Monday, 28 October 2013

Helping Men Heads Down Under

Helping Men is in Sydney this week to deliver a talk to The Men’s Health Forum New South Wales.
The event, called “Helping Men Get Help - the integral approach to helping men and boys get better outcomes”, is the final stage in a short tour of Australia that included four days at the National Men’s Health Gathering in Brisbane.
Glen Poole, Director of Helping Men, has delivered a series of talks during his visit including:

Glen’s visit to Australia confirms our commitment to spread awareness and understanding of the barriers men and boys face and give more professionals the skills and knowledge they need to help men and boys overcome these barriers and access help and support services.

Glen’s Helping Men Get Help talk will take place on Tuesday October 29, 6.30 pm - 8.30 pm at the Ruby Room, 1st Floor, The Castlereagh Club, 199 Castlereagh Street, Sydney. Our thanks go to Greg Millan at Men’s Health Services for making the event happen.
To find out more about how we can help you help men, click on this link now

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Five Ways #2: Understanding Why “Men Don’t Get Help”


A Jewish comedian once observed that the reason that Moses and the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years was that none of the men would ask for directions.

The joke works because it reflects a cultural meme, than men don’t ask for help because of ‘male pride’ and ‘fragile male egos’ – and just like jokes about the Irish being stupid and women being bad drivers, it as joke based on a universal stereotype not a universal truth.

When considering why men in general are less likely to access a service it can be useful to consider some of the most popular approaches used to analyze and understand sex and gender.

Some of the many different approaches to understanding gender include:
  • Sex differences
  • Gender Role Theory
  • The Social Model
  • The Psycho-Social Model
  • Integral Gender Theory

One of the most useful texts on the subject is “Men Masculinity And The Contexts Of Help Seeking” by Addis and Mahalik, who consider the merits of the sex-differences approach, gender role theory and social conditioning before proposing their own psycho-social model. 

Below we provide a short overview of each of these five approaches with links to a more detailed overview of each approach.

1. Sex Differences

In very simple terms the sex-differences approach takes the essential view that men and women are biologically different which is why they get different outcomes.
A sex-differences view of help-seeking behaviour would consider help-seeking to be a staged process whereby an individual experiences feelings of concern, translates those feelings into a conscious recognition that help is needed and then take action to get help.

For example, a survey on in Sex Differences in Psychiatric Help-Seeking found that “women translate non-specific feelings of distress into a conscious recognition that they have an emotional problem more readily than men do” an concluded that “between 10% and 28% of the excess female psychiatric morbidity measured in treatment statistics could be due to this sex difference in problem recognition.”

The psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, a leading voice on the essential differences between male and female brains, champions the benefits of the sex-differences approach with a dose of caution. He says:
“My own position is that biology and culture interact to create this sex difference. There are some people who would argue that its just biology or just culture but I think the moderate position is both are at work it’s very easy to make sweeping statements about groups of people, including the two sexes, which could easily become forms of discrimination or generalizations which simply don’t apply.”

To find out more read our post Is Men's Help Seeking Behaviour A Question Of Sex

2. Gender Role Theory

One alternative to the sex difference approach is to understand men’s help seeking as a product of masculine gender-role socialization, an approach which makes the assumption that our gender is conditioned by our environment - our parents, our communities, our culture etc.

These types of findings support the Gender Role Theory. According to the Magnus Hirschfield Archive For Sexologychildren learn at an early age to identify themselves as being male or female. At the same time, they also learn to behave in a way that is considered typical of males or females. In short, they learn to adopt a masculine or feminine gender role.

According to the report Encouraging Help-Seeking Behaviour Among Young Men the gender differences in help-seeking begin to emerge between the ages of three and five and are well-established by middle childhood.

According to Addis and Mahalik there “are theoretical and methodological strengths to the masculine role socialization approach, not least because it accounts for differences between different men whose “help-seeking behaviour is predicted to be a function of different men’s degree of endorsement of particular masculine gender-role norms that are incongruent with seeking professional help”.

