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Today Dr. Bridget Cooper (Dr. B) and I talk about gender issues in mental health and anxiety recovery.  There are clearly differences between men and women and how we talk about mental health, think about mental health, and approach solving mental health problems like the anxiety disorders we’re talking about all the time.

Men and women have the same needs in terms of mental health and emotional well-being, but we are clearly different in the way we express these needs and approach getting them met. Some of these differences develop at an early age as men and women take different paths into these topics.  Women tend to be socialized in settings where sitting and talking about mental and emotional issues is a regular thing. Men tend to hold those issues closer to the vest as we are socialized in settings where those discussions can only begin to take place when there are other activities and contexts to “soften the blow”.  Women will often just sit and talk about how they feel.  Men may not want to do that until they are in a “safe” setting that involves shared experiences (sporting events, having a few beers, building things together, etc.).
While we might all experience these problems and suffer equally, the way we focus on our mental and emotional health can be quite different.  While women are more likely to look at interdependence and communication as part of the solution, men are more likely to try to “take control” by remaining quiet in an effort to “own their shit” and take responsibility for every aspect of the situation.  Men are often taught that speaking openly and seeking help indicates and abdication of personal responsibility.  It can often be seen as weak, or indicative of failure.
Men are often taught that feeling emotions or fear is failure. Women tend to be more willing to accept that humans will feel things, but are often misguided in thinking that they will not be able to handle it when they do.  When women immerse themselves in their feelings (because it is acceptable to do so), the experience can feel overwhelmed without having the “bravado skills” that men naturally develop over time.
Men will often refuse to overtly acknowledge that they are existing in a social system, where they do have an impact on others.  They will suffer silently in the feeling that they are letting the world down or disappointing the people they love. Women not only acknowledge the system, but take an inordinate amount of responsibility for creating or destroying the happiness of others that are also in the system with them.   Why do we do this to ourselves!
It gets worse.  While women are socialized to openly show and discuss emotions,  they can often be maligned for being “too much” or “too emotional”.  The valuable emotional communication skills that women develop can often be used as weapons against them.
Dr. B makes an excellent observations about emotions that men and women have been “approved for”.  While it is permissible for women to express emotions like fear or sadness, they are not “approved” to express anger.  Men face the opposite, where being angry is OK but showing fear or sadness is not. This presents yet another gender-based obstacle when dealing with mental health or emotional issues.
We ended our discussion examining the differences between men and women in the mental and emotional health “helping” roles online. What made me as a man bold enough to take my degree in Architecture and my experience in running technology companies, then declare myself a helper in the mental health space? Compare that to the women that tend to only take that step once formally credentialed and recognized at an expert level.  This leads us to a discussion about how women tend to be more worried about “doing recovery wrong” or making mistakes, while men seem to be a bit more haphazard and less detail oriented in the recovery process.
Clearly, the way we define our roles as men and women and the way we are socialized into those roles make a difference in the way men and women approach mental health and emotional issues.  Given that in the end we are all humans with the same emotional and mental health needs and problems, we would do well to learn lessons on how to break down some of the gender based issues that can hold us back in recovery.
CAVEAT: Dr. B and I are both aware that we are coming at this discussion from a cisgendered perspective.  I will be having this discussion again in the future with people that can clearly represent LGBTQ and gender-fluid points of view.  We all matter, and we all deserve to be heard.
To find Dr. B online, visit https://drbridgetcooper.com or find her on Facebook or Instagram.

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Drew

Drew

Founder and host of The Anxious Truth Podcast. Former anxiety disorder sufferer. Now fully recovered and dedicated to providing no-nonsense, straight-forward, actionable advice on how to overcome anxiety problems.