
  • Remind them that the goal of therapy isn’t to make them more feminine – it’s to solve problems and improve their quality of life

“We need to expand our definition of being a man, rather than following a definition that’s become a dead end,” Dr. Weigand says. “It’s about becoming stronger, not weaker.”