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Men from many non-majority backgrounds seek psychological help even less frequently than other men. Vogel et al. (2011) says that Asian American, African American, and Latino American men are all less perceptive to help seeking than European American. Researchers further say that one gender salient variable that has of late been established as a barrier to help seeking that is more proximal to attitudes toward counseling is stigma (Vogel et al., 2011). Self-stigma should an important predictor of help seeking for men due to the dominant gender role expectations for men. It is viewed that men should be able to solve their own problems, being independent and to be in control of their emotions (Vogel et al., 2011). Greater endorsement of and difficulties with male gender role is related to increased self stigma, which in turn leads to less positive attitudes toward help seeking. According to Vogel et al. (2011) conformity to dominant masculine norms and stigma has both been suggested as key factors in explaining gender and racial or ethnic disparities.
Masculine norms, self-stigma, and help-seeking attitudes of men
The role of stigma in the help-seeking process in men of diverse backgrounds varies across cultural groups. Vogel et al. (2011) says that stigma is dependent on social and cultural contexts and is determined by different cultural norms. They further noted that stigma has been found to be an impediment to psychological help seeking differently from minority and nonminority populations (Vogel et al., 2011). It is important to note that individuals from cultural groups who endorse more collective orientations may face greater self stigma associated with help seeking services. Vogel et al. (2011) mentioned that self stigma varies between cultural groups. This implies that self stigma plays a big role in the help seeking process for men from different racial and ethnic groups. Critically studying the relationships among masculine norms, self stigma, and attitudes across men from different racial backgrounds should help scholars to determine how these factors operate for men (Vogel et al., 2011).
In his studies, Blake (2008) indicated that there are empirical connections between being male and less likelihood of seeking help, greater stigma and ultimately lower rates of seeking professional psychological help for emotional problems. There are also relations between gender-related variables for example male gender role stress, conformity to male role norms and traditional masculinity ideology (Blake, 2008). It has been noted that men’s attitudes towards help seeking posits intermediary mechanisms to account for the relationship between masculinity and help seeking psychological problems. Blake (2008) mentioned that “self-stigma and comfort with distress disclosure act as mediators of the relationship between male gender-role conflict and attitudes towards seeking help mediated willingness to seek help”(p. 4)
The relationship between male gender role conflict and willingness to seek counselling would be indirectly mediated by comfort with disclosing distressing information, self stigma, and attitudes towards seeking help (Blake, 2008). In this context, stigma has predicted reluctance to seek counselling services in general and lower attitudes towards seeking counselling specifically (Schachner, 2008). Schachner argued that stigma is a very significant factor for an African American population who see mental health concerns as more dangerous than other ethnic groups (2008). Stigma mediated between cultural values and attitudes towards help seeking for Asian American male college students. According to Schachner (2008), stigma has also been linked to racial identity factors, as higher levels of Africentrism were associated with greater perceived stigma about counseling and greater self concealment. Self stigma is the reduction of an individual’s self esteem or self worth caused by the individual self blaming of seeing oneself as socially unacceptable (Schachner, 2008).
Previous research on masculinity and its links to men’s help seeking have focused on the avoidance factors of seeking help. McKelley (2008) noted that men value the support they get from their network of friends, family members and colleagues. There are however negative and harmful consequences of masculinity and their relationship to seeking help. McKelley (2008) mentioned that “men who adhere to traditional notions of masculinity tend to have more negative attitudes towards seeking help and are more likely to rate a practitioner negative on attractiveness, expertness and trustworthiness” (p. 102). He further says that men who conformed more to traditional masculine norms were more likely to attribute stigma to a man in a help-seeking relationship than men who conformed less to those norms. McKelley (2008) also says that men scoring higher on a measure of self-stigma predicted more negative attitudes toward and less intent to seek psychological help.
Men’s help seeking is a product of masculine gender socialization. Addis & Mahalik (2003) noted that the negative consequences for men are well being of adopting particular masculinity ideologies. Studies indicate that helping seeking is a complex and dynamic process involving help seekers, help providers, types of help requested and the situations in which help is sought (Addis & Mahalik, 2003). In men the both effects of gender socialization and the process of constructing masculinity in particular help-seeking contexts are moderated by basic social psychological processes. Addis & Mahalik (2003) further say that “what individual men perceive as central to the self is a function of both dominant masculinity norms and the way masculinity is constructed in specific help-seeking contexts” (p. 6). Variations in men’s seeking help is a function of both between person variation in the norms to which individual men conform and within person variation in the ways men may do masculinity when life problems arise (Addis & Mahalik, 2003).
