Men and Mental Health: An Epidemic
In recent years, the topic of men’s mental health has come to the fore. Researchers now warn of a silent epidemic arising in the male population, with more men that ever suffering from mental health disorders.
Although mental illness can affect women and men alike, it’s generally believed that fewer men suffer from mental health problems than women. However, men who suffer in this way are also considerably less likely to receive treatment for their condition than women and are more at risk of suicide. Therefore, it’s very important to be on the lookout for signs of mental disorders in men as seeking treatment as early as possible is key to a positive outcome.
What Are The Warning Signs Of A Mental Health Problem In Men?
Women and men can both develop mental health problems, however they may display different symptoms. Men with mental disorders often show the following signs:
- Irritability, aggressiveness or anger
- Mood changes, changes in appetite or in energy levels
- Sleeping excessively or insomnia
- Problems with concentration
- Feeling edgy and restless
- Increases stress and worry
- Feelings of hopelessness and sadness
- Misuse of drugs or alcohol
- Suicidal thoughts
- Struggling to feel positive emotions
- Participating in high risk activity
- Digestive problems, headaches and aches and pains with no obvious cause
- Compulsive behavior or obsessive thinking
- Behaviors or thoughts which interfere with social, family or working life
- Unusual behaviors or thought patterns which worry other people
Although mental health disorders can be treated, unfortunately 40% of men refuse to discuss their problems with anyone else. This means that they end up suffering in silence until the issues become overwhelming.
Why Don’t Men Talk About Their Mental Health?
While women are much more open about their health issues, including any mental health problems that they’re experiencing, men prefer not to talk about mental health. Some of the excuses that they give include:
- They don’t want to be a burden
- They think they’re handling it already
- They’re too embarrassed
- They believe there’s a negative stigma about mental health
- They don’t want to ask for help or admit they need support
- They don’t want to look weak
- They don’t feel they have anybody they can talk to
- They are ashamed or embarrassed to take time away from work because of a mental health problem and are worried about how their employer would view such time off
Not only do many men avoid talking to their friends and family about their mental health but they even avoid talking to their doctor or other medical professional about their problems. This means that they are much less likely to be able to access psychological therapy than their female counterparts.
What Are The Causes Of Mental Health Disorders In Men?
Men and women have some similar causes that lie behind their mental health problems, however men most commonly report that financial problems and stress at work are the cause of their issues. Almost 200,000 men every year report anxiety, depression or stress resulting from pressures in their workplace, and although the peak age for these conditions to be reported is between 45 and 54, men of all ages are suffering. Experts also believe that male mental health issues often display themselves in ways which don’t comfortably fit within the conventional approach to diagnosis.
Men are also more at risk of mental health issues because they often lack some known precursors to good mental health like positive engagement with education and emotional support from family and friends. Due to these factors, they often cope poorly when mental health issues arise. They either don’t recognize the warning signs or don’t act on them, and are too reliant on unsustainable and unwise self-management strategies which could damage themselves and those surrounding them.
There are also a number of other specific issues and stressors which are known to trigger mental health problems in men.
Trouble in relationships is a major cause of depression in men. These problems are often as a result of different communication styles, since men often try to avoid talking about issues when their partner wants to discuss them. Eventually, this can lead to separation or divorce, and in divorced men, depression is more severe and more commonly seen.
Children And Pregnancy
Interestingly, men are affected mentally by having children just like women are. Although the “baby blues” and “postnatal depression” are well-known in women who have just had a baby, 10% of all new fathers also suffer from similar issues. This shouldn’t come as too much as a surprise, since a new baby causes a huge change in their life, and all changes both good and bad are associated with mental health disturbances. The exhaustion and stress of coping with a new baby can exacerbate the problem, and adjusting to taking a lower place in their partner’s affections can be difficult for new fathers
Unemployment is another major cause of mental health problems in men. One out of every seven unemployed men will become depressed within 6 months of losing their job. This is because many men find their work contributes in a major way to making them feel good about themselves. Losing a job isn’t just about losing the job itself, it’s also about losing the self-esteem that came with it as well as the money and other benefits. It’s also hard to have to stay at home rather than going out to work every day, especially if there is a partner who is now the bread winner. The longer it takes to find a job, the more depression is likely to set in, and this, in turn, makes finding a job even harder. It becomes a vicious cycle.
For many men, retirement triggers mental health problems, especially if their partner is still working. While the stress of the workplace is gone, many retired men miss having structure in their day and miss the social life they enjoyed with their colleagues. This often leads to depression.
Do Men Experience Mental Health Issues Differently From Women?
Although there isn’t a separate category of male mental health issues, men have a different way of coping than women. Men have a tendency to “self-medicate” in order to handle depression, anxiety, stress and other disorders. Men also tend to be more competitive than women, and are concerned about being successful and powerful. This makes it harder for them to admit to a problem as they often feel as if they should be able to cope alone.
