Women call a girlfriend or 10 when something goes wrong. Men? Not so much. Instead, men tend to hold their anger and anxiety inside rather than airing them out the way their female counterparts do, whether it’s grief over a lost e-mail or a lost job.
Stoic? Perhaps. But when it comes to job losses - which have affected men disproportionately in this recession - workplace psychologists say they’re being stoic to a fault.
“Guys tend to tough it out. But the healthiest thing to do is to talk it out,” says Mitchell Lee Marks, a workplace psychologist and author of “Charging Back up the Hill: Workplace Recovery After Mergers, Acquisitions and Downsizings.”
Men have borne more than 80 percent of the 4 million job losses since the end of 2007, says Andrew M. Sum, professor of labor economics at Northeastern University. The biggest losses are in traditionally very male sectors: construction, manufacturing, warehousing and transportation, he says. Construction is the hardest hit, with a 17 percent unemployment rate.
How likely is it that these traditionally not-very-touchy-feely men will go see a psychologist or psychiatrist or even “bother” a friend when their losses in income and self-esteem are significant?
Not very, Mr. Marks says, suggesting that men might go a more anonymous, cheaper route by talking it out with a member of the clergy or even a bartender.
Or, suggests Dr. Nada Stotland, president of the American Psychiatric Association, they might look for free or discounted mental health help at medical schools, public health centers or health centers affiliated with a religion, such as Catholic Charities.
“You might have to fight for the help you need,” Dr. Stotland says, “but it’s worth it.”
Talking about a job loss - which often involves a certain amount of grief - helps you move on, says Mr. Marks, who’s also a professor of management at the College of Business at San Francisco State University.
“It facilitates the internal process of adaptation,” Mr. Marks says. “This means letting go of old assumptions and embracing new ones.”
That may be easier said than done because it’s not just about overcoming possible financial obstacles (if you’re going to a psychologist, for example) and personal resistance to talking it out, it’s also about fighting societal norms.
These norms still have it that women are allowed to show and talk about their feelings but men are not, says Paul Heintz, a workplace psychologist who also is associate professor of psychology and sociology at Edison Community College in Piqua, Ohio.
“We like to say things are equal, but the truth is, society doesn’t deal well with equality,” Mr. Heintz says. “If someone’s a ‘house husband,’ people act as if there’s something wrong with that family.”
That’s because men are still identified more with what they do at work than who they are outside of work, he says.
Mr. Marks echoes the sentiment. “The classic dynamics are really valid,” he says. “Men tend to identify with what they do. … You hear a lot in our culture that the measure of a man has to do with his income and status.”
In other words, a job loss affects a man’s very sense of identity. When the “doing” is gone, so is the sense of “being.”
“Unemployment carries the same stigma today that mental health problems did in the 1950s,” Mr. Marks says.
Not talking about it, though, won’t make it go away. On the contrary. It can make it harder to find a new job because when you internalize it, you are more prone to irritability and depression - both off-putting and concerning to everyone from prospective employers to family members.
Mr. Marks suggests that the road to recovery after male job loss should include eating well, watching the alcohol intake and getting regular exercise.
He also suggests that the newly unemployed make a professional plan - short term and long term - that might include applying for school and drawing up a budget.
“Being out of control is terrifying to people,” Mr. Marks says. “If you can gain some sense of control, it will make a big difference.”