One of the biggest challenges that men face is dealing with their mental health. Frequently men cope with mental health issues in unhealthy ways including substance abuse, self-medication, anger, aggression, and isolation. Six million men in the United States suffer from depression, and that number increases each year. Some young men (more so than young women) also develop schizophrenia, a debilitating mental health condition that includes detachment from reality and emotional instability. Despite the growing epidemic, men tend to be reluctant to talk about it.
I understand the challenges men face all too well. For most of my life, I wasn’t aware that my depression was tied into masculinity and the way that men often think about their mental health. In my life, when I feel emasculated from rejection or failure, especially romantically, I experience severe depression.
As I’ve become aware of my own mental health issues, and continue to talk about it with my therapist, I’ve experienced increased happiness and well-being. Most importantly, I’ve felt more masculine than ever before.
Why don’t men talk about their mental health?
During childhood, boys in our society are often taught to overcome any expression of sadness. Many learn from their parents and other children that they are not supposed to express emotions or vulnerability. Boys are taught to overcome their emotional responses so much that, by the time they grow up, they are unaware of their feelings and how to describe them.
As much as depression is common among men, very few, accept it. To “MAN UP,” they usually, pretend that they are not tired or sad and are adequately handling whatever issues they may have.
Some men worry about how society will judge them if they aren’t tough. The idea of seeking treatment for a mental health condition or even the act of needing help is seen as a weakness. There’s still the idea in our culture that men need to be “tough guys,” and that seeking help is not “normal” masculine behavior. Even men and boys who try counseling may worry about what others think of their decision.
Having good physical health and getting proper exercise is essential to a high quality of life. However, most men don’t realize that mental health is equally as important. Sound mental health is the cornerstone of the ability to handle life’s inevitable challenges, cope with difficult circumstances, build healthy relationships, and lead more productive, fulfilling lives.
One in five men will suffer from mental health problems this year. Mental health issues are common for both women and men, but specific types of problems differ. Women are one-and-a-half times more likely to be affected by depression and anxiety, while men will likely suffer more from substance abuse and personality disorders. Men are also more liable to die by suicide.
Mental Health Tips for Men
1. Build Resilience. It is necessary to create emotional resilience to deal with life’s ups and downs. Resilience is the ability to maintain good feelings about oneself, irrespective of the environment or challenges we face.
Emotional resilience grows in many ways, including:
Communicating — talking to people (e.g. to friends, family members, or a therapist) relieves tension and provides more of a sense of connection and belonging.
Improving self-esteem — to improve self-esteem men must treat themselves in a positive, but honest, way and focus on things like positive self-talk and not striving for perfection.
Managing stress levels — reducing work hours, asking for help, getting regular downtime to relax and unwind.
Developing healthy relationships — interacting with friends, family, or romantic partners.
Paying attention — developing awareness of feelings, emotions, and needs.
Learning new things — discovering new passions and interests, as well as the pursuit of the beauty of art or nature, help us engage more fully with the world. Studies show that walking through a garden can reduce blood pressure and reduce stress.
Eating well — a well-balanced diet and limiting your alcohol intake is also important to mental health.
Do Not Assume It’s Too Late to Make Changes
Regardless of how severe a man’s mental health challenges are there is always hope. Mental health improves with the work of a trained professional therapist (whether online or otherwise), healthy lifestyle, and coping strategies. Making the decision to get help — and feel good about it — will change a man’s perception of his masculinity and his mental health.
And most importantly, it’s time for men to really “MAN UP” and start talking about their issues.