Dubai: Mental health support groups for men are popping up across the city; here's why

Suppressed emotions could lead to men seeking temporary hits of dopamine, spiralling into things like binge eating, substance abuse, or reckless behaviour, say experts


Lamya Tawfik

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Published: Tue 17 Jan 2023, 8:03 PM

Statistically, men are much less likely to seek mental health and professional support in comparison to women, a mental health specialist said on Monday, as she spoke about an initiative which will provide support for men’s mental health and help them feel less alone.

Ethar Bashir, Clinical Psychologist at Openminds Centre, said overall there is still a stigma surrounding mental health, and that with men in particular, there exists a significant notion of vulnerability being perceived as weakness, as well as the shame of coming forward and expressing difficulties. “This is due to internalised gender ideals of “masculine strength”, and needing to be tough, with greater fears of being judged,” she said adding that this leads to the suppression of emotions and men continuing to suffer in silence.

The issue is even more prevalent in the East than it is in the West, according to Adil Hussain, Masculinity and Mindset Coach. “More and more men are seeking help, but that’s in the West. In the East, there is a still a very strong stigma about seeking help, and even stronger with men seeking help,” he said.

This stigma, while still prevalent, is being tackled in the UAE through initiatives that encourage open conversations about mental wellbeing, like the national campaign for mental health support launched by the National Programme for Happiness and Wellbeing, according to Dr Waleed Ahmed, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, Priory Wellbeing Centre in Abu Dhabi.

At OpenMinds Center, a monthly support group is being launched from February on the first Wednesday of every month – an initiative that will make men feel that they are not alone, according to Ethar. “It will reduce the idea of stoic individualism and “masculine strength” which many people adopt, and feel is required of men. They will be able to express themselves in a safe non-judgmental space by connecting with others and be able to understand the importance [of] having their emotional needs fulfilled whilst also being there for others,” she said.

The support group will help reduce feelings of isolation, fosters hope and gain insight into ways of coping, she said. “There is much scientific evidence that shows how support groups are effective in helping people recover and for their overall well-being,” said Ethar.

Support groups, according to Jenevie Mongcal, Clinical Psychologist, LifeWorks, are important. “I would appreciate seeing more men coming together and discussing mental health issues – and if this is not possible, then psychoeducation for family members is needed,” she said, adding that family members need to recognise that men can be vulnerable, they can get hurt too, and they need help.

Adil is the founder of a support group called BrotherhoodDXB – a safe space for men to talk about things going on in their lives without shame or judgement. “We’re building a movement to help men strive towards being better men, more wholesome men, men that are equipped to handle what life throws at them in a healthy way – with friends, and knowing that they’re not alone,” he said, adding that he also works with men on topics such as setting boundaries, navigating difficulty within relationships and working towards living a happy, healthier, more peaceful life.

He said that men carry a lot of stress in their body, which builds into frustration and anger, and that they struggle to voice their feelings. “This is mainly because they’re not quite sure how to articulate what they’re feeling, and because they don’t feel that they have any right to. After all, shouldn’t we, as men, just get on with it? How can we be stressed? How can it all be too much for us? We’re meant to to be the strong ones,” he said, adding that the result is a spiral of despair.

According to Dr. Waleed, evidence suggests that men are less likely to talk about their symptoms. “Masculinity, which is typically associated with men, in social contexts encourages boys and men to avoid what may be considered ‘feminine’. Conversely, they are expected to be tough and sometimes aggressive.

This often also means that men are expected to distance themselves emotionally,” he said adding that recent studies indicate that work pressures, financial issues and concerns about their health were the top three causes for mental health issues in men’s lives today.

In particular cultures, Adil said, men are hard-wired to associated vulnerability with being open to attacks. “I grew up with a Pakistani Dad, a strong one. A typical “alpha male”. He definitely felt that emotion was weakness, and sensitivity should be squashed and suppressed. He’s not alone in these thoughts,” he said, adding that typically among South Asian and Arabic families, men are placed under immense pressure to be “the man.”

The solution is to let men know that if they speak up and they’re honest, they won’t be shut down, he said. “They need to know that it won’t be used against them, or that they won’t be ridiculed because of it. They need safety,” he said.

As they suppress their emotions, men can resort to a myriad of coping strategies in lieu of seeking help. “When a man doesn’t seek help or find solace in friends, family or support groups, he will seek the easiest form of dopamine he can get to make him feel better. Dopamine is the hormone that makes us feel good and is increased by activities that we find pleasurable,” said Adil, adding that this numbing dopamine could also mean things like binge eating, substance abuse, excessive screen time or reckless behaviour.

Dr. Waleed also said that isolation – withdrawing from friends and family as a way of avoiding social interaction and the need to talk about their feelings and denying they have a problem – are also coping strategies that men can resort to.

Men can also manifest aggressive behaviour if their issues are not dealt with, said Jenevie. “Look at road rage. These are pent up emotions that are going on that they can’t express in a socially accepted manner. They were not raised to learn how to manage their emotions in a healthy way,” she said.

Dr. Waleed offered some positive coping strategies instead:

  • Exercise and physical activity: This can help to release endorphins, reduce stress, and improve overall physical and mental health.
  • Managing time effectively and prioritising tasks can help males feel more in control of their lives, reducing stress levels.
  • Social support: Spending time with friends and family, or participating in social activities can provide a sense of connection and support.
  • Mindfulness and meditation: Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help to reduce stress and improve overall well-being.
  • Problem-solving: Identifying and addressing problems directly can help men to feel more in control of their lives and improve their ability to cope with stress.
  • Humour and laughter: Incorporating humour and laughter into daily life can help to reduce stress and improve overall well-being.
  • Positive self-talk: Practicing positive self-talk can help men to reframe negative thoughts and improve their overall outlook on life.


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