Customer Stories

Mike’s Strength: A Story of Manhood, Secrets, and Dogs

Mike experienced severe anxiety and sought therapy as a last resort. He was surprised by the results. Here's his story—which is really an evolving story of men's mental health.

Written by
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Simon Gomez
Clinically reviewed by
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Mike from General Mills with his dog on a dock

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    This is Part 2 of our Men's Mental Health blog series.

    "We don't want to admit weakness. That was such an old-school mentality. And a mentality I absolutely had.”

    - Mike Klaas, General Mills Sales Director for Walmart Inc. Snacking

    Boys won’t cry

    Many men grow up with an idea of what it means to be a man, or what it looks like to have strength and “mental toughness”. Often, this idea is introduced by parents or role models and reinforced by circumstances, social circles, and society. 

    Some of us were raised to believe that a man doesn’t show vulnerability or ask for help. Men who did were often labeled as weak. 

    The whole premise of the Sopranos, one the the most popular and acclaimed shows in television history, is based on an exaggerated version of that idea of manhood: 

    Tony Soprano, a hyper-masculine mob boss, decides to go to therapy in secret. Much of the tension for the first few seasons is rooted in the assumption that if anyone finds out he’s going to therapy, his reputation, his job, his family, and his life will be in danger. 

    Mike versus Mike

    Mike Klaas, a General Mills Sales Director for Walmart Inc. Snacking was also raised to believe that “real” men don’t talk about their problems or ask for help. But that all changed when he started having panic attacks.

    “I have an amazing family. I have supporting and loving parents. I have phenomenal friendships. I was still the guy at 2:00 am that was having a panic attack in the fetal position. So just because I have these things, doesn't mean that I can't have anxiety.”

    Up to this point, Mike had never even considered therapy.

    Men avoid therapy, but still struggle

    Research shows that men experience anxiety and depression at the same rate as women. However, men seek help less frequently and are subsequently diagnosed less often. A staggering 40% of men who experience mental health issues never speak about them.

    But bottling our emotions can magnify our issues and negatively affect our mental health, and even our physical health.

    Mike’s new strength

    When Mike Klaas’ panic attacks didn’t go away, he realized that he’d need to try something new. So he used Spring Health, the mental health benefit provided by his employer, to set up an appointment with a therapist.

    Therapy surprised Mike. It helped him work through his anxiety, and made him a believer in the power of doing emotional work. 

    He wanted to tell his coworkers about it, but wasn’t sure if they’d be receptive.

    “It started in small ways,” Mike says. “Talking to my team openly about it, talking to my manager about it.”

    Then Mike adopted Crow, his dog, and started training Crow to be a service animal. “And I thought, man, what a great thing to do to be able to give back to others. I went to a retirement home and I said, ‘Hey, I'd love to bring my dog in as a therapy dog.’”

    Today, Mike has built this community work into his routine, and sees it as an integral part of his mental healthcare. 

    It’s not just Mike: how the meaning of strength is changing

    Experience and hard data both teach us the same thing: the meaning of strength is changing, especially for younger generations. It’s becoming more about having the confidence to face your issues and work out a way to solve them, and having the courage to show vulnerability in the process.

    Men experience the full range of emotions, of course. They can show strength by working through their emotions as they arise in a healthy manner, and knowing when to ask for help. It’s easier for men in younger generations to do both of these things. 

    According to the Society for Human Resources Management, "Only 32% of Boomers—and these statistics include both males and females—are comfortable talking about these problems. Sixty-two percent of Millennials will let others know they’re having issues. And, members of Generation Z, the youngest adults in our society, have the least amount of trouble talking about their mental illnesses." 

    How therapy can help

    When someone’s mental health is better, they tend to live longer, happier lives. Their relationships improve, they have the mental space to enjoy the little things, they’re more productive, and they’re able to handle hardship more easily.

    On top of that, we now know that people who show vulnerability appear more likable and relatable to others

    Chances are, every person who avoids therapy has someone they admire who goes to therapy, but they may never know.

    Therapy’s hidden feature

    Therapy’s most essential feature is that it’s confidential. This secrecy makes it easier for men to talk about anything with their therapist, especially things they might never bring up with friends, coworkers, or family.

    In therapy, they can share their greatest fears, frustrations, the thing that’s bothering them at that moment—without fear of judgment. They can weep snotty, ugly tears, and nobody will ever know except their therapist. 

    But this feature is also why so many men assume that the men they know aren’t struggling with problems, too, or reaching out to others for help. The normalization of mental health is making it easier for more men to talk about their struggles with their peers, but we still have some work to do before men’s desire for mental support matches their need for it.

    Therapy with clinical and financial outcomes

    As mental health needs increase globally, companies that provide mental health and emotional wellness programs in the workplace are experiencing greater retention and engagement. 

    A landmark study published in the world’s leading medical journal, JAMA Network Open, recently validated Spring Health as the first and only mental healthcare company with validated clinical outcomes and proven financial ROI. Employees feel better faster, making them more productive while employers experience significant savings.

    Wondering what this could mean for you? 

    Companies that use Spring Health experience:

    • An average of $7,000 saved per employee within 6 months
    • Nearly 70% of participants reliably improving their mental health
    • Fast recovery times with a 5.9-week average time to remission
    • 24% increase in productivity and 25% fewer missed work days

    Discover how General Mills is changing lives and transforming their culture by embracing mental health.

    About the Author
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    Simon Gomez

    Simon Goetz lives in Oakland, California with his dog, Chicken. Together, they perform as the experimental noise act, Bite the Hand. Pitchfork called their debut EP, Grrrrr, "unlistenable".

    About the clinical reviewer
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