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Making it easier for young men to ask for help

Arrière-plan

May 1, 2024 Well-being

Parents

Par Sandrine Aumont, Stéphane Thouin

Psychosocial workers

Studies have shown that men have more difficulty in seeking help. This is not a general statement, but demonstrates a significant group of individuals with inherent difficulties in this process.

By better understanding social norms, the pitfalls to avoid, and the attitudes to adopt when men ask for help, could we make things easier for young men? 

In the face of adversity, each person reacts differently, influenced by their experience, personality, and environment. 

Social norms 

Asking for help is not an easy task for many people. For many men, this is even more the case. Not so much out of pride, but because of the social norms that have been strongly instilled. 

The idea that " boys don't cry" has left its mark on many people's upbringing. This mentality contributes to the creation of a façade of invulnerability. This makes it difficult for some men to verbalize their emotions and seek help. These actions run counter to the norms of masculinity, which advocate attitudes such as concealing one's private life, displaying strength and pride, maintaining control, persisting indefinitely, being independent, and denying all forms of pain. 

The conception of masculinity largely shapes men's reluctance to seek help, pushing them to minimize their pain to the point of sometimes “self-soothing.”

Paradoxical expectations 

The expectations associated with asking for help are at odds with the code of masculinity. For example, seeking help requires sharing aspects of one's private life, expressing emotions, introspection, and dealing with interpersonal conflicts.  

These expectations run counter to the principles of the masculine code, which emphasize discretion, absence of vulnerability and constant action while avoiding conflict. Under these conditions, some men may experience a clash of values, which may discourage them from asking for help. 

Pitfalls to avoid 

When it comes to supporting a young man in his request for help, there are a few pitfalls to avoid, ensuring effective and respectful support. 

  • Ask questions such as “Why didn't you come to me to talk to me about it before?”, “Why didn't you do what you had to do?” etc.  

These types of questions cause more shame, guilt, and a defensive reaction. They may reinforce negative feelings rather than create an open and understanding space to discuss issues. 

  • Anger is not a good thing since it is a form of violence. 

Anger is a normal, healthy human emotion that needs to be expressed. It is important to distinguish between anger as an emotion and aggression as violent behavior. Anger in and of itself is not necessarily negative. It can be a natural reaction to stressful, frustrating or unfair situations. 

However, if you are dealing with anger and it is causing discomfort or worry, it is important to share this in a respectful manner. Open communication is crucial in these situations.   

  • Giving advice such as “You could try this,” “I think this could help,” “This often works for me, try it,” etc. 

Offering advice can be a positive step when done in a solicited manner and with caring intent. However, it is essential to pay attention to how this advice is presented, as otherwise it could be perceived as judgmental. 

Attitudes to adopt 

When a young man decides to seek help, your attitude can make a positive difference. 

  • Acknowledging that they may have tried everything on their own to solve their problems before seeking help.  

Fostering a culture where asking for help is seen as a positive and courageous step can help break down the stigma associated with the process. 

No matter who is in front of you, it is important to emphasize that seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but rather a demonstration of strength and courage. 

Admitting that you need help and being willing to accept support from others requires emotional openness, which, as mentioned earlier, can be difficult for men given traditional social norms related to masculinity. 

  • See through the initial anger so that you can detect the distress that lies within it.  

Some young men may express their distress through emotions such as anger, sometimes accompanied by shame. It is helpful to let this come out, as it is a natural reaction.  

Open communication, taking a step back, acknowledging triggers and then finding solutions are steps that make it easier to deal with anger constructively. 

  • Create an environment where the young man can accept help without compromising his dignity.  

Opening a dialogue to establish the steps to be taken allows you to regain power over the situation. Maintaining control is a fundamental component of the code of masculinity, so this attitude is particularly helpful in facilitating a man's request for help. 

A constructive approach would be to ask open-ended questions such as “Can you talk to me about what happened?” or “What stopped you from talking about it earlier?” or “Is there anything I can do to support you?” 

Your teen's future 

Hopefully, more teens will feel free to seek help when they need it, whether from friends, family, or mental health professionals. Recognizing the diversity of male experiences and promoting positive, inclusive masculinity are important steps towards creating an environment where tomorrow's men feel supported in their emotional well-being.

Resources

Health and well-being for men Anger management

References (in french) 

Masculinités et société, Perceptions des hommes québécois de leurs besoins psychosociaux et de santé ainsi que de leur rapport aux services  
Pôle d’expertise et de recherche en santé et bien-être des hommes, Coffre à outils pour hommes
Regroupement de la valorisation de la paternité, Les paradoxes et biais qui marque l’intervention auprès des hommes