3. The Social Model

What’s missing from the Gender Theory approach is it doesn’t take account of the different contexts in which men’s help-seeking behaviour takes place.

The same man’s help-seeking behaviour will change in different settings, for example he may be happy to get help from his for a bad back but not talk to the same doctor about his depression.

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, hegemonic masculinity, the social model of disability and “The Surpising Power Of Social Networks

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 or the social situations they engage with.

The Encouraging Help-Seeking Behaviour Among Young Men report highlights the hypothesis that men seek help less because they lack the necessary social support networks within which to seek help.

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 find out more about read our post on the Social Model And Men's Help-Seeking Behaviour

4. The Psycho-Social Model

Returning specifically to men’s help-seeking behaviour, Addis and Mahalik suggest a psycho-social model of understanding men’s help-seeking behaviour in a variety of situations perspectives which considers:

The psycho-social model considers there are at least five key factors at play that will help or hinder men from getting help
  • Social norms: is the problem I am experiencing socially accepted?
  •  Ego centrality: is the problem a central part of me?
  • Reciprocation: will I have the opportunity to help others?
  • Social network: how will others react if I seek help?
  • Perceived loss of control: what can I lose if I ask for help?
Using this model, suggests that an individual man is more likely to get help with a specific problem if:
  • He feels that dealing with this problem is a normal thing for a man to do
  • He feels that the act of getting help is aligned to his own values
  • He feels that getting help is in some way a contribution or help to others – for example getting help with problem debt for the sake of his family
  • He feels that his family and friends will be supportive of him seeking help
  • He feels that he has more to gain than he has to lose by getting help
This provides a much broader perspective of the barriers men face to seeking help and one of the notable aspects that’s missing from this model is a consideration of systemic and strategic barriers that can be more readily uncovered using an Integral Model.

5. Integral Gender Theory

The integral approach to understanding and analyzing gender is an emerging perspective that is based in Integral Theory, different aspects of which are increasingly being applied in work with men and boys.

There are two models often used in integral thinking that may be useful in understanding men’s help-seeking behaviour. They are the Spiral Dynamics model for value systems and the AQAL (All Quadrants All Levels) model which provides a holistic framework for assessing any object or subject. 

The model below shows some of the insights that begin to emerge when applying this model to men’s help-seeking behaviour.

Upper Left: Interior Individual
Upper Right: Exterior Individual

Men may not access help for a variety of reasons including fear of admitting weakness, fear of the consequences, desire to work it out themselves, not feeling worthy of help


When we look at men’s help-seeking behaviours by measuring the ratio of men and women accessing helping services in areas like health, social care and community safety we find over and over that men are disproportionately less likely to access help.

Some of the cultural barriers to men getting help could be lack of positive gender discourse about men, difficulty identifying men as ‘victims’ or needing help, female dominated referral services, a lack of social projects involving and working with men, male social conditioning, negative attitudes about men, unhelpful local male cultures


Some systemic barriers include help-giving services with opening hours and locations that are more female inclusive; international, national and local strategies that focus on women but not men; financial systems that favour women (eg financial support for separated parents which can disadvantage the non-resident parent (usually dad) and his/her children.

Lower Left: Interior Collective
Lower Right: Exterior Collective

To read a fuller integral analysis of men's help-seeking behaviour seek our post: Men's Help-Seeking Behaviour - An Integral Analysis.

In reviewing the many different approaches to assessing men’s help-seeking behaviour one thing is absolutely clear – there isn’t one singular answer to the question ‘why are men less likely to get help’.

What’s also clear is that a man’s ability to get help is not simply a question of him having the right help-seeking skills. There are a host of systemic, cultural and situational factors also at play and anyone concerned with helping more men to get help will have greater success in adapting men’s help-seeking behaviour by considering how to shift the systemic, cultural and situational context they are operating in first.