Men and Treatment for Mental Health and Eating Disorders

Contrary to popular belief, male and transmasculine people need mental health and eating disorder treatment too. Culturally speaking, in the US and elsewhere, massive barriers often remain that often prevent men from seeking the treatment they need.

Men Struggle with Mental Health, Too

Many males have mental health struggles. The National Institute of Mental Health tells us that while men and women are affected by mental health problems, “men with mental illnesses are also less likely to have received mental health treatment than women in the past year.”

NIMH also explains that “while mental illnesses affect both men and women, the prevalence of mental illnesses in men is often lower than women.” Where this statistic gets sticky is that men seem to report their mental health struggles less than women do. And this is even more commonly the case with eating disorders.

There is strong evidence to suggest that the reported incidence rate of mental health in men is artificially low. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention shares several alarming—and telling—statistics:

Males are 3.88x more likely to commit suicide than females in western countries.

The rate of suicide is highest in middle-aged white men.

At Galen Hope, where I lead the newly-established eating disorder and mental health treatment program for males, we are concerned about traditional masculine stereotypes and how they can manifest as incongruent with the idea of seeking mental health services.

Self-reliance is valued highly as a male, especially within western cultures. On a cultural standpoint, the United States’ emphasis on the “individual” can also play negatively on one’s desire to seek help on a conscious/subconscious level. To be stoic can be connected to positive societal traits such as: fortitude and acceptance, but there is more to its definition. The idea of being stoic: “endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complaint (Oxford Dictionary),” can serve as a direct contrast towards seeking professional help. Not displaying one’s feelings and maintaining a stance of unmovable self-reliance can turn into self-medication/substance abuse. According to SAMHSA (2022) substance abuse is generally more prevalent in males than females.

This breakdown due to perception of what constitutes “masculinity” is also a barrier for the seeking of eating disorder treatment. Dr. Amy Boyers, Galen Hope’s founder and President, says “there can be a real rigidity around food that males struggle to let go of, and it can be tied into fitness/health a lot. Questions about dieting and exercise activities can be telling if disordered eating is a factor”

Everyone needs to feel safe and secure

There can be a perception among men that even having feelings at all is somehow weak. This is perpetuated in destructive language, like men telling men to “man up” at the first sign of emotion.  As a result, as Dr. Boyers puts it, “anger and aggression are often the “go to” emotions for males, followed by regret after the anger.”

Many men are resistant to seeking mental health and eating disorder treatment because doing so is fighting against that stigma of weakness. That’s one reason, Dr. Boyers explains, that Galen Hope established their Male Program.

In this program, men can learn the benefits of distress tolerance and of getting more comfortable with their feelings. They can become a community of men working together to support one another. Dr. Boyers says, “We have a program that encourages them to go deeper and put their feelings into words, in an all-male environment they can “go there together.”

The typical view of how a male should behave & act tends to leave out a very important component within humanity, vulnerability. At Galen Hope we encourage a holistic approach that embraces vulnerability, genuineness, and transparency within a secure and confidential environment. There is no need to keep quiet, we want you to excel and be your true self.

I wanted to share some thoughts specifically to men who may be caught in that innate struggle that males have to ask for help:

Therapy is not designed to control one’s life, but to help one navigate through areas that may feel out of control.

Seeking help does not mean you’re weak, it means that you’re strong enough to work on oneself, which can be the toughest but most rewarding decision one can make.

Why seek treatment now?

Men struggle with their mental health. We have no doubt about that, scientifically or anecdotally. We also know that men too often suffer in silence, unwilling to ask for help. Because men are less likely to seek treatment, by the time they realize they need help their conditions are often more severe. Dr. Boyers points out that this is especially true for eating disorders.

The road to wellness starts by seeking help. Today.

Built on the principles of assertive community treatment, Galen Hope is an eating disorder and mental health treatment center offering individualized treatment options that include Intensive Outpatient (IOP) and Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP). As a “Community of Integrated Wellness,” we pride ourselves in fostering a thoughtful and meaningful care experience that can guide our clients on their road to recovery and increased quality of life, regardless of diagnosis. Galen Hope currently offers separate, age-specific programming for female and transfeminine adolescents ages 12-17 and adults 18 and up, as well as a gender-specific programming for males and transmasculine individuals with eating disorders and primary mental health diagnoses.

To learn more, or to join our community for integrated wellness, please contact us today.

Belong. Heal. Grow.

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