We do not talk about men and their mental health enough. Mental illness affects more than 6 million men worldwide, but that’s only the reported cases. Many men struggle with their mental health in silence and find other ways to cope, such as aggressive and risky behavior or substance abuse.
I, for one, understand the stigma regarding men talking about feeling depressed, anxious, or struggling with addiction and abuse. Having lived through my own mental health struggles, I know what it is like to sit in silence until the time comes when you realize you need help.
Men’s mental health is a subject near my heart because I have struggled with mental illness. Since June is Men’s Health Awareness Month, there’s no time like today to bring this discussion to the forefront.
My Mental Health Struggle
When I was a kid, I got made fun of a lot. I was always smaller than other kids my age, making me an easy target for bullies. Being bullied so much made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. I always wanted to be someone else. I often tried to emulate TV characters my age because I thought that since the characters on TV were liked, the kids at my school would like me better.
On top of being bullied so much, it always felt like every time I made a close friend; they would always move away. It didn’t have anything to do with me, but it always felt that way. I never talked about this with anyone because everyone dismissed my feelings, or I got told to “suck it up.” It took me years to realize this trauma from my childhood is why I struggled with cultivating new friendships throughout my adulthood.
In high school, I didn’t belong to a click. I wasn’t a jock, preppy kid (even though I wanted to be), a band nerd, or part of the emo crowd. I never felt like I fit in anywhere. I was also a rule follower and didn’t get into much trouble. I didn’t drink or do drugs.
I broke out of my shell once I got to college, but I still didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere. The feelings of not belonging and being accepted began to amplify in college, yet I was never one to express how I was feeling. I sat in silence and struggled with my racing thoughts of “am I good enough” and “why don’t people like me.” It affected every relationship I had, and I pushed people away when I felt unworthy of friendship or love.
I moved to Austin after graduating college in 2003. One of the things that drew me to Austin was that, for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like I had to be ashamed of who I was, and everyone would generally accept me. But, I still struggled with the thoughts of not feeling worthy of someone’s friendship because of my childhood trauma of feeling not good enough.
It all culminated in 2008 when my ex-wife decided to pack her and our then 8-month-old son up in the car and move back home to her parents. I felt worthless, alone, and like no one wanted me. One night shortly after, I considered taking my own life. Fortunately, I had a change of heart and called 9-1-1. I don’t talk about this day often.
I fought endless battles for the next several years to feel worthy of someone’s love or friendship. I would go to therapy only to not return because I didn’t want to talk about how I felt. I lashed out at people, pushed people away if they got too close, and sabotaged relationships and friendships. I also struggled with codependency, abandonment and trust issues, and an overall sense of self-worth.
In 2012, I discovered yoga and noticed a swift change in my mindset. I felt confident for the first time, and I began accepting who I was and stopped feeling that I had to be someone else to be liked.
Unfortunate life events happened over the next few years. My grandparents and my mother died in a span of five years, and I struggled with finances. I began noticing those feelings of abandonment, worthlessness, and isolation that I felt after my ex-wife left me and decided it was time to get help.
I started therapy and getting into fitness since I noticed the change in my mindset first-hand. When I say yoga and fitness saved my life, I’m not saying it passively. While I still struggle with feeling worthy of friendship, love, and being accepted sometimes, the impact of those feelings is much less. I still have my days and weeks of feeling depressed and worthless, but they are minimal and most of the time they are followed by a strong sense of self-worth, purpose, and happiness.
As a man, I know too well the stigma of talking about feelings of low self-worth or being depressed. I was told to “suck it up” and “it’s not manly to talk about or appear sad.” If it weren’t for me finally being proactive and realizing I needed help, I’m not sure I’d be here today. That’s why men’s mental health is a meaningful discussion for me.
Men and their Mental Health
Even though there have been great strides for men’s mental health, much more needs to be done. As recent as 2020, men died by suicide 3.9 times more than women, while white males accounted for 70% of suicide deaths in the same year. But why is it this way?
It’s hard to pinpoint one specific reason, yet one belief is that masculinity gets in the way of getting help. Mental health, however, does not discriminate based on sex.
Men get taught at an early age that they should be brave, strong, and not show fear. In other words, “man up.” It’s preached that if they admit they are afraid or struggling with feeling sad, it makes them weak. I remember being told as a child, “men don’t cry.” These gender roles perpetuate the stigma around mental health, leaving many men less likely to get help. Statistics support this.
In one survey, as many as 40% of men have never talked to anyone about their mental health. To put this in perspective, over 3/4 of those surveyed admitted they felt anxious, stressed, or depressed. When asked why they don’t speak up, these were the responses.
- “I’ve learned to deal with it.”
- “I don’t want to burden anyone.”
- “I’m too embarrassed.”
- “There’s a negative stigma around this type of thing.”
The same survey found that, for 40% of men, it would take thoughts of suicide to get them to get help for their mental health. For some, that’s too late.
