Mental health is an issue that is slowly uncovering over the recent years, but its relevance seems to have a gender bias. It all seems like anxiety, eating disorders, or postpartum depression have their own worldwide campaigns–but where are the causes dedicated to men?
With the recent news on suicide of high-profile public figures such as Anthony Bourdain and Avicii, it may be difficult to wrap our head about the fact that mental health for men is very underrepresented. Whether it’s because women often speak out, or there are generally more women who suffer from mental health issues, this is not an excuse to ignore the other side of the spectrum.
The facts about mental health problems in men
Also known as the “silent battle”, many men often fear coming clean of the issues they are facing because of the stigma about mental health. Often, it is easier for women to admit that they are facing these issues because there is no double standard when it comes to talking about emotions. Many men suffer in silence for two main reasons: they don’t want to be thought of as “weak”, and they don’t want to be labeled as someone with a mental health issue.
However, this problem is only making the situation worse. According to recent statistics, 75% of the total population in the US who commits suicide annually are men. In simpler ratio, a man attempts to take his own life every 20 minutes in the United States. The stigma isn’t helping–and the silence is aggravating the situation either way. Often ignored, men may even suffer more severe symptoms of mental health problems when untreated. Some of the common conditions include:
Depression in Men
A total of 6 million men in the United States undergo depression every year. Since men may be less attuned with their emotions, some of them have less awareness that they might be suffering from a condition. Male depression is much less diagnosed compared to female depression. Some of the telltale signs of depression in men are:
- Fatigue – general exhaustion, lack of physical energy to do usual tasks
- Irritability – easily angered, annoyed, displays negative moods which are far from the usual self
- Aggression – threatens to hurt others, hurt oneself, or shows physical or verbal signs of abuse
- Loss of interest in activities – lack of motivation in work, hobbies, and relationships
These signs are quite different from those of women, as women often report feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness. Since men’s minds are wired differently, depression may manifest differently.
Anxiety Disorder of Men
Aside from depression, men are also prone to developing anxiety problems. Some of the symptoms may include:
- Extreme sense of worry – loss of judgement over things that may cause actual harm vs. those that shouldn’t be thought about too much
- Physical manifestations – nervous breakdown, panic attacks, cold sweats
- Loss of function – in some cases, anxiety may be severe to the point that a man may refuse to even avoid daily activities to suppress feelings of anxiety
Another hidden problem that has lately starting to gain attention are men diagnosed with social phobia or social anxiety disorder. Some men isolate themselves to the point that they never go out of the house for years, as seen in Japan’s epidemic called Hikikomori in men.
Bipolar Disorder in Men
Over 2.3 million Americans suffer from bipolar disorder, half of which are men usually around the ages of 16-25. Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings which have two opposite poles: manic phase and depressive phase.
During the manic phase, a man may feel a sense of invigoration, similar to feelings like “he can conquer the world”. This results in sleeplessness, heightened senses, and even engagement with reckless activities. This might be very draining as some men experience manic episodes even during normal times of rest. During the depressive phase, men may feel sluggish, unmotivated, and restless to seek another “high”.
A lot of men who suffer from bipolar disorder couldn’t sort out their emotions clearly, making them resort to unhealthy ways to cope such as drinking alcohol and taking in drugs. As a result, bipolar disorder can be accompanied by problems in substance abuse.
Psychosis and Schizophrenia in Males
Schizophrenia and psychosis is a very debilitating condition that affects how a person views reality and their internal thoughts. It is characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and bizarre ways of thinking. People with schizophrenia may even be acting on things that appear in their minds, having mistakenly thought that it was appearing in real life.
Other men who have schizophrenia have reduced feelings of happiness, may have a flat affect, or have trouble remembering past events.
It is shocking to know that most schizophrenia patients are men over 30. This is an alerting statistic that professionals should be taking mental health for men more seriously, as early diagnosis and treatment for schizophrenia disorder is key.
Why are men’s mental health often ignored?
To understand the reasons why men’s mental health is not given its due attention, we must take a look at the problem from different angles.
Double Standards for Men’s Issues
Looking at a sociocultural perspective, the stigma on men has always been there–they are perceived as emotionally tough, mentally strong, and does not break down with the slightest challenges in life. This is often portrayed in the media through Hollywood’s superheroes, soldiers, and other men of valor who did not let their “feelings” get in the way.
As this stigma is embedded in men’s minds, it has become difficult for them to open about what they are going through because men are supposed to toughen up. This double standard to be “emotionally strong” has caused lesser men to seek help from mental professionals.
