Desena watches a football game with his daughter at his alum USC
Sometimes in life, I have to tell myself ‘Just make it through lunch. Just make it to the next minute.’ It's not about accomplishing everything all at once it's about making it to the next task, and if that's all you can do in that day, then you've accomplished it. Michael Desena, PsyD, ACSW
A stigma that still remains in some communities surrounding mental health has its roots in history when little was known about it and the unfortunate ways in which some sick individuals were treated. As society has advanced, some stigmas withstand progression, such as “men are inherently angry” or “feeling emotional is feeling weak.” Loma Linda University Behavioral Health clinicians address these lingering biases, with clinical therapist Michael Desena, PsyD, ACSW, challenging society to ask, “Why?”

“All behavior has a true, underlying function to it. We must dig and find out why this behavior is happening,” Desena says. “Especially in men who have been told feeling emotional makes us inferior.”

Anger, withdrawal, and societal norms

Though both men and women can have anger issues, it is common for men to get stigmatized as the angrier of the two. Clinicians say anger is a secondary emotion that often masks underlying feelings of sadness, anxiety, or loneliness. An angry person may be misplacing their emotions, but Desena says when anger becomes even more concerning when it turns into withdrawal.

“Society has countlessly told us to ‘suck it up and get over it,’” Desena says. “So, if getting over it is pushing your feelings aside, distancing yourself from loved ones, and diving into work, you are creating a deeper negative hole.”

He says masking emotions with anger stems from societal norms that sometimes make it difficult for men to share feelings of stress or sadness by being taught to be “manly” from a young age.

“Think about the movies showing a woman crying after a stressful day and then a man hitting a punching bag after the same day,” Desena said. “We need to create safe spaces for friends and family to feel their emotions, however they come to them.”

Getting to therapy is hard. Staying is easy

Statistically, men are about half as likely to seek mental health treatment. Alarmingly, studies show men died by suicide 3.8 times more than women in 2020. Desena says the fear of judgment and maintaining “manly” reputations cause men to reject the idea of therapy.

“Getting some men to come in is hard, but once they’re here, they are consistent, do well, and really try to work on themselves,” Desena says. “Whether they’re doing it for themselves or the sake of family, they are here making an effort.”

How to propose therapy to a loved one

Desena says honest conversations are essential in providing support to a loved one. He says these conversations can be awkward or ineffective if not approached correctly. The best way is to be straightforward and honest about how you are feeling.

Instead of accepting “good” as an answer to the question “How are you?,” try sharing what you need from them and how bad their behavior is feeling for you, he says.

On their mental health journey, Desena says it’s important for those close to the patient to recognize the small victories because they will appreciate someone noticing. Victories can even be simple things, including brushing their teeth, applying for a job, or walking around the block.

“Men, we have been taught to brush things off, not to cry and, ‘man-up’ our whole lives,” Desena says. “Please ‘man-up’ and seek help so we can give the next generation the tools we once lacked.”

Loma Linda University Behavioral Health offers an array of mental health services and treatments. To learn more or to begin your journey with an expert, click here.