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Males Reluctance to Seek Support Kelli Palfy

Males Reluctance to Seek Help

By Dr. Kelli Palfy

Research indicates that men are less likely to seek help for psychological problems than women (Addis & Mahalik, 2003; Lane & Addis, 2005).  Addis and Mahalik, who examined the social construction of masculinity and how it affected help-seeking behavior, discovered a number of factors: 

A man is least likely to seek help for problems that he sees as unusual, especially when he also perceives them as central to his identity.  He is also unlikely to seek help if groups of men who are important to him endorse norms of self-reliance or other norms that suggest his problem is non-normative.  Finally, help-seeking is less likely to the degree that a man calculates that rejection from an important social group, as well as his view of himself as deviant, are costs too great to risk in relation to the help he might receive. This is especially true if he feels he will sacrifice his autonomy by seeking help (Addis & Mahalik, p. 11).

Simply stated, men are reluctant to seek help if they feel that others may disapprove of their need for help.  If the majority of men with whom a man associates have never mentioned having the same or a similar problem, and/or if they regularly make statements about the importance of being strong and not letting things get to them, then victimized men are more likely to remain silent and deny their own feelings of vulnerability and weakness.  If a man sees himself as having similar qualities to his peers, he will not want to be rejected for seeking help. Lane and Addis examined the relationship between male willingness to seek help and male gender role conflict when struggling with depression and substance abuse. Their research revealed that men are reluctant to seek help from their friends, especially when dealing with issues associated with depression.  

Although research indicates that male CSA remains under-reported to authorities, poorly-recognized by clinicians (Boyd & Beail, 1994; Gartner, 2000; Holmes & Offen, 1996), and under-treated in adulthood (Holmes & Offen), research into CSA disclosure also reveals that this reluctance to seek help is not exclusive to males.  Research examining both male and female victims of CSA estimates that between 30 to 80 % of all victims purposefully do not disclose their abuse before adulthood (Alaggia, 2005).  Alaggia explains that it is impossible to produce reliable data on disclosure since there is no way to know how many adults have not disclosed. 

Theories of disclosure offer insight to understanding the processes involved in both male and female disclosure (Alaggia, 2005).  Approach and avoidance factors have been suggested as influencing a person’s decision to disclose.  If a victim assesses the risks of telling to be greater than the rewards, he or she will not disclose (Omarzu, 2000). Victims will generally assess their situation and make a decision in regard to how much or how little to disclose depending on their understanding of the anticipated risks and benefits. This premise supports the assertion that disclosing is not a single event; it is a process. Similarly, social exchange theories have been proposed as a means to understand disclosure (Leonard, 1996).  On the one hand, disclosing can sometimes stop victimization. Conversely, it could lead to secondary traumatizing like being blamed or disbelieved. 

Addis, Michael, and James Mahalik. “Men, Masculinity, and the Contexts of Seeking Help.” American Psychologist 58, no. 1 (2003): 5–14.

Alaggia, Ramona. “Disclosing the Trauma of Child Sexual Abuse: A Gender Analysis.” Journal of Loss and Trauma 10 (2005): 453–70

Boyd, J., & Beail, N. (1994). Gender issues in male sexual abuse. Clinical Psychology Forum64, 35–38. Retrieved from   

Holmes, Guy, and Liz Offen. Clinicians’ Hypotheses Regarding Clients’ Problems: Are They Less Likely to Hypothesize Sexual Abuse in Male Compared to Female Clients.” Child Abuse and Neglect 20 (1996): 493–501.

Lane, Jennifer, and Michael Addis. “Male Gender Role Conflict and Patterns of Help Seeking in Costa Rica and the United States.” Psychology of Men and Masculinity 6, no. 3 (2005): 155–68.

Leonard, E. D. (1996). A social exchange explanation for the child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome. Journal of Interpersonal Violence11, 107–117. doi:10.1177/08862609601100100

Omarzu, Julia. “A Disclosure Decision Model: Determining How and When Individuals Will Self-Disclose.” Personality and Social Psychology Review 4, no. 2 (2000): 174–85.






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