How Can Psychologists Help Men and Boys?

463536557Five people were wounded overnight in shootings on Chicago’s West and South sides, according to a report in this morning’s Chicago Tribune. It’s a headline that appears almost daily in my city, and the victims, all men age 16 to 32, are among the most disadvantaged in the city – and frankly, in the country. Perhaps more importantly, this violence, and the stress and trauma that it leads to, is taking a serious toll on the health of men and boys in poor, urban communities throughout our nation, according to presenters at a symposium today.

At the session, members of APA’s working group on health disparities in boys and men discussed reasons why this population and other underserved groups of men have some of the worst health outcomes in the country.

Working group chair Wizdom Hammond, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill pointed to several psychosocial factors that contribute to these health disparities, including a need among men to endorse and demonstrate traditional traits of masculinity, including toughness, self-reliance, confidence and aggression.

“It’s likely that the strains and conflicts associated with trying to live up to this masculine ideal is at least partly responsible for producing the kinds of health disadvantages we’re seeing,” Hammond said.

The researchers explained that, compared to women, males are more likely to take health behavioral risks, delay preventive health screenings and care-seeking for health problems, minimize their physical and mental health symptoms and signs of distress and have higher rates of substance abuse. These behaviors are even more widespread among men of low socioeconomic status, those who are ethnic and racial minorities, those who are gay or bisexual, and those who have been incarcerated.

Particularly when it comes to mental health, men and boys are socialized very early not to talk about their emotions around traumatic experiences, said presenter Waldo Johnson, PhD, of the University of Chicago.

“Therefore, they tend to suffer in silence,” he said.

The group is now finalizing an evidence-based report and a series of best practices and recommendations on the topic, for dissemination to psychologists and other health providers. One thing is clear, Johnson said:

“Any prevention or treatment program for this population must account for the unique circumstances of men and boys.”

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