More than Movember: We Need to Talk More About Men’s Mental Health  

We Need To Talk More About Men’s Mental Health
December 11, 2019

A National awareness month for all things Men’s health, named Movember in a nod to mustache-sporting advocates, is coming to a close. 

The yearly campaign has expanded since the conception in 2003, initially created to raise money for prostate cancer foundations and using the mustache as a symbol and conversation piece.

While most efforts focus on prostate and testicular cancer, and a few health projects that benefit both “Mo Bros and Mo Sisters”, the organization has now taken a worldwide focus on improving male mental health and preventing male suicide. 

What does it mean to address mental health amongst men and male-identifying individuals?

The stakes are high, with data showing a need to connect our guys to resources, and the time is right, as the national dialogue continues to break down the barriers about mental health and addiction. Men’s mental health can’t continue to be a silent crisis.

Facts and Figures 

Globally, every minute, a man dies by suicide. In the United States, 75% of suicides are men.

Men with mental illness are less likely than women to have received mental health treatment in the last year.  

Men are more likely than women to engage in illicit drug use and begin using alcohol or drugs at a younger age. The rates of death and overdose are higher among men 

Men have higher rates of use or dependence on drugs and alcohol than women. 

Male veterans experience twice the rate of alcohol and drug use as women.

The Signs and Symptoms 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, mental illness like depression can both stem from different factors and have different symptomology in men. 

Men with depression are more likely to appear angry, irritable, or aggressive, rather than sad. Other difficulties include more sleeping issues, losing interest in work or family, and ongoing physical symptoms like headaches, digestive issues, or racing heart. 

While men are more likely to see a doctor about physical symptoms, it seems the signs are not always clear enough to be noticed by medical teams, without further information from the patient. 

Some will turn to drugs or alcohol to try to cope when no other help seems to address the emotional turmoil hidden away. Substances affect men differently due to biological systems and variations in body size, composition, and testosterone production. Men are more likely than women to become addicted.

Of the causes, it appears that a combination of risk factors is the catalyst for mental illness: genetic predisposition, serious illnesses, and environmental stress. This might include major life changes, grief or trauma, or difficulties in relationships.

Gender Stereotypes and Stigma 

Traditionally, the vision of the man of the household being the breadwinner, the sole supporter, has created significant pressure on men to perform and provide.

Thus, when financial problems or work concerns like loss of a job or cut hours pop up, it can fall harshly on the shoulders of males. Even if only perceived, it can lead to feelings of worthlessness, stress, shame, and anger.

For men, those identifying as he and him, the stigma surrounding mental health continues to be one of the most prominent challenges to addressing and treating mental illness. 

Among both gender adults with substance use disorder and co-occurring disorders, 13.1% specifically noted fear of what neighbors would think or worry about negative effects on their job as reasons they did not receive mental health treatment or care for the conditions.

And, about 23% who didn’t pursue treatment said they could handle the problem without treatment.

In a survey by Privia Health, men noted the top three reasons not to talk to their doctors about mental health were:

  • I’ve learned to deal with it
  • I don’t want to burden anyone
  • I’m too embarrassed

Men are reluctant to ask for help, usually steadfast in a belief they should either “tough it out” or not admit to having a problem and risk burdening others. Or, perhaps socially they are pressured to engage in risky behaviors to prove their “manliness” or are less likely to be challenged or judged for binge drinking or drug use by friends, even encouraged at times. 

Dealing with any illness is a challenge to maintaining the role they have been trained by the societal expectation to believe they have to play. Emotional problems have not historically been discussed amongst men, as years of telling young boys to stop crying and push away feelings out of a need to appear masculine and strong. They may not want to confirm weakness or open up possible areas of moral failing. 

To some extent, there is a feeling that working-age men are not a vulnerable population but may separate them from the resources they need. Further, some conditions are seen, inherently, as female problems. 

A recent announcement from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) marked yet another movement to break down the barriers that keep men from receiving help for conditions seen as affecting only women. NEDA announced on International Men’s Day a merger to take in the previously separate National Association for Males with Eating Disorders (N.A.M.E.D.)

This effort hopes to ensure that advocacy, research, and care for those suffering from eating disorders – of which at least 1 in 3 are men – are holistically assisting the entire population, including male and male-identifying individuals.

Mental health and addiction awareness and treatment are evolving to meet the needs of every subset of the population and get both women and men the resources necessary. Often, taking an inventive approach removes the hurdles of old-school procedures.

One program in Michigan, evaluated by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has found that while men were leery of traditional talk therapy they responded positively to treatment that connected physical activity or hobbies with mental health.

For one participant, this meant returning to fishing as part of his mental health routine, taking a more full-life look at how to bring men back to health.

This is where exercise & fitness can be an immensely useful tool to keep dudes engaged and take down walls that keep them from connecting and being vulnerable with others. Having the chance to work as a team with others can be a first step to making those bridges and starting conversations. As men are more likely to abuse substances due to peer pressure or as part of a group, rebuilding social connections in a healthy community is an invaluable support tool.

