Be A Man About It – Men’s Mental Health
“Men don’t cry.” “Suck it up.” “Why are you being such a girl?” “Toughen up.” These are a few statements many men have heard over the course of their lives.
Often men are taught to be tough or macho no matter the circumstances, and have been led to believe that showing emotions or expressing innermost thoughts and feelings is the wrong thing to do. We have been told that keeping our issues buried makes us strong, but in reality, it does the opposite. This June, as we observe National Men’s Health Month, let’s take time to focus on men’s mental and physical health.
According to Mental Health America, five major mental health problems affecting men are depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, psychosis and schizophrenia, and eating disorders. Studies show that men of all ages and ethnicities are less likely than women to seek help for these problems and more – including substance abuse and stressful life events – even though they encounter these problems at the same or greater rates as women.
It is estimated that six million men struggle with depression, yet men are less likely to seek treatment due to reasons including reluctance to talk, fear of stigmatization and judgment, and the inability to accept symptoms or verbalize the extent of their feelings.
A significant factor that prevents men from seeking help for mental health issues is what is commonly referred to as ‘masculine norms,’ especially in American society. Masculine norms are the social rules and expected behavior culturally associated with men and manhood within. Within these norms, a man is supposed to be strong and stoic, not weak or vulnerable which is a concept that prevents men from expressing their true feelings. The adherence to these norms results in toxic masculinity – men lack the ability to express themselves and as a result, their emotions have more of a chance of being suppressed or expressed through aggression or violence. Adherence to masculine norms can result in the following:
- worsening of depression and anxiety
- abuse of substances
- greater health risk (e.g., cardiovascular and metabolic disease)
- issues with dating and interpersonal intimacy
- issues with interpersonal violence
- increase in overall psychological distress
- discouragement in seeking help
Suicide rates continue to grow each year and have been referred to as a ‘silent epidemic’ due to the alarming rate of suicides committed on a daily basis. According to a 2021 statistic, males make up 50% of the population but nearly 80% of suicides. This amounts to roughly 105 men dying by suicide daily.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Suicide is the 10th leading causing of death among all Americans
- Men account for 79 percent of all suicides
- Suicide is four times more prevalent for males than females
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death of men between the ages of 10-39
Mental Health America lists some of the factors that lead to suicide in males as social isolation, substance abuse, unemployment, military-related trauma, genetic predisposition, and other mood disorders.
Gay and bisexual men are more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual men before age 25, likely attributed to social stigma and nonacceptance. Additionally, young Black men commit suicide at more than three times the rate of Black women, with suicide rates in Black men 10 to 19 years old increasing by 60% since 2017.
As men, it is important we continue to show our strength by being vocal about what impacts us on a daily basis. It is also imperative that we express feelings in a healthy way, to avoid the pitfalls of burying or ignoring emotional difficulties. According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, in the year before they committed suicide, only 35% of men in America on average sought care from a mental health practitioner. It is critical to speak up and seek help, before your emotional turmoil turns into bigger problems and manifests in negative, dangerous, or even life-ending behaviors.
We should take care of our emotional responsibilities with the same care and dedication we give to family, work, and financial obligations. It is not easy to share yourself with others, but we have to begin somewhere to lessen the stigma attached to men and their mental health.
Take the time today to check on the men in your lives and let them know it is okay to talk. Support them with encouraging empathetic, honest communication, signaling to them that you are a safe space for them to be vulnerable and open for the betterment of their mental health.