The ways in which men try to cope by themselves with their mental health issues often cause further problems in their life. For example, using drugs or alcohol to feel better leads to dangerous, unpleasant or irresponsible behavior, problems at home and at work and even legal problems in some cases. Some men begin to throw themselves even more into their work and their home life and relationships can suffer, with conflicts arising with partners and family members.
Men And Suicide
Unfortunately, men are more likely to be victims of suicide than women. In the USA, men make up more than three quarters of all suicide cases, and one man in the country kills himself every twenty minutes. Men who live in rural areas and small towns are particularly at risk and this is believed to be due to a number of factors including a decline in certain areas in traditional male industries like fisheries, forestry and manufacturing which causes mass unemployment. As a result, men are unable to fulfil their traditional breadwinner role, and without a sense of purpose, meaning and pride, they fall into depression. Social groups which feel isolated or rejected by society are also more at risk of mental health problems and suicide. Gay men, veterans and American Indians are all at a higher risk.
Men And Substance Abuse
Predominantly, substance abuse is a male problem, with three men suffering from addiction to every woman. Mental health issues and substance abuse all too often go hand in hand. Men often begin to abuse substances like drugs or alcohol in response to stress in their lives, or when going through emotionally traumatic transitions such as divorce or unemployment. Many men who suffer with addiction are given a dual diagnosis when they finally receive treatment, meaning that they have a co-occurring mental health condition.
Men And Mental Health Services
Although an increasing number of men are suffering from mental health problems, they are still significantly less likely to seek out help from mental health services and doctors when they are experiencing issues than women. In certain groups, the problem is even more severe, with Asian, Latino and Black men being especially reticent about getting help.
Although men are known to be more stubborn when it comes to getting any kind of medical help, it’s also likely that mental health services in the USA today aren’t really in tune with the needs of men. Talking therapies and medication are still highly emphasized, but men tend to prefer to take action rather than to talk about their problems when facing a stressful situation. This makes them unlikely to seek out formal medical help as they are unwilling or unable to engage with the available treatment programs. Luckily, practical interventions designed to meet the specific needs of men with mental health disorders are becoming more prevalent. “Men’s Sheds” are one such innovation – physical spaces in which lonely and isolated men who are struggling with their mental health can meet and enjoy practical activities like repairs and woodwork in an environment where they can benefit from peer support.
Should I Get Help For My Mental Health?
If you’re a man who thinks you may have a mental health problem, it’s important to take action straight away. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you’ll get better. Here are some steps to take.
- Talk to somebody rather than bottling things up. If you’re really unwilling to discuss it with anybody, write down the way you’re feeling.
- Stay active. Go outside and get some exercise. This helps you to stay fit and you’ll sleep better. You may also feel more positive after working out.
- Eat healthily. Even if you don’t feel hungry, you should try to eat enough vegetables and fruit to avoid a vitamin deficiency. Don’t eat junk food, even if you’re tempted to. This could just cause you to put on weight or develop health problems which will cause even more issues in your life.
- Stay away from drugs and alcohol. It’s tempting to try to self-medicate when you have mental health problems, but abusing substances only makes things worse in the long term.
- Enjoy yourself. As much as possible, try to take time regularly to do things you enjoy such as a hobby, reading a book or taking exercise.
- Take a look at your lifestyle. Are there ways you could make changes to make yourself happier? If you’re pushing yourself too hard at work, for example, it could be time to reduce your workload.
- Learn more. Research online about mental health and find out as much as you can about the way you feel. Knowledge is power.
- Consider joining a support group. Talking to other people who are experiencing the same problems as you can be very beneficial and you may be able to find the support and understanding that you need.
How Can Men’s Mental Health Be Improved?
It’s important to take the men’s health crisis seriously. Just because men are unwilling to discuss their problems doesn’t mean that those problems don’t exist. Men’s mental disorders must be recognized not only as a health problem but also as a social one. The role that issues like divorce, unemployment, financial problems and work-related stress have to play in male mental health must not be overlooked, and the formal mental health system must develop more options which are designed to meet the unique needs of men who struggle to engage with existing treatment programs.
Meanwhile, men must be more vigilant and aware of the signs that they may have a mental health problem. They must shake off the fear of stigma and shame of admitting to being unwell and go and get the professional help that they need to get better. It is possible to make a full recovery from a mental health disorder, but it’s not something that will go away by itself. Men must seek out appropriate treatment in order to get themselves back on track to good mental well-being.
If you or someone you love is struggling with the pain of mental health issues and the stigma of silence around men speaking up about their pain, please reach out to a facility such as The Meadowglade for help!