Reflecting on the stigma around men with mental health

By Iylia Marsya Iskandar

GOMBAK, 24 October 2020: Despite the increase in nationwide accessibility to mental health professionals, counselors and psychiatrists in Malaysia are certain that men still opt to not seek for help and advice even when they display symptoms of mental health problems.

This was the common view shared by panelists in a discussion on “Gagah atau Rebah: Lelaki dan Kesihatan Mental” which was conducted live yesterday (23 October).

The panelists were Mr. Hanafi Mohd Yunos, Counselor, from the Malaysian Department of Social Welfare, along with Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nora Mat Zin, a senior lecturer and psychiatrist from IIUM Kuantan Campus, and Mr. Izudin Ghazali, senior counsellor of Malaysian Prison Department (Kajang Prison).

The discussion centred mainly on three areas surrounding mental health problems; the reason behind the reluctance for professional help, domestic violence and aggressiveness among men.

“The issue surrounding men and mental health is a silent topic and in literatures, it’s called a silent epidemic where the problem is constant but it is not talked widely,” shared Dr. Nora.

She added: “The ratio of women to men that walked into my clinic to seek for professional help is 10:2 and this is because women has more health-seeking tendencies due to many live events such as pregnancy, menstruation and giving birth.”

According to Dr. Nora, there are three reasons for men’s reluctance to seek for help. Firstly, men are inclined to the ideal masculinity where men refuse to show a hint of pain and suffering. Hence, men refuse to seek for help especially with problems regarding mental health. This was also supported and proven in theories and literatures.

Secondly, men conformed to their socially prescribed roles that is men are expected to be strong, resilient and are able to solve problems by themselves. As these behaviour prolonged, health-seeking tendencies among men are low.

Lastly, when all of these are combined, men are prone to escaping behaviour which means that they look for other places to relieve their problems including smoking, substance abuse or gaming.

Escaping behaviour can lead to an addiction. For example, in gaming there is a reward system that will arouse pleasure. As this continues, it will be a continuous cycle called addiction.

Working in a men-centric environment, Mr. Izudin displayed his agreement on Dr. Nora’s points adding that, like women, men have feelings as well.

Quoting Dr. Nora, “Men and women have feelings. They have the same basic and emotional needs but they display their feelings differently.”

It is uncommon for men to openly tell people “I’m sad” or “I’m depressed”. Instead, they may deflect and say “I have some problems at work.”

According to Mr. Hanafi, due to the social stigma surrounding men of their strength and resilience, men sometimes do not realise that they became a victim of violence.

“Ever since the movement control order (MCO) took place, there was not only a rise in domestic abuse cases among women but men as well and this has been increasing in the past few years,” Mr. Hanafi pointed out, quoting references from Department of Statistics.

He added: “Even though there is a constant rise in domestic abuse cases towards men, men still opt to refuse counselling services or seek help on household matters as they believe they should solve problems by themselves as the head and leader of the family.”

However, gender is not the only reason contributing to this issue but the environment plays an important factor as well, Mr. Izudin shared.

“Usually, we teach little boys not to cry even when they fall from a bike but we teach little girls that it is okay to cry, that’s part of the reason for this issue,” Mr. Izudin further said.

“The environment, past experiences and how they are being raised in is a vital factor. If they often watched or being displayed violence, it is without doubt that they will be prone to aggressiveness to solve problems and display emotions instead of talking and venting,” he added.

In regards to aggressiveness, Dr. Nora said that the percentage of suicidal men are more significant as compared to women but women display a higher percentage of suicidal behaviour.

However, suicide rates are higher in men as they often use more aggressive methods with higher determination.

She added: “Their determination is high because they suppressed their small sadness for an extensive period until they hear a voice that brings them closer to suicide.”

“With men who are suffering with mental health problems, we have to look for the early symptoms. Since they won’t outright tell people their feelings, these symptoms are often physical such as constant complains that they are in pain,” Dr. Nora shared.

Those with families or friends who are suffering from mental health problems can contact the Malaysian Department of Social Welfare through the Talian Nur Hotline 15999.

This discussion is the 15th installation of the Talkathon Series in conjunction with IIUM Global Mental Health Month Programme (IIUM GMHMP) 2020 held in October annually by the Counselling and Career Services Centre (CCSC), IIUM.

The sharing session was live on Google Meet and Facebook Live with over 90 participants from among students and lecturers. Those who are interested in other mental health programmes can browse through their Instagram account at @gmhmp2020***

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