- There are differences between men and women in mental health: for example, women are more likely to reach out for help and receive mental health services.
- Why is this? First, women are told it’s okay to open up about their feelings while men are taught to keep their feelings concealed.
- This has, in turn, led men to turn to coping mechanisms such as alcohol or drugs and away from counseling.
- Additionally, women view counseling as an opportunity to not just open up about their feelings but process these feelings properly.
- Finally, women look for emotional support and deep connection in counseling as well as other forms of mental health help like women’s groups and retreats.
As you may know, there are gender disparities in mental health. Why? Because men and women have biological, environmental, and societal differences, all of which play important roles in our health and wellbeing. And one common theme is that women are more likely to seek mental health help than men. There are several explanations for why this might be:
1. Society encourages women to share their feelings.
First, women are encouraged whereas men are discouraged when it comes to opening up about one’s feelings. John Crossman, CEO of Crossman & Company, explains: “One of the core lessons of counseling is dealing with feelings. As a culture, we tend to affirm women in sharing their feelings and shame men who share feelings. For many men, when they first go to counseling, it is almost like learning a new language. Oftentimes, they don’t express what they feel because they don’t know what they are feeling.” Therapist Karly Hoffman continues, explaining the ill consequences of society’s expectations: “Generally speaking, we have socialized men to be uncomfortable with displays of emotion and also with asking for help. Traditional masculinity is unemotional and avoids displays of ‘weakness’ or vulnerability at all costs. Culturally speaking, we are more comfortable with women seeking help for emotional concerns than we are men. Men are expected to tough it out, while women are encouraged to connect and seek help.”
2. Men turn to coping mechanisms instead.
Building off of the previous point, men are also more likely to turn to coping mechanisms before asking for help. “Research shows that women are more likely to report an experience of high-level distress earlier on than men who experience similar symptoms. The fact that men are also more likely to rely on alcohol and drugs as a form of relief, means that men tend to numb symptoms before getting help as opposed to women who seek help before turning to coping mechanisms,” explains Master Social Worker Adina Mahalli.
3. Women need an outlet for processing their feelings.
Women also look at counseling as an opportunity to process their feelings, not just discuss them. James Jenson, Licensed Professional Counselor, explains: “Women tend to be more likely to want to verbally process their thoughts and feelings with someone who will actively listen and not provide suggestions or solutions. Many friends and partners automatically jump into solution mode and not listening mode, which, despite the best of intentions, is not helpful. Many of the topics that are discussed include all aspects of relationships (including long-term parental issues), personal struggles, and anxiety/depression. Oftentimes, there is a feeling of a lack of control over something, and it is important to find a way to regain that missing power.”
4. They thrive in connecting with other women.
Finally, women enjoy and are empowered by the emotional support they receive from others, particularly other women. “My experience in leading women’s groups and retreats is that they thrive in connection to other women. They need the emotional support from their peers and those who have journeyed before them, as they long for deep connection,” Connie Habash, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, explains. She adds that many feel lonely, which might further motivate them to seek counseling. “But our culture is becoming increasingly isolating, with the shift to connection online, longer work hours, relocating for jobs, intense career pressure, and longer commutes. It leaves little time to sustain friendships, let alone meet new friends and find fulfilling women’s community. So, one of the main factors I see that motivates women to come to therapy is to heal from loneliness, learn to deepen friendships, and find new support systems of other women in an area they have recently relocated to.” If you are struggling and your problems are putting your health at risk, consider working with a counselor. Counseling can help you to address the issues at hand and come up with a plan for managing or resolving said issues.