11 Tips for Men and Their Mental Health

We’re not sure exactly where the myth “Real men don’t cry” came from, but it’s exactly that: A myth. And it’s a dangerous one that’s taken root in our society, leading men to believe that the only acceptable way to deal with emotions is to pretend as if they don’t exist.

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In 2023, Cleveland Clinic’s national MENtion It® survey found that 44% of men believe they live a healthy lifestyle, but don’t prioritize their mental health. A whopping 65% of men said they hesitate to seek professional help for mental health concerns like stress, anxiety and depression.

“Pretending our issues don’t exist is unhealthy,” says psychologist Adam Borland, PsyD. “It takes real strength and courage to look in the mirror and say, I’m dealing with some issues, and I want to figure them out.”

Ready to make your mental health a priority? Dr. Borland delves deeper into the outdated stigma that can keep men from seeking care — and what you can do to put your mental health at the top of your to-do list, both on your own and with a therapist.

Why men struggle with mental health

Men have historically been discouraged from seeking mental health support — and even from just acknowledging that they might benefit from it.

“Throughout the generations, we’ve been told that seeking help is a sign of weakness,” Dr. Borland says. “Men are told that we’re supposed to deal with our issues and keep them internalized. We’re told that talking about how you’re feeling is more of a feminine trait.”

The result is that men’s mental health concerns go untreated, leading to issues like chronic stress and undiagnosed anxiety and depression.

In her 2020 study “Males and Mental Health Stigma,” Benita Chatmon PhD, RN, CNE, writes, “American men are subjected to a culture where the standards of masculinity are literally killing them.” Though rates of anxiety and depression are higher in women, men are four times more likely to die by suicide.

Ignoring your mental health can also lead to:

But Dr. Borland says there’s hope for the future — starting with the present.

“Thankfully, the stigma seems to be changing,” he continues. “I see it in my practice every day across all age groups, nationalities, cultures — you name it: Men are finally coming to therapy.”

11 tips for men to take care of their mental health

If you’re a man who’s reading this, you’ve already taken a huge step in caring for your mental health: By acknowledging it your mental health.

Dr. Borland shares ways to tend to your mental health, whether you’re new to the whole feeling-your-feelings thing or just ready to go deeper.

1. Validate your emotions

If you grew up hearing that boys don’t cry or that feelings are just for girls, it can be really, really hard to feel entitled to the breadth and depth of the human experience. But you’re a living, breathing, feeling person, and you have the emotions of one, too.

“We’re not robots,” Dr. Borland points out (and heck, even Wall-E had feelings!) “The idea of getting through the day on autopilot, without ever attending to how you’re feeling, is an unhealthy one. It leads to burnout and unhappiness.”

Though it seems basic, you might find it helpful to spend some time learning more about emotions in a very general sense. From there, you can work on identifying yours as you feel them — and accepting them as valid.

Why does that matter? One study found that people who perceive certain feelings (like sadness or anger) as “negative” tend to have higher rates of anxiety and depression versus people who see a range of emotions as healthy and appropriate.

“That’’s where it becomes really important for men to learn to express these types of thoughts rather than keeping them internalized,” Dr. Borland states.

2. Recognize the symptoms

You may not always realize when you’re struggling, especially if you’re not accustomed to caring for your mental health. But these concerns don’t always present as very straightforward feelings of sadness or stress.

Look for other signs, like:

  • Changes in your sleep schedule and quality of sleep.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Feelings of restlessness.
  • Fluctuating energy levels.
  • Increased or decreased appetite.

And don’t discount major changes in mood.

“Men often present with more anger, irritability and controlling behavior when they’re feeling depressed or anxious,” Dr. Borland clarifies. “That can affect the family dynamic in a potentially traumatic way.”

3. Write about it

You don’t have to have Hemingway-level skills to write about how you’re feeling. Journaling is a private act — just for you, with no judgment or grading (which means no need for perfect spelling or punctuation or even complete sentences!).

“Writing can be a healthy, therapeutic outlet, especially for people who are just learning to tap into their emotional state,” Dr. Borland suggests. “Sometimes, putting it down on paper can be very freeing.”

