Why do some men find it difficult to get help? There are different theories on the matter, one of which is the social model which takes into account of the different contexts in which men’s help-seeking behaviour takes place.
From a social constructionist perspective, gender is something that is actively done in specific contexts rather than a fixed property of individuals.
This thinking has some similarities with other perspectives such as feminist theory, the social model of disability and “The Surpising Power Of Social Networks”.
Addis and Mahalik, for example, “speculate that a feminist analysis of help-seeking….might highlight the way men benefit as a group by avoiding and discouraging help seeking (eg., maintaining positions of dominance by hiding apparent weaknesses)”.
The social model of disability identifies systemic barriers, negative attitudes and exclusion by society (purposely or inadvertently) that together create a context that disables people. The argument is made that an individual’s disability need not be disabling if society takes account of the disability and adjusts to include people irrespective of their differences. It can be argued that a failure to adjust our systems and beliefs to create a context that includes and helps men more effectively, contributes to men’s lower levels of help-seeking.
Another powerful perspective on the role of context is the work of James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis, authors of Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives (2009).
Fowler and Christakis put forward a their “Three Degrees of Influence” rule about human behavior, which asserts that our individual social influence stretches three degrees before it fades out.
This builds on Christakis’ earlier research which showed that obesity can spread through social networks like a virus. He went on to show that other health states and behaviors, including smoking, drinking and happiness were also passed from person to person through social networks with individuals influencing (and being influence by) their friends’ behaviour by up to three degrees (ie influencing a friend of a friend of a friend).
It is possible that men’s ability to seek help (or not) on particular issues will be influenced by the norms of their social networks.
Encouraging Help-Seeking Behaviour Among Young Men by Youth Justice in Glasgow considers the hypothesis that men seek help less because they lack the necessary social support networks within which to seek help.
“The lack of appropriate social support is a pertinent issue for vulnerable young males, as was identified in the recent literature review (Vaswani, 2011). The theory is that appropriate social support networks facilitate help-seeking by providing positive role-models and are sources of support, encouragement, advice and help (Rickwood et al, 2005; Barker, 2007).”
Thus social support has been found to significantly affect a variety of mental health and academic outcomes during adolescence (Wentzel 1998, cited in Colarossi, 2001). For example, social support has been found to be a protective factor in preventing suicide in young males (Mishara, 2005, cited in Centre for Suicide Prevention, 2007); safer sexual behaviour; lower substance use; delayed sexual activity; and reduced offending and violence (WHO & UNICEF 2000, cited in Barker, 2001).
“However inappropriate social support networks can provide the opposite effect, with teenagers experiencing emotional or behavioural difficulties often forming relationships with, and therefore seeking help from, young people experiencing similar issues (Farrand et al, 2007).
“Males are frequently found to lack positive social support networks. A survey by Deviron & Babb (2005) for the Office for National Statistics found that respondents with large social networks were 2.5 times more likely to be female. However the same study also found educational attainment and employment status also increased the size of the support network among males and females.
“In a study of male offenders Howerton et al (2007) found that an absence of stable and supportive relationships contributed to reduced help-seeking upon release. Research suggests that girls are more likely to use social support systems as a source of help than boys, who are more likely to try to manage on their own (Barker, 2007).
“The reasons behind the gender differences in social support systems can potentially be linked to emotional competence. It appears that girls replace familial support with support from their peers and increase their intention to seek help from professional sources, whereas boys are less likely to create a supportive friendship network and are reluctant to seek professional help due, in part, to lower levels of emotional competence, thereby not filling the role that the family once had.”
Taking context into account and considering a person-situation analysis provides a better understanding of men’s help-seeking behaviour and is still limited to considering specific situations like the type of problem, the type of help available and how serious and urgent the man sees the problem as being.
To read more more about different theories on men's help-seeking behaviour see our post: Understanding Why "Men Don't Get Help".