A lot of mental health organizations are created specifically for women, such as those related to eating disorders, postpartum depression, and anxiety. These organizations run programs that speak specifically to women’s issues, and it is for a good cause.
However, the emphasis on these programs for women strikes a loss of balance for organizations that are specific to men. Thankfully, this has been called to attention and there are now new organizations meant to address some problems commonly faced by men such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression.
Substance Abuse in Men
Men are known to be problem solvers. Whenever something isn’t right, they don’t want to talk about it–they want to do something about it. This is why in moments of depression, anxiety, or loss of control, men often resort to whatever could seemingly “fix” the problem–whether it’s consumption of drugs, alcohol, or any other form of addiction. Men are more likely to try out different kinds of illicit substances than women.
The problem now appears to be more of a substance abuse problem and the underlying causes that brought about the abuse are often ignored. Although mental health issues are still more common than women, it may be possible that statistics for men are higher if only they sought help instead of turning to substances.
How to Increase Awareness for Men’s Mental Health?
Given that men suffer as much as women when it comes to mental health problems, what are specific steps that communities should take to bring awareness for mental health towards the ignored gender?
Gender-targeted Programs for Men
Just as women have campaigns on their own, men should also be given the same privilege. There should be more programs open to men who are looking to solve mental health problems–campaigns for PTSD, drug rehab for men, and other gender-specific programs to help them feel that they are not alone in their battle as men.
Men should be assured that it is not only women who seek help for mental health. Having more gender-targeted programs make them feel secure that there are other people who may be going through the same problems as theirs.
Re-program Stigmas Through Media
The idea that men shouldn’t be talking about how they are feeling should be removed the way it was introduced–through media exposure. Advocates for male issues can lobby in media companies and pitch advertisements, campaigns, and programs that would help increase mental health awareness in men.
Additionally, they could also spread the message in other forms–through social media campaigns, contests, and short films. It is okay for men to share their feelings. It is not a form of weakness, rather, it’s a way to unload and to let others understand your mental and emotional states. When men say that they are okay even when they’re not, others might just believe it. Re-programming the stigmas can completely change how men see their mental health.
Strengthen Advocacies on Suicide Prevention
Three-quarters of suicides in the United States are committed by men. A lot of these men go through bouts of depression, and a recent study shows that men have consumed alcohol over the last hour before their decision to take their own life. This all links back to the tendencies of men to alcoholism, drug intake, and other dangerous addictions as a way to cope with depression.
The thing is, these suicides could have been prevented if the problem of depression was addressed initially. When men suppress their feelings, they tend to deal with their problems in the ways they think would give them satisfaction–through temporary yet dangerous highs. So, it is easier for men to succumb to problems of addictions and abuse and ultimately commit suicide.
There should be more advocacies to help men who are undergoing depression. It would be helpful to see more male high-profile personalities coming out and testifying about their struggles on depression and thoughts of suicide, to help other men understand that they are not facing the challenges alone. When more people talk about it, others muster enough courage to get help.
Check on All Men in Your Lives
Government programs and non-profit organizations are helpful–but they can only reach as far as those who ask for their help. As citizens, we can always do our part to help men succeed against mental health problems.
The first thing is to understand the signs of common mental health problems in men–whether it’s depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, or something else for that matter. Trust your instincts and talk to a professional right away if you notice some signs on your male loved ones. They might be able to give you some ways to encourage the men in your lives to get a definitive diagnosis and treatment.
The second thing to do is to be an encouraging person in times that these people in your life show signs of their mental health problem. We can’t truly, fully, walk in their shoes and understand their struggles, but we can empathize with them. By letting them know that we are there, and we care, they are more likely to be motivated to get help for their issues.
Lastly, it is also important to be an encourager through your actions. Perhaps your husband may be suffering from substance abuse due to depression. You can be an encourager by inviting him to try jogging outdoors. Maybe your brother exhibits signs of bipolar disorder. Give him motivation by presenting thoughtful reminders about his medication. These simple acts of encouragement make the men in your lives feel that they matter, and for that, they would want to be better.
Men Deserve Help As Much As Women
When it comes to mental health, men deserve all the help they can get as much as women. Men can also be affected by psychological problems as much as any other gender. However, they might be discouraged to open up due to the lack of support and stigmas in society.
The purpose of this post is to spread awareness that men can also be victims of mental health problems. By understanding why they might be reluctant to seek help, we might just be able to find ways to reach out to them.
By Adam Durnham
Adam Durnham is a professional freelance writer who specializes in addiction, recovery, and mental health. He currently resides in Rochester Hills, Michigan.