Mental Health Disorders that Affect Men
The idea of masculinity and mental health often leads to men brushing off signs of mental health issues, making them even more less likely to get help. Instead, men release their mental health struggles through substance abuse, aggression, weight changes, and obsessive thinking.
Suppose men do not recognize their signs of mental health and are already less likely to get help. In that case, the number of men affected by mental health disorders is likely much higher than the reported 6 million.
Here are the common mental health disorders in men.
Men are more likely than women to struggle with substance abuse, including abusing prescription medications. Yet, alcohol is still the number one drug for abuse. The social normalcy of drinking is often considered masculine. Think about the number of videos of young men shotgunning or chugging a beer with their buddies on social media. The downside is that this is often a sign of a mental health problem.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Nearly two-thirds of men experience trauma in their lifetime. Trauma that men experience includes:
- Sexual assault or abuse
- Physical assault or abuse
- Witnessing a death or murder
- An injury
- Emotional abuse
Statistics will tell you that women are twice as likely to develop PTSD from the above factors than men. However, remember that men are less likely to talk about mental health problems, which often go undiagnosed. Sometimes, the signs of PTSD are mistaken for another disorder, so men suffer in silence.
Statistics will tell you that women are twice as likely to suffer from depression than men. One study found that depression correlates with the hormonal changes in women throughout their lives, such as puberty, before menstruation, after pregnancy, and during perimenopause. These hormonal changes are exclusive to women.
A CDC report said that depression affected 25.8% of women in 2020 and 15.8% of males. The statistics might not tell the whole story regarding men since it often goes unreported or the signs are mistaken for another disorder.
Depression is more than just feeling sad now and then. It’s a persistent sadness and loss of interest in activities you once found enjoyable and can affect your day-to-day activities.
Signs of Depression
Feeling sad or hopeless are common signs of depression; however, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Depression can affect your mood, behavior, sleep, appetite, mind, and weight. Here are the signs of depression:
- Mood: anxiety, apathy, general discontent, guilt, hopelessness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, mood swings, or sadness
- Behavioral: agitation, excessive crying, irritability, restlessness, or social isolation
- Sleep: early awakening, excess sleepiness, insomnia, or restless sleep
- Appetite: excessive hunger, fatigue, or loss of appetite
- Cognitive: lack of concentration, slowness in activity, repeatedly going over thoughts or thoughts of suicide
- Weight: weight gain or weight loss
For many people with depression, signs are usually severe enough to cause noticeable problems in day-to-day activities, such as work, school, social activities, or relationships with others. Some people may generally feel unhappy without really knowing why. Consult a licensed physician or counselor for advice if you believe your expiring depression.
Anxiety disorders are a category of one of the most common male mental health disorders. These include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety, phobias, a generalized anxiety disorder.
When talking about anxiety, it’s essential to understand the difference between feeling anxious and having an anxiety disorder. For many people, anxiety is short-lived and is that bit of stress about deadlines at work, public speaking, or an unexpected expense. Financial stress is the primary cause of anxiety.
Constant anxiety that causes panic attacks in social situations, fear that keeps you from doing something, or feelings of doom are signs of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can develop for many reasons – trauma, stressful job, or emotional stress from a problematic relationship or friendship.
More common in women, bipolar disorder affects 2.8% of the population. However, the National Alliance for Mental Illness reports that 83% of bipolar cases in men are classified as severe. As with all other mental disorders with me, bipolar disease goes underreported. Signs of bipolar disorder typically begin in young men between the ages of 15 and 24; however, many signs are brushed off as “typical young boy behavior.”
Getting Help With Your Mental Health
If you are even thinking about talking to someone about your mental health, don’t hesitate! Talk with your doctor or a healthcare professional. They can refer you to a counselor or psychiatrist.
There are also many online resources available such as BetterHelp, that can allow you to get help in the privacy of your own home.
The American Psychological Association offers a psychologist locator tool to search for therapists in your area. Directories are beneficial if you’re looking for a particular type of therapy or prefer a male therapist because the tools allow you to filter your search.
HeadsUpGuys also offers a therapist finder that includes professionals who specialize in working with men.
A few other databases available:
- American Psychiatric Association
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- Medicare.gov’s healthcare provider tool (to find local professionals who accept Medicare)
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Talk with Your Friends
Be open to talking with your friends or someone you trust and who is close to you. Men have a hard time opening up, so this might feel challenging. You may also find that your friends are going through similar situations, and these conversations will benefit both of you.
If you notice that you have a friend that’s been absent or seems like they are down, you can make yourself available with a simple, “I noticed you’ve not been yourself. I’m here if you need me.” That could get the conversation started.
Having been through my struggles with mental health, I understand the stigma that comes with talking about it. Deciding to go to therapy and know why I’m feeling the way I do was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Don’t sit in silence. There is help out there!