Men’s Mental Health: The Unique Challenges and the Way Forward
The data don’t lie: More men are likely to reach for the bottle than the phone when they need mental and emotional help. When it comes to dealing with life’s stresses—their job (or lack of it), relationship issues, health concerns—men prefer to suffer in silence or lash out rather than seek professional help, particularly in the form of mental health services. And in today’s social climate, it takes not only courage, but discernment for men to get the right kind of help.
Men’s Mental Health Care Report Card: F
• Depression.* Over 6 million US men suffer from depression per year
• Avoidance. Men are less likely than women to seek help for depression, substance abuse and stressful events due to social norms, reluctance to talk, and downplaying symptoms. Men are half as likely to receive mental health treatment as women (10.6 vs 20.8 percent)
• Under-Diagnosis. Doctors are more likely to diagnose depression in women compared with men, even when they have similar scores on standardized measures of depression or identical symptoms. Here in Clark County, men are half as likely as women to be diagnosed with depression (16 vs 30 percent).
• Addiction. Approximately one in five men develop alcohol dependency during their lives. Male veterans experience nearly twice the alcohol and drug use rate as women. In Clark County, men are more likely than women to binge drink and use marijuana.
• Suicide. Nearly four times as many men as women commit suicide. Middle-aged white men have the highest suicide rate. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.
Signs of Overwhelm
Everyone has bad days—days they have trouble sleeping, feel cranky or sad. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), when those days continue for two weeks or more, then it may be depression, signaling a time to reach out.
Male Depression Can Be Subtle
“While many women with depression seem sad or express sadness,” in contrast, NIMH cautions, “some men with depression hide their emotions and may seem to be angry, irritable, or aggressive. They may feel very tired and lose interest in work, family, or hobbies. They may have difficulty sleeping. Sometimes their mental health symptoms appear to be physical issues. For example, a racing heart, tightening chest, ongoing headaches, or digestive issues can be signs of a mental health problem.”
Recognizing the Mental Health Stigma—And the Need to Push Past It
“As a young male, I was taught to withhold my feelings by a generation accustomed to not expressing feelings of sadness or fear,” says a Clark County man who wishes to remain anonymous. “Even modern-day culture helps support a culture of stigma regarding mental healthcare, particularly as it relates to gender issues and veterans war-time trauma. As a former public behavioral health services administrator, I saw firsthand how men in particular experienced stigma when seeking care for mental health services, including suicide. Later, I sought out mental health services and learned I experienced PTSD from childhood abuse, literally blocked from my memory. I now know I did experience abuse and gained perspective in understanding how it played out in my life. I can now move on in my life. The memories are there, but manageable.”
Nicole Greene, deputy director for Office of Women’s Health observes, “Men are less likely to speak up about mental health problems like depression. I know one too many men who have diagnosed mental health issues but do nothing about it because they think admitting it makes them weak. They don’t want to go to the pharmacy and pick up an anti-depressant because they are afraid they will be judged. They don’t want to go to a therapist because they don’t want to share with a stranger. But if they don’t talk about it, it can be tough for friends or family members to know something is wrong. Men don’t always show the signs we often associate with depression . . . [thus] doctors and loved ones miss the signs something is wrong . . . Depression can’t be willed away. It’s a serious mental health condition that affects a man’s daily life, including the way he eats, sleeps, feels, and thinks. It can also affect his ability to work, go to school, and maintain relationships with friends and family. Depression is not a sign of weakness, and it can affect any man.”