A resource called Man Therapy aims to take a humor-filled approach to providing information to males, making mental health resources available in a way less clinical or “mushy-gushy” in feelings than perhaps other sites. But, behind the comical references, the advice and tools are rooted in getting guys the answers and help they need, sure to provide crisis lines and directions for those that may need it. Because as we all know, the consequences of mental illness and addiction are no laughing matter. 

Self-care for Gentlemen

Men also often do not prioritize self-care. And, no, this isn’t about manicures and bubble baths. Self-care is integral to ensuring balance and fulfilling all the things that keep mental and physical health strong. Pushing off your own needs and acting as “superman” may feel necessary or even encouraged but doesn’t benefit you or those around you. Not only does it come with a cost to health, it can lead to burn-out and exacerbate underlying issues to the point of crisis.

While there are many theories about the types of self-care, here are some baselines to use as a checklist: How are or can these be prioritized in a day-to-day routine or boosted through setting boundaries?

  • Physical
    • Nutrition, movement, annual check-ups, sleep
  • Emotional
    • Relaxation techniques and stress management, expressing feelings, understanding and accepting emotions, finding positive coping skills
  • Spiritual
    • Finding meaning in a larger purpose, exploring values and beliefs, connection to religion, nature, etc.
  • Intellectual
    • Opportunities to be creative, chances to problem solve and think critically, career development
  • Social
    • Nurturing relationships, spending time with friends, being out to do things with those outside your family
  • Relational
    • Spending time with partners, children, and other family members, boosting those relationships
  • Practical
    • Taking time to prevent future stress by preparing, having a budget, organizing files, having clothes that fit and are in good condition

Utilizing positive self-care strategies isn’t a cure-all, but can make an impact on overall well-being and assist through the process of more intensive therapy or behavior change methods. 

Why it Matters 

According to researchers, men are more likely to externalize emotions, meaning behavior and maladaptive coping mechanisms become the way to handle underlying mental health struggles. With aggressive, impulsive, noncompliant, or coercive behavior tendencies, it is more likely that males will develop substance use disorders.  

Early intervention is key to addressing addiction and mental illness before it spirals to more severity. Unlike some myths, you don’t have to hit “rock bottom” to benefit from, need, and deserve formal treatment.

Statistics show that working with a professional, perhaps a doctor or other provider like a trained clinician, to intervene and discuss concerns with someone can result in up to 90% of people agreeing to enter treatment. 

While physical health often has quite visible signals and symptoms, poor mental health is more likely to go undetected, even by the man experiencing it.

Understanding the unique features and challenges that make access to addiction and mental health care problematic for males, we can all work together to educate, support, and advocate for ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities. 

What Now? 

First and foremost, if someone in your life is in immediate danger, always call 911 or go to the closest emergency room.

For those that are in crisis and need connection to resources, the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Line (1-800-273-8255) and the crisis text line (text HOME to 741741) are essential, confidential resources designed to help. If sharing with those you know feels too overwhelming, these options may prove life-saving. 

For those with a loved one – brother, husband, grandfather, son, cousin, uncle, co-worker, friend – who may need help, take slow steps to show them you are there as a support. 

It may require reminding them you are there to listen, checking-in about major stressors, asking questions, and knowing how to contain your feelings and composure when talking about drinking and drug use behaviors.

Consider attending an Al-Anon meeting or support group for those whose loved ones struggle with addiction or mental health issues, to hear from others and get your help in the process. Educate yourself on the topic and options for treatment.  

Remember: addiction is a disease of the brain. It is not a sign of failure, someone’s choice, or something they should be blamed for.

If you have questions or concerns about your mental health or relationship with substances, consider talking with your health providers, a trusted friend, or calling a treatment center for a confidential evaluation or to learn more about what might benefit you.

Perhaps exploring teletherapy is a way you could feel more comfortable discussing feelings. Or, going to buddies from sports teams or work would be an easier first step than talking to spouse or sibling. Seek out positive mental health and recovery role-models, from your community or the national-stage. Many professional athletes are now speaking out about their experience in hopes of inspiring other men to address their struggles.

What matters is taking the step, though vulnerable and uncomfortable, to speak your feelings aloud. While the beginnings of mental illness and addiction might mean outpatient level of care, it is possible that the best place for you, to give you your life and health back, is at a higher level of care.

This may include daytime treatment or residential settings, including detox assistance. This possibility is not, of course, taking lightly. Know that it is natural and okay to feel overwhelmed, even to want to run in the other direction. Taking a step to address struggles, even if it means a break from work or family, means you will be alive, present, and in recovery to be there for them in the future.

The conversation doesn’t end as we clean-up from Thanksgiving dinner and bring in the 24-day countdown to Christmas. Talking about the well-being of males is a year-long necessity.

Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Men face barriers and have specific needs in mental health care and addiction treatment, and there are options available right now. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Steps Recovery Centers of Utah are here to help men live and thrive in recovery. Call today –385-236-0931 – for a confidential conversation with a trained clinician.

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