I get in trouble now and then for making assumptions about men. I say things like "Men do this..." Or, "Men think that..." And when I do, my friend Phillip calls bullshit on me. Maybe I should say, "Men my age think this or say that..." But I am a woman with a considerable amount of experience with men, though unsuccessful and mostly unhappy, this experience does form my impressions of men. I know not all men are alike, and that the men I've loved and lived with do not represent all men, but they do all seem to have something in common with men in general. I can hear Phillip groan clear from San Francisco, since he finds such generalizations absurd. And I do admit, Phillip does not fit neatly into any of my male pigeonholes. So perhaps it's time I stopped making statement about men in general and started asking questions instead. Maybe I can say, "it seems to me that the men I have known..." Or, "Is it true that men...?"
Yesterday I wrote about bipolar disorder from my point of view, as a woman with bipolar disorder, and a visitor who always has something stupid and obnoxious to say, commented that it's only women who get bipolar disorder. I cannot quote him precisely, since I almost always delete his comments as fast as he posts them--I have no time or interest in debating anyone that ignorant. But his assumption that bipolar disorder is a female thing raised a point worth exploring. It isn't that bipolar disorder is more prevalent in women than men, (it's an equal opportunity genetic crap shoot) but it is true that men are reluctant to admit to needing help. It is obvious in my group therapy experiences that it's mostly women who are seeking help. It might be that their families have forced this help upon them, and it might be that women are more comfortable than men sharing their feelings in a group, since women are more open about their feelings with their own friends and family than men seem to be--especially men my age.
These men were raised in a time of rigid roles for men and women. Men my age had trouble finding solid footing during the early years of the women's movement, and feminism is still mostly a dirty word to them. Feminism forced many changes on these men. And they did not like what seemed to them a loss of power and control. Rigid rolls are easy to understand. The shifting ground of new ways of thinking and feeling made them uncomfortable, left them off balance, and pissed off about it. Often women in an attempt to rescue a marriage that isn't keeping pace with her needs suggests couples therapy (I've done it myself) and often the answer is a loud and emphatic "NO! You're the crazy one, not me." The reasoning is usually that if a woman is unhappy in the marriage the problem is hers, not his. If therapy can "fix" her, no harm. But if therapy leads her to the conclusion that her marriage is stifling and not meeting her needs, she will probably decide to bail on the marriage. So to a lot of men, therapy ruined their marriages. The fault is not theirs, but the therapists.
So why then do so few men with bipolar disorder seek help? Why are the waiting rooms of psychiatrists around the country filled with women and not men? My theory is that for a man to admit that he is ill or needs help is still seen as weak by other men. Especially if the illness is considered a mental illness. And there is still a large part of the population that has this stereotype about men. Men are still supposed to be strong and stoic, impervious to pain of any kind--physical or emotional.
So tell me you men, what is your reason for not seeking therapeutic help? Are you without problems, without psychic pain, mentally healthy? If you have sought help, has it helped? Inquiring minds want to know.
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