Men face specific mental health challenges that few people talk about. Men are taught to be strong. Men have evolved into their strength. People consider men to be assertive, aggressive, and not in touch with their feelings. This emotionally limited way of being and viewing the world has an impact on men’s mental health because everything becomes seen as a threat or a conquest.
Of course, this isn’t the case of all men. After all, stereotypes aren’t an accurate depiction of the entirety of men. They aren’t inclusive or considerate of all men. There are plenty of men who are sensitive, loyal, good communicators, and who respect women.
Improving Men’s Mental Health By Breaking Down Stereotypes
However, our society doesn’t necessarily make this easy for men to access. Nor has it always been seen as acceptable. As a result, men’s mental health can be affected as men begin working on becoming a more caring, fuller version of themselves– as they become who they truly can be.
Music therapy is a great treatment option for men facing mental health challenges. It is non-threatening, although it does require some level of vulnerability. Music is a uniting force among humans, and men are no exception to that. At SoundWell Music Therapy PLLC, I offer men a safe space to explore their mental health challenges through music therapy.
Mental Health Issues Men Face
Men are less likely than women to seek treatment for mental health reasons but more likely to commit suicide.  Many men deal with mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety, to name two. They don’t know who to turn to or how to ask for help.
National diving champion Shawn Colten talks openly about the real depression he experiences. He says that he often finds himself crying about something that used to make him happy. According to Colten, “it’s easier to feel nothing than to feel pain, hurt, or sadness.” 
Everyone’s experience with depression and other mental health challenges is different. Many men experience depression at an alarming rate. One in ten men experience depression and anxiety. 
There is still a stigma surrounding mental health in the United States. Men feel this stigma much more deeply than women. Women are more likely to reach out for help. Men feel weak if they ask for help with their mental health. So more men suffer in silence. It’s a public health problem.
How Does Toxic Masculinity Affect Men’s Mental Health?
The Journal of School Psychology defines toxic masculinity as “the constellation of socially regressive [masculine] traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence.”  This definition has changed over time, but it’s important to give the phrase “toxic masculinity” context.
Society focuses on how toxic masculinity affects women. The conversation, however, is rarely about how toxic masculinity affects men. It’s essential to talk about masculine norms when talking about toxic masculinity.
Conforming to masculine norms is associated with negative mental health in men. Men who conform to masculine norms are less likely to seek treatment for mental health. Masculine norms feed into the stigma around men seeking mental health help.
“Men who see themselves as playboys or as having power over women are more likely to have psychological problems than men who conform less to traditionally masculine norms, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.”  And yet, these men are not seeking the help they need. Why?
On a recent podcast, Dr. Wizdom Powell identifies that masculine norms are to be tough, be a provider, stay strong, and be in control. Poor mental health outcomes happen when men stick to these norms, especially men who have more depressive tendencies.  And it’s important to recognize the role that class and race have in toxic masculinity.
The Impact of Race and Class on Men’s Mental Health
“Lower income men and men who have been edged out of the opportunity structure may feel a particular structure to man up in different kinds of ways because they don’t have access to all the ways that a man who’s a breadwinner and a provider may be able to enact masculinity.” 
Dr. Powell goes on to talk about how men suppress emotions to be masculine.  Men feel self-conscious about feeling shame and anger, even though these are legitimate emotions.
It should be mentioned that men of color, black men in particular, have a deep-seated mistrust of the healthcare system. They are even less likely to seek help for mental health reasons than white men.
A recent study found that an increase in masculine norms correlated to a decrease in health literacy. “Health literacy refers to the cognitive and social skills that determine the motivation and ability of individuals to gain access to, understand, and use information in ways which promote and maintain good health” 
In this case, I’m considering mental health as part of “good health.” I recognize that men’s mental health is directly related to following masculine norms that society has placed on men. Toxic masculinity is just one way that men are negatively impacted by society’s expectations. The effect on men’s mental health is profound.
How Do Gender Roles Limit Men and Affect Men’s Mental Health?
Men are often seen as less concerned about others, less social, and less emotionally sensitive than women. Men limit themselves by believing the male stereotypes.
According to the American Psychological Association, about 80% of American men suffer from some form of inability to put emotions into words. Professional football player Joe Ehrmann says that “men are set up to fail in relationships.” 
Relationships between men and women become more meaningful when we’re not viewing each other through stereotypes and we see each other differently. Men are characterized as taking charge and being in control. Women are characterized as being in tune with emotions and building relationships with others. 
These gender roles are harmful to men’s mental health. The more men hear and learn these things through society, upbringing, school, etc., the more they believe them. And the more trapped men feel by these socially normal gender roles, the more their mental health suffers. Because they’re trying to fit into the social norms, which say that men should be strong, many men don’t reach out for help.
Music Therapy to Address Men’s Mental Health Challenges
Music therapy nurtures men’s mental health. It helps them work through the mental health challenges that arise. At SoundWell Music Therapy PLLC, I help men use music as a way to explore a wide range of emotions in a safe space.
Music as a Tool for Exploring Men’s Mental Health
Music fosters self-confidence and self-esteem. It can help men feel strong but not arrogant and instead respectful of themselves and others. Music also allows for the exploration of emotions through tempo, instrument sounds, dynamics, and genre.
Men can feel safe in exploring through music the fullness of who they are and what they’ve experienced in life. This can help make it ok to acknowledge that they’ve experienced sadness and pain. Music can provide a space for them to examine what that has meant to them and how those difficult experiences has affected their mental health.
Using the Iso Principle to Regulate Emotions Within Men’s Mental Health
As a music therapist, I use the iso principle when regulating emotions through the music that we make or the music that we listen to. The iso principle allows you to match the music with the emotion you’re feeling at that moment. Music therapists find music that matches where you are and gradually change that music to broaden your repertoire.  The same principle applies if we’re improvising music together.
Men can express their emotions by the way they make music. Using pre-composed music provides a safe container to express emotions. Improvising on instruments helps men to tap into the heart of what they’re experiencing.
Looking at the Lives of Musicians as a Way to Examine Men’s Mental Health
Musicians can also be role models and influences on men’s mental health. In some cases, they demonstrate what it’s like to be a man and in our therapy sessions we can process together how and why certain male musicians are role models to certain men.
Men can find role models within the music industry. If one of my clients feels connected to or inspired by a particular male artist, it makes sense to me to explore what that artist does or says that my client likes. We can explore together what it means to be a man through the lens of another person and his music.
Improving Men’s Mental Health at SoundWell Music Therapy PLLC
At SoundWell Music Therapy PLLC, I do everything I can to support men in their healing journey through music therapy. I offer a wide variety of tools for coping with mental health challenges for men. You can learn more here about the clients I work with and the mental health issues they face.
If you’re looking to expand your therapy horizons and explore music therapy with me at SoundWell Music Therapy PLLC, be sure to contact me. I offer a free 15-minute phone consultation during which we can talk more about what your needs are. You can schedule here.
Referenceshttps://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/men-and-mental-health/index.shtml https://www.nimh.nih.gov/news/media/2017/men-and-depression-shawn-colten-national-diving-champion.shtml https://www.mindwise.org/blog/uncategorized/a-critical-look-at-mens-mental-health/ https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2016/11/sexism-harmful https://www.apa.org/research/action/speaking-of-psychology/men-boys-health-disparities https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6728685/ http://www.goodchoicesgoodlife.org/choices-for-young-people/articles-158703/ https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00011/full https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66VRriMsP2w