There has been increasing talk about mental health, which is great overall. However, there still seems to be some sort of gender bias with regards to coping with emotions and therefore, mental health. A new survey by advertising agency BBH Singapore has found that 7 in 10 in Singapore believe that there is an expectation for men to be more emotionally resilient than women. Because of this expectation, men are forced to internalise their mental health struggles with the survey recording the top reason why men in Singapore will not seek professional help for their mental health is because they’ve “learnt to deal with it” (53.2%).
Conducted in the run-up to International Men’s Day on 19th November, the survey is aimed at understanding barriers around men seeking help for mental health issues. The agency polled 1,000 respondents, 542 men and 458 women, between the ages 16 – 54 and above.
A key finding was that the top reason why men in Singapore will not seek help for their mental health is because they’ve “learnt to deal with it” (53.2%). This attitude is most visible amongst the younger age group of 16-24 where 73.3% cite “learn to deal with it” as their reason for not wanting to seek help. This stands in stark contrast to the top reason why women in Singapore will not seek help for their mental health which is “getting help is too costly” (59.5%).
The survey also found that men (27%) are much more likely than women (19.9%) to think that “asking for help will make me lose respect from my peers”.
For men who are experiencing mental health challenges, this poses an additional layer of stigma to overcome, on top of the existent stigma surrounding mental illness and getting help for one’s mental health.
Commenting on the findings of the survey, Parandaman T., Chartered Forensic Psychologist, Principal Paediatric Forensic Psychologist at Psych Connect, said: “The findings suggest that gender plays a role in influencing mental illness stigma in Singapore. It also suggests to a certain extent lowered mental health literacy which could contribute to holding negative views towards those with mental illness.”
Traditionally masculinity evokes certain expressions and demonstrations of behaviours such as self-reliance and restrictions in certain behaviours such as crying. This may lead to difficulty in expressing challenging emotions as it assigns weakness and disempowerment.”
– Parandaman T., Chartered Forensic Psychologist, Principal Paediatric Forensic Psychologist at Psych Connect
In response to the findings of the survey, BBH has partnered with social organisation Calm Collective Asia and Freeflow Productions, a film production house, to launch a campaign that seeks to dispel outdated societal pressures around men’s mental health and normalise seeking help. Timed to be launched on International Men’s Day, the campaign titled “Deal With It” will comprise a 95-second film along with social media amplification.
Commenting on the campaign, Sabrina Ooi, Co-founder and CEO of Calm Collective Asia, said: “Calm Collective was founded in response to losing two dear male friends to suicide. This jolted us to break the stigma and to normalise mental health conversations in Asia, and amongst men. The survey findings were especially interesting for us, though not surprising. We are culturally and socially conditioned to place unrealistic expectations on men. For instance, men are told from a young age that “boys don’t cry” and being emotional only makes them look weak. They’re expected to appear strong, stoic and “emotionally resilient”. But emotional resilience is not about repressing one’s emotions, but by embracing them fully and turning to support systems for help. This needs to stop – men need to stop questioning themselves and bottling up their challenges if they are struggling mentally, else it will be too late.”
The campaign film questions the effectiveness of self-talk/self-therapy. The film features a young man as he engages in conversation with his therapist behind the camera. But as the dialogue continues, we begin to realise the reality of his situation – that it was all just his self-talk. It ends with him still visibly distraught but forcing himself to hold it together “like a man”. It is clear his issues remain unresolved, leading the viewer to realise the limitations and futility of self-talk or self-therapy, and the unnecessary isolation men experience because of outdated societal expectations to be emotionally strong.
Gaston Soto, Creative Director, BBH Singapore said: “There’s a lot of stigma around acknowledging mental health issues. Research shows that this habit of brushing off symptoms is even more evident in men who have been indoctrinated by a patriarchal society to deal with everything “like a man”. This thought-provoking film aims to shed light on this issue, suggesting that the best way to “deal with it” is by asking for help. And when better than International Men’s Day to talk about this. This project means a lot to me and I’m very thankful for our partnership with Calm Collective to make a little difference in Singapore society”
Images and graphs: BBH Singapore and Calm Collective