Healthy communities are one of the cornerstones of positive masculinity. Although men struggle to build close friendships, the most significant correlation between “better health, greater happiness, and greater subjective well-being” is the strength of the community around them. That’s why it’s important that every man should have their own men’s support group to call home.
More than ever, men’s support groups are popping up around the country, pushing back on gender norms, and rethinking what it means to be a man. Organizations like Evryman and the ManKind Project have developed extensive courses based on research that intend to help men understand themselves, foster stronger relationships with their families, and make it through any of life’s essential transitions by building a supportive community of other men around them. Others, such as Man Enough and Rethink Masculinity, are providing men the framework to have difficult conversations around manhood and providing helpful tools to teach communication skills.
The development of male friendships slows down as boys grow older due to the social conditioning around male vulnerability. Still, the revitalization of men’s support groups is helping forge bonds and build communities on encouraging men of all ages that it’s time to rethink what it means to be a man.
What are men’s support groups?
A quick Google search of men’s support groups delivers a wide array of results, but for the sake of this essay, we are going to ignore a few of them. Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Sexual Addiction Process groups, while wholely beneficial to members, won’t be touched on in this piece due to the nature of their programs. Instead, I want to focus solely on men’s support groups who are dedicated to men supporting men, delivering the communication tools necessary to talk about masculinity, and building communities where male friendships can grow.
A study conducted in rural Australia investigated the role of men’s support groups for those who have been diagnosed with cancer. Immediately, the men began to languish from the lack of male support groups in the region. Despite that, they seemed to need “permission” to check in with each other. “The group have erupted, all talking over the top of each other, there is much ad lib humour, laughter and comical agreement, a form of ‘pack camaraderie,’ almost as is if there is a fear of seeking help as a consequence of appearing weak.” In between moments of honesty and vulnerability, the men in the support group often came back to this fear of looking weak in front of other men, as if they’d be found out. “They were keen to ensure this was not in conflict with their ‘masculine identity.’ For this group of men, there was an obvious tension of wanting to have what the women had but ensuring that they were “not being like women.”
Yet, the rural men of Australia opened up to one another about their physical ailments, fears of financial difficulty, and the breakdown of their relationships. The results of the study proved that these men faced difficulty in admitting what they needed, and when put together with other men, began to take care of their unmet needs.
In Sweden, a group of researchers sought to build a support group for fathers. Group leaders, all fathers themselves, designed the support groups around the idea that men needed an arena for supporting fatherhood. For five meetings, the father’s opened up to each other about their fears of parenthood and shared their previous experiences in being a dad.
Having a safe space to be vulnerable, the men in the group talked about their emotions and found solace in the fact that they weren’t alone. The fathers felt like they didn’t have a place to discuss their loneliness, and recognized that most of the attention is given to the mother during pregnancy. “They (the fathers) described their own experiences with professionals from antenatal support, where most attention was given to the mother and child, and how they sometimes felt like ‘an appendage.'” Each of the men present just wanted to know and share about the experience of fatherhood, and they found that to be lacking. “As fathers can feel left out of the current child health system, the father group leaders stated that they wanted to create an arena where fathers could discuss parenting issues and gain support.” By joining this men’s support group, the fathers were able to build a community of like-minded male friends who were experiencing the same feelings of fear, loneliness, and distress in the parenting process.
An article about the role of therapeutic group sessions for African American men identified that community support allowed men to push back on the idea that they struggled with emotional honesty. “It [the research] suggests that the group evolved a nurturing context, engendering safety, comfort, and satisfaction. Any holding of conventional mistrust of mental health services by the African American community was lessened within this context by discussion of their emotions and relationships.” By putting together men with similar experiences, the group achieved success in that African American men discarded traditional views of mental health services instead of speaking out amongst a community of like-minded people.
The success stories of men’s support groups in Australia, Sweden, and America display the importance of building communities for men. By joining collectives of men with similar experiences, this allows the men to feel comfortable in exploring difficult emotions and vulnerabilities with each other because they no longer have a fear of looking weak. Research tells us that men who participate in support groups are often better fathers, have more communicative relationships, and are less likely to experience loneliness.
This ties into the theory of social prescribing, a medical term for when doctors refer patients to join communities to improve their health and battle mental illness.
Rachel asked me to come out into the living room; she wanted me to watch Johann Hari’s Ted Talk “This Could Be Why You’re Depressed Or Anxious.” Hari opens his presentation by describing his struggle with anti-depressants; for thirteen years, Hari was given the maximum dose of Paxil per day. And still, he eventually always felt the same depression as he did before.
I’ve gone through a similar situation for the past couple of years. My psychiatrist ordered me Wellbutrin 150 mg three years ago, and throughout that time, I’ve jumped up and down between 150 mg and 450 mg. The 150 mg leaves me slightly energized, but more likely to suffer from malaise. 450 mg of Wellbutrin causes the shakes, pounding headaches, and an increased sense of anxiety. Even though I was prescribed an increased dosage at my last visit, I chose to stick with 300 mg. My sweet spot per se.
But I’ve also noticed that the medication isn’t an end-all, be-all for my mental health. Does it help? Of course, it does. Are there other activities that I can do that will help? Absolutely. But I didn’t know where to start.