Men experience barriers to seeking help when they feel that other men in their social networks may be disparaging the process. Addis & Mahalik (2003) also says that “a man is least likely to seek help for problems that he sees as unusual especially when he feels them as central to his identity” (p. 7). In addition, he is also unlikely to seek help if groups of men who are important to him endorse norms of self-reliance or other norms that suggest his problem as non-normative (Addis & Mahalik, 2003).
Vogel et al. (2011) found out that “self-stigma was an important mediator between masculine norms and attitudes towards seeking help supports various studies in which self-stigma was fundamental mediator in the help-seeking process” (p. 375). For most men, masculinity and self stigma is a partial mediator and endorsement of dominant masculine ideals and thus it has fundamental direct effect on attitudes. Men of color are likely to be marginalized from the hegemonic European American culture a process which leads them to build resiliency and to identify less with certain dominant cultural views of masculinity. Vogel et al. (2011) indicated that “African American men’s view of masculinity is different in some aspects from the dominant culture’s view and therefore based on the recent findings, they less likely to stigmatizing perceptions associated with seeking help” (p. 376).
For Asian American men unlike other ethnic groups, self stigma fully mediates the effects of masculine norms on attitudes. Vogel et al. (2011) indicated that although the Asian American men may have internalized the dominant masculine role as self stigma to a lesser degree than European American men, the degree to which they internalize it fully accounted for the association between masculine norms and help seeking attitudes. Scholars researched that many Asian and Asian American men place greater importance on ensuring social harmony and not shaming one’s family hence this motivation may serve as a powerful source of shame or self-stigma around the decision to seek help. Vogel et al. (2011) established that self stigma is fundamental in the decision to seek help by extending it to understand how masculine norms play a role in help-seeking attitudes for men from different backgrounds.
Experiences with discrimination and stigma influences how men adoption to dominant gender role norms is linked with the stigma associated with help seeking (Vogel et al., 2011). In their studies they however asserted that exposure to multiple stigmas could compound the effects of self-stigma and lead to greater endorsement of dominant masculine roles. Vogel et al. (2011) also says that the importance of interdependence, social harmony, and saving face for one’s family may all serve to magnify the influence of self-stigma around seeking help. Moreover, several researchers have discussed the central role of aspects of self-stigma, such as personal shame in the help-seeking process of individuals from collectivist cultures (Vogel et al., 2011).
Scherer in his research suggested that a component of stigma that may be particularly potent inhibitor of help-seeking is beliefs of personal responsibility for mental health problems (Scherer, 2009). He thus says that the effect of self- stigma on help seeking is mediated by attribution of controllability. He further emphasized that personal responsibility, if conceptualized as a component of stigma, is the only aspect of stigma that predicts less favorable attitudes towards help seeking. Scherer (2009) also suggested that “public stigma and internalized negative beliefs about one’s own mental symptoms in the form of self-stigma have been theorized to interact with each other to negatively impact individuals with mental difficulties” (p. 18).
Altmaier & Hansen (2011) says that there is a need to develop preventive interventions that describe the positive power of self disclosure and the origins of stigma about men seeking help. Men should therefore be encouraged to seek help for knowing someone who had sought help was related to more positive expectations. Harper & Harris (2010) noted that clinicians need to be aware of how masculinity scripts that affect men’s help seeking. On the other hand men should understand that from a socialization perspective, many of the tasks associated with help seeking are at odds with masculinity (Harper & Harris, 2010). Help seeking does not imply dependence, vulnerability or even submission to someone with more power and if men succumb to illnesses they may be threatened by feelings of helplessness and loss of power (Harper & Harris, 2010). Despite all the challenges faced by men there is a need to carry out contextual changes to help seeking environments such as providing greater opportunities for reciprocity, increasing the perception of self-stigma for particular problems and training professional helpers to deal with masculine men (Harper & Harris, 2010).
In conclusion, the body of research that has been reviewed in relation with self stigma and help seeking in men identified significant element of dealing with masculinity. This implies that specialists dealing with such masculine men need to understand their socialization and make efforts to foresee men’s possible ambivalence to seeking help. It may be difficult to change masculine men to fit the help seeking services but it is possible to change the services to fit men’s masculinity. The two approaches should depend greatly on simplifications about men and masculinity. In this context, we can say that men’s help seeking and self-stigma is best understood as a function of the way masculinity conducts with the social psychology of giving and receiving help.