“I am tired of acting as though I have something to hide.”
We are all familiar with such sayings as, “Why don’t you just man up” or “boys don’t cry.” Ours is a culture of masculinity. Adherence to masculine norms, such as self-reliance, being tough, staying in control, and not openly sharing emotions has led to a mental health crisis among men in the United States. Sadly, every day men’s mental health struggles go overlooked and often undiagnosed due to the stigma surrounding mental health. This stigma stops many men from speaking up about their worries and life challenges and prevents them from seeking supportive help when they need it most.
June is recognized as National Men’s Health Month. The goal of marking this month is to increase the awareness of preventable health problems, while encouraging early detection and treatment. Mental health issues cannot be left out of this equation. It is time to talk openly about mental health issues. It is time that we education ourselves and others about the importance of sound mental health care and treatment. It is time that we encourage equality in how people perceive physical and mental health challenges. Now, is the time to move past this age old stigma surrounding mental health, especially mental health issues among men.
Men’s Mental Health: By the Numbers
Understanding the numbers with regard to mental health can help us to recognize just how common mental health challenges are among men. Often when we are feeling emotional discomfort, we think that we are alone or that there is no one who will understand what we are going through. So, we sit in silence with our discomfort. Understanding, the numbers also lends important insights into symptoms and barriers to treatment.
- 9% of men have feelings of anxiety and depression
- Over 6 million men in the United States suffer from depression
- Men are 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than women
- 1 in 5 men will develop alcohol dependency at some point or another in their lives
- Men are more likely to die from stress related illness, such as heart disease
- Men live on average 4.4 years less than women, with the last 11 years of life suffering from poor health or chronic health conditions
- Only 1 in 4 men seek treatment for a mental health challenge or condition.
Why Don’t Men Talk About Mental Health Challenges
Research suggests that men are less likely than women to seek help for mental health issues. Some commonly reported reasons why men don’t talk about their mental health challenges include:
- Not wanting to burden others
- Learning to deal with their emotions and feelings in silence
- Feeling embarrassed by their feelings
- Not knowing where to turn for help
- Not wanting to be perceived as being weak
How Men Can Beat Stress and Anxiety
Studies show that men and women report symptoms of depression differently. Women are more likely to express their emotions openly and report feelings of sadness. These clinical symptoms are more readily diagnosed leading to quick and effective treatment plans. It has been shown, however, that men are more likely to express their symptoms of depression in terms of fatigue, irritability and anger, risk taking, substance abuse, escapism (video games), loss of interest in work or hobbies, and sleep disturbances.
Understanding these gender-based differences of expression is important for diagnosis and gender specific treatment plans.
Men and women also care for their mental health in different ways. We all have heard the term self-care and are reminded of its importance, almost daily. But, when we think of the term, “self-care” we often think of it as something women do and might envision a woman in a comfy bathrobe sipping tea in a candle lit room. Where and how do men fit into the self-care routine? Remember there is no shame in prioritizing self-care or seeking help for challenging emotions. Here are 5 quick and easy tips for men to get started in prioritizing their mental health this month.
- We all take sick days. Why not take a break from life’s busyness and claim a day as a “mental health day?” Prioritize yourself by doing something that you love.
- Open up to someone you trust and share your emotions. If you are unsure of sharing your feelings with family or friends, therapists or support groups are excellent options.
- Acknowledge and accept your feelings and emotions as a sign of strength and health, not weakness.
- Eat a well-balanced diet, exercise, sleep well and spend time outdoors.
- Have an open mind and don’t be afraid to explore new forms of self-care. There are amazing yoga classes, spa treatments, meditations and breathing exercises geared just toward men.