Men Are Afraid to Ask for Help

The negative outcomes of not seeking help.

Posted Nov 20, 2019

Min An/Pexels
Men Struggle with Asking for Help
Source: Min An/Pexels

Men tend to not engage in help-seeking behavior and downplay their physical and mental health symptoms [1] [2]. It doesn't take a psychologist to see the problem with this tendency. Unaddressed medical conditions will worsen over time if not treated. Mental illness, relational problems, addictions, and traumas also tend to worsen over time if not addressed. Certainly, men don't want unwieldy medical or mental health problems, so why the struggle to ask for help? 

Men associate seeking assistance for a psychological or emotional problem with shame or weakness.[3] It is sad, but true. Admitting a problem and seeking help is perceived as being weak. And what is seen as strong, tough, macho, and manly is avoiding problems, ignoring pain, and denying reality. And where are men getting the idea that asking for help is tantamount to weakness? Other men. Men are the worst offenders when it comes to judging and shaming men. They shoot their own, and kick a man when he's down.

Our desire to be Superman is our Kryptonite. We are killing ourselves. Men run the risk for some very serious negative health outcomes regarding cardiovascular and immune system health.[4] Furthermore, chronic stress and unhealthy lifestyles are among the leading causes of morbidity and death.[5] All that stress, depression, anxiety, poor eating, and drinking goes straight to our hearts, literally. Cardiovascular disease is the leading global cause of death, accounting for 17.3 million deaths per year, a number expected to grow to more than 23.6 million by 2030.[6] Heart disease is the number-one killer of men. Other chronic conditions such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and high blood pressure are major contributors to illness and disability.[7] And since men aren't seeking medical attention, these conditions only worsen.

The research shows a relationship between men avoiding/denying medical and mental health problems and an increase in self-destructive behaviors. The widespread prevalence of health risks associated with smoking, alcohol abuse, and obesity are of continuing public concern.[8][9] When men avoid problems and stuff their emotions they tend to act out by abusing alcohol, overeating, and smoking. Yet, drinking, eating and smoking too much are poor coping skills. They don't rectify problems. At best, they are distractions. At worst, they intensify existing problems.

The evidence mentioned above is only the tip of the iceberg but it demands an answer from men. We can't ignore the negative implications of our behavior. Our choices affect others. Who pays the bill for our unmanaged medical issues? Who takes care of us or picks up the slack when we are at the hospital, or bed-bound? Who suffers from our acting out with food, smoking, and alcohol? Our partners, kids, co-workers, friends, and community members — the people who depend on us. Men, it wouldn't be as big of a deal if only you were harmed by your behavior. But its not just you who suffers from your choices. Everyone else is affected when you choose to not ask for help. And what kind of legacy are you leaving for younger men? What is the younger generation learning from your example?

I say, time is up. Men need to re-associate what asking for help means. Why can't asking for help be associated with being smart, observant, aware, and wise? Men need to understand that admitting a problem is a sign of strength, not weakness. Men need to encourage other men, especially younger men, to be aware of problems and not ignore them. Where is the logic in making things worse by ignoring problems? Where is the manliness? Where is the strength in that? 

References

[1]Cochran, S. V., & Rabinowitz, F. E. (2000). Men and depression: Clinical and empirical perspectives. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

[2]Paulson, J. F., & Bazemore, S. D. (2010). Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression: a meta-analysis. JAMA, 303(19): 1961-9. doi: 10.1001/jama.2010.605.

[3]Addis, M. E. & Mahalik, J. R. (2003). Men, masculinity, and the contexts of help-seeking. American Psychologist, 58(1): 5–14. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.58.1.5

[4] Booth-Kewley, S., & Friedman, H.S. (1987). Psychological predictors of heart disease: A quantitative review. Psychological Bulletin, 101: 343-362.

[5] Mokdad, A. H., Marks, J. S., Stroup, D. F., & Gerberding, J. L. (2004). Actual causes of death in the United States, 2000. Journal of the American Medical Association, 291: 1238–1245.

[6] Mozaffarian, D., Benjamin, E. J., Go, A. S., Arnett, D. K., Blaha, M. J., Cushman, M., de Ferranti, S., Després, J. P.,  Fullerton, H. J., Howard, V. J., Huffman, M. D., Judd, S. E., Kissela, B. M., Lackland, D. T., Lichtman, J. H., Lisabeth, L. D., Liu, S., Mackey, R. H., Matchar, D. B., McGuire, D. K., Mohler, E. R. 3rd, Moy, C. S., Muntner, P., Mussolino, M. E., Nasir, K.,  Neumar, R. W., Nichol, G., Palaniappan, L., Pandey, D. K., Reeves, M. J., Rodriguez, C. J., Sorlie, P. D., Stein, J., Towfighi, A., Turan, T. N., Virani, S. S., Willey, J. Z., Woo, D., Yeh, R. W., Turner, M. B.; on behalf of the American Heart  Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee. Heart disease and stroke statistics— 2015 update: a report from the American Heart Association [published online ahead of print December 17, 2014]. Circulation. doi: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000152. 

[7] Schultz, S. E., & Kopec, J. A. (2003). Impact of chronic conditions. Statistics Canada Health Reports, 14: 41–53.

[8] Single, E., Rehm, J., Robson, L., & Truong, M. V. (2000). The relative risks and etiologic fractions of different causes of death and disease attributable to alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use in Canada. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 162: 1669–1675.

[9]Yach, D., Stuckler, D., & Brownell, K. D. (2006). Epidemiologic and economic consequences of the global epidemics of obesity and diabetes. Nature Medicine, 12: 62–66.