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Men’s mental health: pray, but seek therapy too

In Western culture, men are expected to be stoic providers, individuals who are valued for what they offer society first and foremost. As psychologist Sule Joseph noted on Altos, “They’ve been traditionally valued based on physical strength and mental toughness, without a tendency to show their softer emotions.” However, this societal expectation has often led to ignoring and stigmatising men’s mental health concerns.

In recognition of Men’s Mental Health Month in June, Joseph shed light on the issues surrounding men’s mental well-being.

Joseph directly challenged the traditional conceptualisation of manhood, which expects men to handle everything without showing vulnerability. “If you can’t handle it all and you have a breakdown and you’re suffering with mental health issues, are you a man?” he asked, pointing out the stigma associated with men seeking help for their mental health.

This expectation that a “real man” can take on any challenge without exhibiting weakness is deeply ingrained, as Joseph recounted: “The conceptualisation of manhood is somebody who could handle it all.”


Impact of emotional suppression

Joseph explained that from a young age, boys are taught to suppress their emotions and feelings. “Nobody asked me if I’m afraid of the cockroach or the dead rat. My job is to go take it out. That’s my job. Forget how I feel, stuff my feelings, hide that, and just go do the job,” he said, highlighting the societal pressure on men to ignore their emotions.

This emotional suppression can lead to harmful coping mechanisms, such as violence. “When the emotions that men feel, which are natural emotions, that’s natural responses to stimuli, external stimuli, oftentimes are not the feelings that we display. We may have an emotion of sadness, but the feeling we express is anger,” Joseph explained, linking this behaviour to instances of domestic violence.


Seeking professional help

Despite the stigma, Joseph has noticed an increasing number of men seeking professional help for their mental health in recent years. “I’m seeing male clients reaching out for family therapy, for relationship therapy. So male clients saying, ‘Listen, I recognise something is not quite right here…I’m the head of my household, and me and mine, we need to come and address the issues that we’re having because I’m having a difficult time doing that’”.

However, Joseph acknowledged that some partners may resist seeking professional help, often dismissing it as unnecessary or a scam. He emphasised that “prayer without works is dead,” and encouraged combining prayer with actively addressing issues through therapy.

“You need to find out what the issues are, what are you praying about? You need to pray specifically, right? So, you need to figure out what are those specific issues that you’re having that you need to work on, and then you could pray about that,” Joseph advised. He reassured that “Jesus doesn’t hate therapy.” There is compatibility of faith and mental health treatment.


Destigmatising men’s mental health

Joseph stressed the need to destigmatise mental health for men, starting from a young age. He suggested incorporating mental health education in primary schools and making it accessible for children to seek help.

Drawing a parallel with physical health, he advocated for regular mental health check-ups, especially for men facing significant societal expectations.

As Joseph aptly summarised, “If you are a mango tree and when you start producing something looking like an orange, then that is very unlike you. The person around you could start saying something is wrong.”

By recognising the signs of mental health struggles and addressing them early, we can support men’s well-being and break the stigma surrounding their mental health.


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