Frustrated, Hari decided to trek 40,000 miles around the world, visiting some of the leading doctors in mental health and anxiety to find a solution hopefully. What he found was that while some depression can be found in our genes, the answer to figuring out our mental illness may have been in front of us all along.
Hari explains, “At the same time, every human being has natural psychological needs. You need to feel you belong. You need to feel your life has meaning and purpose. You need to feel that people see you and value you. You need to feel you’ve got a future that makes sense.” In other words, Hari learned that one of the keys to fighting mental illness comes from the community you surround yourself with. Every single person on the planet wants to feel valued, and without the people who will help build that community, you’re more likely to experience loneliness.
He continues telling the audience the story of a man in Cambodia who lost his leg and suffered from depression due to the pain in his leg from working. The community around him recognized he was struggling and decided to purchase a cow for him, to which he became a dairy farmer. The community helped him find his purpose again. “They did not say to this farmer, ‘Hey, buddy, you need to pull yourself together. It’s your job to figure out and fix this problem on your own. ‘On the contrary, what they said is, ‘We’re here as a group to pull together with you, so together, we can figure out and fix this problem.’ This is what every depressed person needs, and it’s what every depressed person deserves.” Hari noticed that everywhere he went, doctors and experts kept telling him the same thing: medication can provide relief, and groups of people working together are capable of defeating depression.
I only took the 450 mg dosage once before I knew I just didn’t feel right. My hands too shaky, my concentration too shifty. So I suffered for a few more weeks until I picked up a second job, working at Rachel’s firm. It was only supposed to be a side-gig, but I quickly learned that being around people re-energized me. The extrovert in me started to come out again, I found myself feeling valued. I didn’t put together that one of the biggest tells of my mental illness popping up again is correlated to loneliness.
I also began to reach out to friends more often, and suddenly, my community started to grow again.
What are some men’s support groups I can join?
Thankfully, there are a lot of options available for men’s support groups in most states. Meetup.com features an extensive listing, as does Psychology Today. Along with those options, here are a couple of different options that are taking a different approach to discuss masculinity and what it means to be a man.
Suddenly over the course of three articles, Dudefluencer has become a Justin Baldoni fan-site. Okay, okay, I’m kidding, but seriously the dude is doing work when it comes to masculinity. Launched in 2017, Baldoni and friends created a platform for men to speak up about their experiences with masculinity over dinner. The goal for Man Enough is to “explore the heart of traditional masculinity in America.”
Man Enough’s core messaging is delivered through a series of Youtube videos featuring Baldoni and a rotating group of celebrity friends, including UFC Champion Anderson Silva, Javier Munoz, and Derek Hough. There are four videos available: “#METOO,” “The Ugliness of Body Image,” “Let’s Get Vulnerable,” and “Why Don’t Men Talk.” In every video, the group of men discusses different aspects of masculinity over a dinner party, with interviews with Baldoni and an expert in the field interspersed in between clips. You can watch the whole clip online, or view parts of it in “bytes.”
What makes Man Enough special is the free resources made available on their Impact page. First, you can download a conversation guide pdf. Inside are tips on how to host your own Man Enough dinner party, and even some starter questions to get your group of dudes going. Because men tend to struggle with having difficult conversations with their friends, a simple list to get yourself started is perfect.
Everything about Man Enough is free: their videos, pdfs, and other resources are all available on the Man Enough website. The one downside to their program, and it’s not a big one, is that it is up to you to do the community building. They give you a lot of the tools needed to get started, but the bulk of the work depends on you to get a group of dudes together.
Evryman is all about connecting men with other men through the wilderness. In December of 2016, a group of men ventured to Western Massachusettes where they “shared openly, challenged one another, and took each other to places we had never been before. We got real. It felt wild and transformative.” After this event, the organizers realized that they could do something great for all men.
There are four goals that Evryman hopes to achieve:
- Create a culture of connection that can be shared and implemented in any setting, institution, or relationship
- Utilize simple emotional practices to help men develop new ways of interacting that lead to greater success, meaning, and fulfillment
- Destigmatize men’s vulnerability and emotionality across our culture
- Help virtually anyone – regardless of training – start and run their own men’s groups
Offering weekly groups (find a group near you), Evryman wants men to help build up other men through the creation of communities. But where Evryman shines as a men’s support group is through the variety of hands-on options available for men looking to explore masculinity and their relationships in their lives.
The first is a course entitled Evryman Fundamentals, where over six weeks, men experience what they call the “CrossFit for your emotional self.” This class focuses on building relationships and improving the quality of communication between you and your loved ones if you happen to miss one of the live webinars, no big deal because they are recorded and available with lifetime access.
The other appeal of Evryman are their retreats: West Coast, Mid-West, Joshua Tree, and Yellowstone are just a few of the available options. Each retreat is a life-changing opportunity to explore the various parts of masculinity while joining a community of like-minded people.
Unfortunately, these trips are a bit pricey. You’re looking at least $600 for a spot on one of these trips, but considering the locations, you’ll be hanging out, the prices might be worth it.
Where do I go from here?
The best way to get started in a men’s support group is to find one nearby, meet some other dudes interested in building a community and go from there. Having a mentor or someone to guide you at one of these sessions is invaluable. For more information on men’s support groups, make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
If you enjoyed this, be sure to check out some of my other pieces here on Dudefluencer: