Men are supposed to be to be strong, steely and in control of their emotions, right?
Wrong. This is an unrealistic expectation and it can have damaging consequences, according to relationship expert and wellness coach, Paula Quinsee.
She tells us society defines the concept of manliness as being strong and in charge, so it is perceived as weakness when men ask for help.
“There's a common perception that men don’t feel the same or similar emotions to that of women," she says. "However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Men hurt too. Men also suffer emotionally but they just don’t talk about it.
“When men feel the pressure to appear strong, this can prevent them from opening up. It can also cause and exacerbate mental health problems.”
This is why Paul insists it's okay for men to cry.
Men's emotional wellbeing is not what many assume, which is why it came as a surprise when a 2019 World Health Organisation (WHO) report found South African men were four times more likely to commit suicide than women.
In recognition of International Men’s Health Week this week, Paula says more awareness is needed to combat the stigma and shame attached to men's mental health.
Societal expectations and traditional gender roles all play a part in men not speaking up about what they are experiencing, she notes.
“Bottling their emotions up may leave men feeling isolated, disconnected, and feeling like they cannot rely or depend on anyone,” she says.
They can go through a range of emotions, such as not being able to cope, feeling overwhelmed, anxious, stressed, not sleeping well, and even depression.
This tends to perpetuate a destructive cycle in which may resort to negative coping mechanisms such as alcohol and other substances or they throw themselves into work, sports, and hobbies.
Paula says a common theme in her experience is that men just want to be great fathers, husbands/partners, and leaders but they often don’t know where to go to get the support they need.
They are afraid of being shamed and are embarrassed about not being able to cope with what they are facing, so they internalise it and try to cope with it in other ways.
“The reality is things happen in life – difficulties with work or finances, the breakdown of a relationship, overwhelming family responsibilities, or a significant setback. These challenges can take a serious toll on our mental health if left unchecked, but many men will choose to tough it out and struggle alone.
“There are many ways to support and alleviate mental health challenges but it starts with taking that first step. Opening up to friends and family members and getting emotional support from the people closest to you can make all the difference. It can immediately reduce the pressure and feelings of isolation, enabling you to feel more empowered," Paula says.
But if they don’t feel like they can speak to the people closest to them, she encourages men to reach out to a doctor, a therapist or one of the national support centres such as LifeLine (0861 322 322) or the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (0800 567 567).
"They will work with you to decide on treatment options, which may involve therapy, lifestyle changes, or medication,” she adds.