Some of history’s most famously talented men have sung the praises of journaling, including inventor Thomas Edison, physicist Albert Einstein, naturalist Charles Darwin and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Even filmmaker George Lucas and comedian Larry David say they’re never without a notebook for keeping track of their thoughts.

If you’re not sure where to start, try keeping a gratitude journal. The benefits are twofold: Focusing on the good things in your life can help improve your outlook, and you’ll get comfortable with the act of journaling.

4. Identify your support system

As the poet John Donne once wrote, “No man is an island.” To figure out who your sources of emotional support are, ask yourself, Who do you feel open to talking to? Who would be there for you?

If you feel like you couldn’t possibly broach the topic of mental health with your friends, Dr. Borland encourages you to reframe those thoughts.

“I remind men that when they share with other male friends, they’re giving those friends a gift,” he says. “They’re opening up the lines of communication and saying, This is something we can talk about.”

Studies of male friendships show that men often have smaller social circles and fewer perceived sources of emotional support than women do. But Dr. Borland adds that sometimes all it takes is for one person to open the door to these conversations.

“It’s not going to change overnight,” he acknowledges, “but the more that men become comfortable opening up, the more they’re able to recognize that doing so isn’t a weakness. It’s actually a strength.”

5. Make time for your friendships

Let’s stick with the theme of friendship for a moment: Are you carving out time for it? Fostering relationships is key to building a strong support system.

“Men often mention a poor lack of work/life balance,” Dr. Borland notes. “You prioritize work and get home after a long day to tend to family dynamics, and then, before you know it, it’s time to go to bed and start the day over again.”

But making time for friendship matters. Whether you find activities to do together, like working on a shared project or going for a run, or you’re just hanging out in your backyard while your kids play, spending time with friends is a crucial element of your mental health and well-being.

“This isn’t a selfish use of your time,” Dr. Borland reassures. “It can take some planning, given everyone’s busy schedules and responsibilities, but it’s important to make the most of the time you have with your friends, understanding that it might be limited.”

Studies show that people who have friends they feel they can confide in are more satisfied with their lives and less likely to experience depression. It makes sense, right? The stronger your friendships, the more comfortable you can feel turning to your friends in times of need.

6. Identify unhealthy coping mechanisms

Think about the habits you turn to when you’re feeling stressed or sad. Maybe you start spending a ton of time at work, or you put your all into a project at home, or you get more than a little obsessive about your favorite sports team.

“We often see men try to escape from what’s bothering them by throwing themselves into something else to an unhealthy level,” Dr. Borland shares. “This is a way of trying to ignore whatever problems they’re having.”

He urges you to watch for a rise in risky behaviors and signs of addictive behaviors — like, say, drinking more than usual or spending every spare moment playing video games. Other worrisome behaviors include:

If your unhealthy coping mechanisms are ones that you feel are within your control, work on scaling them back and replacing them with healthier habits. But you may not be able to put an end to these behaviors on your own, especially if you’re dealing with an addiction.

But recognizing and acknowledging the problem is the first step. To get started, speak with a healthcare provider for recommendations, or look for a therapist who can help. You can also call or text 988, known as the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, from anywhere in the U.S. to be connected to professionals who can help you work through your concerns and figure out next steps.

7. Embrace healthy hobbies

Whatever happened to hobbies?! As a kid, you probably had lots of them: Playing T-ball, learning about astronomy, drawing pictures of dinosaurs, participating in Boy Scouts… But as you got older, those activities may have fallen by the wayside as your attention turned to the demands of adulthood.

But hobbies can help give your brain a break from the stressors of everyday life while allowing you to tap into feelings of creativity and self-expression. In 2023, a study of more than 93,000 people found that engaging in a hobby was associated with fewer symptoms of depression and greater overall happiness.

“During the pandemic, I worked with a lot of male patients to find healthy interests that they weren’t even aware of, or things they hadn’t done in years,” Dr. Borland recounts. “There are tons of things that people are interested in that they don’t necessarily allow themselves the time to pursue. But we have to give ourselves permission to do them.”

