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Men and Mental Health
Mental health, particularly among men, has been a silent topic in modern society that has only now come into the limelight. In many Western societies the suicide rate among men is greater than that of women. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) it is four times higher in the U.S.
While visible acts such as suicide, drug and alcohol abuse and violence have been easily documented for statistical analysis, the root cause of these acts that have been perpetrated by men has not. Unlike women, men have been much less forthcoming about mental health issues. In fact, men are often unaware that they have a mental health problem or they refuse to acknowledge it. Societal expectations of men and women have contributed to the manner in which each gender deals with mental health challenges. These expectations, unfortunately, have prevented men from seeking appropriate treatment resulting in the destructive behaviours mentioned earlier.
What are some of these expectations? Men are generally expected to conform to traditional masculine stereotypes such as being tough, emotionally stable, and fully independent. Therefore men are often afraid that if they admit to any kind of emotional problems their masculinity will diminish. As the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) comments on its website, “The ‘code’ governing men’s behaviour is one of the prime barriers preventing men from seeking help.”
The Movember Foundation lists five major mental health problems affecting men:
- Bipolar Disorder
- Psychosis and Schizophrenia
- Eating Disorders
Due to space limitations, it would be best to focus on two out of the five problems listed: depression and eating disorders. Depression has a negative impact on how you think and feel about yourself. According to the triadmentalhealth.org website, (clinical) depression “causes people to lose pleasure from daily life.”
Some of the common symptoms are: persistent sadness; lost of interest in activities that would have otherwise been pleasurable; pessimism; loss of appetite or sudden surge in appetite; lack of energy; lack of focus; suicidal thoughts. Note that the website distinguishes depression from “the blues” which is an individual’s common reaction to life’s circumstances. Symptoms are usually limited to a change of mood, and most importantly, it is temporary. Depression can be caused by a combination of factors that are both external and internal to the individual; therefore treatment should be in accordance with that person’s condition.
The American Psychological Association defines eating disorders as “abnormal eating habits that can threaten your health or even your life.”
Eating disorders tend to be associated more with women rather than men, and as a result they are not sufficiently documented in clinical studies. Eating disorders can cause excessive weight loss or weight gain, both of which have dangerous health consequences. Men, however, tend to suffer weight gain more than women. The Movember Foundation claims that male eating disorders are on the rise as men are much more conscious of their physique. Societal messages, they believe, play a key role in the behaviours men exhibit in an attempt to live up to expectations (real or imagined). Some of these societal messages are:
- Males should only have one body type
- You are what you look like
- Males need to be in control
- Eating disorders are not masculine
The Foundation also lists possible signs or symptoms of the onset of or presence of an eating disorder:
- Preoccupation with body building, weight lifting or muscle toning.
- Weight lifting when injured
- Lowered testosterone
- Anxiety/Stress over missing workouts
- Muscular weakness
- Decreased interest in sex, or fears around sex
- Possible conflict over gender identity or sexual orientation
- Using anabolic steroids
Treatment is usually a combination of psychotherapy, medication and dietary changes.
Mental illness is not something that men should tackle alone, and seeking help should be the first course of action to take. Other important factors that help men deal with mental illness are: good support groups, proper diagnosis followed by appropriate medical treatment, and making a conscious effort to improve one’s state of mind.
However, as the old saying goes, “prevention is better than cure,” so the best way to minimise the chances of mental illness occurring is by living a lifestyle which is conducive to a healthy mental state. The Government of Quebec’s webpage (http://sante.gouv.qc.ca/en/conseils-et-prevention/maintenir-une-bonne-sante-mentale/) maintains that balance is the foundation of good mental health. One must establish balance between the five aspects of (human) life. These five aspects are:
The webpage goes on to provide general tips on healthy living such as maintaining a good lifestyle, keeping a good social circle and taking time to relax.
Men still face difficulty in admitting to suffering from and seeking treatment for mental illnesses due to the societal pressures discussed earlier. Society also has to play a role in making it easier for men to openly discuss their problems. Perceptions of what men ought and ought not to be must be revisited. Also, men should not create mental barriers for themselves in seeking help. Chances are, neither your doctor nor your family members will see you as weak in any way for admitting to mental health problems. Seeking help for a mental illness should not be seen as a sign of weakness but an act of courage.
Do you suffer from any form of mental illness and afraid to talk to someone about it? You are not alone. Many men, women and children suffer from some form of mental illness. Feel free to comment below and share some of your experiences, you never know, sharing how you feel can be a form of therapy. Or better yet, maybe you can make a difference in someone else’s life.
- Gender Difference in the Prevalence of Eating Disorder Symptoms: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2696560/
- Eating Disorders: http://www.apa.org/topics/eating/
- The Five Major Categories of Mental Illness: http://triadmentalhealth.org/the-five-5-major-categories-of-mental-illness/
- Maintaining Good Mental Health: http://sante.gouv.qc.ca/en/conseils-et-prevention/maintenir-une-bonne-sante-mentale/
- Men and Depression: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/men-and-depression/index.shtml
- Men and Mental Illness: http://www.cmha.ca/public_policy/men-and-mental-illness/#.VXhCc89Viko
- Men’s Health (Mental Health): https://ca.movember.com/mens-health/mental-health
- Mental Illness: http://www.medicinenet.com/mental_illness/page2.htm
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (Facts and Figures): https://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide/facts-and-figures