Barriers to Getting Help
In the Alberta Men’s Survey, male respondents named barriers that they encountered when attempting to get the help they wanted or needed. These barriers were often overlapped with social categories, like age, ethnocultural or educational background, income, sexual identity, past trauma, and discrimination. Strategies for overcoming these barriers are presented throughout this toolkit.
Most men don’t know where to get support
Results from the Alberta Men’s Survey showed that, although 96% of respondents said men needed supports and services for well-being and relationships, a large majority of them (76%) did not know where to go and whom to approach for such support.
Stigma associated with accessing services
1 in 3
men who responded to the Alberta Men’s Survey would not seek supports due to pressures related to expectations about masculinity.
Many men are, at times, uncomfortable accepting that troubles and imperfection are part of the human experience, and that they themselves are human. This lack of acceptance makes it difficult for them to seek support when they need it .
Men often prefer to pursue a rational or logical problem-solving approach to interpersonal and personal problems and to avoid the exploration of feelings as a factor.
Some men see asking for help as an act of losing or giving up control of themselves.
A stigma seems to persist that it is not “manly” to access services or seek help. In conversations with service providers and groups throughout Alberta, we found that reaching out for help or support was perceived by some men as weakness or an indication of mental illness. The idea of “mental health” was identified as carrying a specifically negative stigma and creating a double-edged barrier for men in accessing services. First, men are often hesitant to (publicly) admit they might benefit from supports, and second, if a service or outreach event is about “mental health” they will be less likely to participate due to how their attendance could be perceived. With all this said, it is important to keep in mind that results from the Alberta Men’s Survey did show that over 20% of men identified a mental health concern and 96% recognized their need for support in relation to well-being and relationships.
“I know how helpful it can be and the consequences of not seeking help. “
Considering the feedback from community groups along with the survey results, it seems that, although men recognize their need for support, some are hesitant to access services out of concern for how it may reflect on them. While a great deal of work is currently being done to reduce the stigma associated with seeking supports and services, it is also important to meet men where they are. This can be accomplished by selecting activities and topics that men will feel comfortable with and hat will encourage their participation. More information on this can be found throughout this document.
“My name is Jeff and I have worked in a helping profession for fifteen years. I know how helpful it can be and the consequences of not seeking help. Still, it took me ten years to pick up the phone and make an appointment with a counsellor. After I called, I was proud of myself for having the courage to take care of my mental health and challenge the stereotypes I had internalized about what it means to be a strong man. Even knowing this was the best thing for me, I still struggled with thinking I was being weak as I opened the door to the counselling office. I didn’t believe these thoughts and I knew they were not true, but they were still there and I still had to overcome them.”
Apathy and/or lack of emotional awareness
Some men are not concerned with seeking help or do not realize when they need help. Due to inexperience reflecting upon their own inner states, they may not be aware of the signs or symptoms that would trigger someone else to seek help. Furthermore, if they habitually resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drugs or alcohol in times of stress they may not give themselves the opportunity to experience the inner states which would guide them towards the supports they need.
Feelings of inadequacy in comparison to other men
Many men find it difficult to live up to the exceptionally rigid stereotypes of masculinity which are propagated by the messages they receive on a daily basis. Men can have a fear that they will be judged or belittled by other men if they do not conform to these stereotypes. Often times, they have had experiences in the past where this was the case.
One of the most significant barriers for well-being and healthy relationships is childhood or early trauma. In fact, men who responded to the Alberta Men’s Survey most frequently stated that it was past trauma that impacted their present well-being. Research has also confirmed that children who experienced trauma are more likely to be involved in unhealthy or abusive relationships later in life. Supporting men to resolve past trauma through peer support or counselling is an important step in overcoming this barrier.
It is common for men to have encountered discrimination based on their ethnicity, race, religion, cultural background, socioeconomic status, gender or sexual identity, citizenship, among many other things. Even if they have a strong desire to access supports and services, or to join in a group with other men, they may be hesitant due to the discrimination they may encounter. It is important to understand that not all men experience masculinity the same way and that colonialism, racism, and other forms of discrimination may be present in your groups. While it is understandable that your group may serve men of a specific background, maintaining inclusion and acceptance as core values and addressing any forms of discrimination that arise will go a long way to making your space safer and more welcoming.
Perception of other men as aggressive or dangerous
There is a common misconception that all men’s spaces are rife with aggression, that there is no space for self-expression, everyone has a short temper, and conflicts are resolved with fists instead of words. As such, it makes sense that any man who is the least bit thoughtful or emotionally connected would avoid such spaces.
Breaking down these stereotypes is important. One way this is accomplished is by talking about “strength” diverse ways. Examples include, the strength required to be a caring father or partner, the strength to seek help when needed, the strength to sit with uncomfortable or unwanted feelings, or the courage to take responsibility for words or actions that have caused harm to others.
“I started working in oilfield construction in my late 20s after working with mostly women for several years. I had faith that I could do the work, but my biggest concern was how I’d deal with working in what I expected to be a very threatening male-dominated environment. Was I “man” enough? Would they respect me? How would I stand up for myself if they didn’t? Would I fit in or become an outcast? It was very difficult at first, but eventually I started to realize that a lot of the guys I worked with had the same kinds of concerns as I did. They were human, just like me! It sounds funny now, but that realization made it seem a lot more manageable. I started to see how respectful everyone was and how they all looked out for one another. As we were working, we talked about all kinds of things. You really get to know someone in that kind of environment. Looking back, I can honestly say that some of the most down to earth guys I’ve ever met have been in this industry. It took a lot of courage to overcome my fears, but I’m sure glad I did.”
Imbalances in power and privilege
Because those with the most power in any society are the least affected by discrimination, they also tend to be least aware of the effect their actions have on others. The result is that many men believe it’s okay to use anger to resolve problems, misuse their power, say things ‘they don’t really mean”, avoid taking responsibility for their emotions, and fail to be accountable in their relationships with others. Many boys and men are still socialized to be competitive and win at all costs. Instead of embracing true equality, many men and boys still expect to be treated better than women and girls. This is part of the reason why some men can continue to act out in damaging ways in their homes, workplaces, or communities and people just ‘work around them’. The greater the power imbalance is, and the less awareness men and boys have of power and privilege, the more extreme these behaviors tend to be. While it is important to be aware of the many intersecting factors that play into power and privilege, it is also important for men to be aware of how their behavior, and their perception of themselves and others, is affected by their power and privilege.
Shame can lead to social isolation
In a world where men are the perpetrators of the majority of violence and sexual assault, it is not uncommon for men to feel shame simply for being men. This type of shame, like any other, can have a significant effect even on those men who spend their lives advocating for non-violence and equity, or who have been impacted by violence or sexual assault themselves. Men may isolate themselves out of fear of judgement from others, or out of a desire not to cause women discomfort. This is especially relevant if men have few people in their lives who show them that they are accepted and valued. In this case, social isolation itself may lead to shame, which in turn leads to further social isolation or mental health concerns.