Consider this your permission slip. Haven’t picked up your guitar in a decade? Tune it up and give it a pluck. Want to try woodworking? Find a class near you and give it a whirl. Have a backyard full of feathered friends? Buy a book and binoculars and become a beginner birdwatcher. The possibilities are endless!

8. Harness your breath

Breathwork can help move your body into a more relaxed and stress-free state. And if you’re thinking that sounds a little too woo-woo for you, hold on juuuust a second.

Imagine that your body is a house, and your breath is its foundation, keeping everything else stabilized. Focusing on your breath, then, helps prevent and even repair cracks in the foundation. This provides you with the support you need to remain healthy and structurally sound. Critical, right?

Breathwork is also the basis of meditation, a practice that involves focusing or clearing your mind using a combination of mental and physical techniques.

“I’m a big proponent of daily deep breathing or meditation,” Dr. Borland shares. “I recommend using an app or finding videos that you like online, especially if you’re new to these practices.”

9. Move your body

When your mental health is down in the dumps, sometimes, the last thing you want to do is work up a sweat. But it’s one of the best things you can do for your body and mind.

Exercise can help keep the blues at bay by boosting endorphins, relieving pain and reducing stress. It’s even considered an effective treatment for depression — and it may be a preventive measure, too. In 2019, a large study showed that physical activity is associated with a lower risk of depression.

“One thing I always prioritize with my patients is making sure they carve out time for exercise, whether that’s going to the gym or doing something at home,” Dr. Borland says. “It’s really important to break a sweat, get your heart pumping and have a healthy physical outlet for stress and anxiety.”

10. Tend to your physical health

Yes, this one is related to physical activity, but we want to take it a step further than movement. Untreated mental health issues can quickly turn into a variety of physical health issues, too.

“When men don’t cope with their mental health issues, they often turn to an unhealthy diet and may not get enough exercise, which can lead to weight gain,“ Dr. Borland adds. “We also know that chronic stress can have serious negative effects on the immune system.”

On the other hand, caring for your physical health, like through a healthy diet and regular exercise, can help you keep your mind well. And don’t forget about going to the doctor, which is a crucial element of maintaining your health.

“Men aren’t always very good at following up with their primary care doctors, so health concerns and conditions may go overlooked,” Dr. Borland warns.

In fact, a 2023 survey by Cleveland Clinic found that a whopping 44% of American men don’t get an annual physical. These yearly wellness exams are an opportunity to build a rapport with your doctor and uncover hidden health issues that need your attention — before they escalate into problems.

Ready to incorporate an annual physical into your wellness routine? Here’s what to expect at a health checkup, including topics you may want to discuss with your provider.

11. Seek professional support

We’ve already discussed why you need a strong support system and people you feel comfortable having deep conversations with — but your friends and family shouldn’t double as your therapist. You deserve to talk to someone who has the time, energy and capacity to listen to what you’re going through and help you manage it.

If you’re struggling with feelings related to the stigma associated with going to therapy, or if you’re just feeling nervous and unsure about what to expect, let us try to ease your mind a little.

“It’s so important for men to have a place to come and process what they’re experiencing,” Dr. Borland stresses. “When I meet with a new patient, I remind them that there’s no pressure and no expectations. I ask them to let me guide the session, but we’re going to take it at their speed and see where it takes us.”

Worried that you’ll be asked to lie back on a couch and tap into all your deepest, darkest emotions? Don’t be fooled by distorted, exaggerated pop culture depictions of what therapy is really like.

“Especially among men, there’s a misconception that therapy is very touchy-feely and that we’re going to get into all sorts of deep, emotional, childhood-related stuff,” Dr. Borland says. “In reality, my job is to create a safe place for you to talk about whatever is on your mind. That’s it.”

Imagine how freeing it would feel to be able to tell someone exactly what you’re thinking. That’s what therapy can provide.

“Men in particular are often surprised to experience a sense of relief after their first session,” Dr. Borland says. “They’ll tell me, I was so anxious about coming to this appointment, but you know what? That wasn’t bad at all!

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