NO doubt the stigma of having mental health condition affects everyone, but it seems to affect men more, as they hesitate to seek treatment for it thinking it will make them look weak and less “manly.” In fact, many of the men suffering from mental health problems would rather suffer silently instead of seeking treatment and the explanation behind this is men think that they should be macho or tough to be able to deal with any problems. Their ego and this type of mindset prevent them from seeking treatment for any mind related health problems.
- In the year 2017, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states that the death of men by suicide is about 3.54% more than women.(1) Men are also twice more likely to misuse drugs when compared to women.
- According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 62,000 men die from causes related to alcohol compared to around 26,000 women every year.(2, 3, 4)
- According to a report, depression affects about 6 million men in the US every year.(5)
- Suicide and depression and are listed as the one of the primary causes of death in men, and still men are less likely to seek treatment for their mental health treatment when compared to women.(5)
- The “Macho” Stigma Prevents Men from Seeking Treatment with Their Mental Health.(6, 7)
Men seem to be fixated on being macho and do not want to admit ever that they suffer from any type of issue, including mental health problems. Men see depression, anxiety and other mental health problems as a sign of weakness and a blow to their ego.
Men need to understand that this outdated thinking is a relic of the past and doesn’t apply in today’s progressive world, which sees mental illness as any other disease, such as hypertension or diabetes.
Society puts a lot of pressure on men to be strong, and because of this the stigma doubles when it comes to a man struggling with mental illness resulting in them not seeking help and even refusing to admit that they are suffering from any such problem.
There is so much knowledge today regarding mental illness, its causes, the chemical changes in the brain and the treatment has improved along with the understanding of the mental health has improved by leaps and bounds. People today need to be educated that mental illness is like any other physical illness, such as diabetes or heart condition and has a proper treatment for it.
However, many people, primarily the male gender, see mental health problems as a personal blow to their strength and a lack of bravery.
While the world has come ahead a lot when it comes to the stigma surrounding mental health, men still struggle with guilt and shame when experiencing with mental health issues that makes them less struggle with dealing and seeking consultation and treatment when compared to women.
The Encumbrance & Shame of Toxic Masculinity(6,7)
According to studies, other than hesitating to seek help for mental health issues, men also seem to find it difficult to form social connections. According to experts, toxic masculinity is all about the manner in which the men were brought up and how they were always taught to be strong and bold as kids. This pattern of thoughts and upbringing with regards to masculinity is the reason why men still struggle and hesitate to seek treatment for mental illness and undermine the seriousness of conditions like depression. Other than this, it is also thought that the conventional masculine traits are also the contributing factors for increase in depression in men.(8)
When people who are struggling with anxiety, depression and other mental health problems are not accepting a healthy means to cope with it, they will turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain or the symptoms of depression.
Substance misuse usually follows the increase in symptoms of depression in men. Men tend to use drugs as a maladaptive coping mechanism for their mental health struggles instead of seeking the proper channels of treatment for it.
The question is, how society can change a man’s perception with regards to mental health and seeking professional help before they reach this state?
It’s OKAY to Be NOT OKAY: Addressing the Stigma & Spreading Awareness about Mental Health
Like said before, most of the male gender falls prey to the idea of “machoness;” and that they should be “tough enough” to deal with any problem in their life without any help. Men think that being vulnerable and showing their fears will make them appear weak, lose face and even appear less authoritative in the society. As a result men often are in denial when it comes to mental health diseases and think that not acknowledging the problem will make it go away.
This perception needs to be changed and men need to understand and work on this distorted image/perception of what a man should be, and asking for help will be the first step in reducing the stigma associated with mental health and men.
Experts say that men should be encouraged for more transparency with regards to substance abuse issues and mental health and make them understand that stress affects every gender equally. Talking with others and seeking help, helps in building camaraderie, empathy and a good support system that will help the men in fighting the feelings of isolation and despondency on which mental health issues and addiction thrive.
Men also should be made to understand that mental health issues that are left untreated can rapidly manifest into physical ailments, such as bleeding problems, gastritis, cirrhosis, changes in brain, particularly if the patient is using alcohol and drugs as a form of self treatment.
Men need to be educated that it’s okay to feel helpless and weak and not able to deal with something. They need to realize that what they are going through is actually a medical problem that affects everyone and has a treatment like any other disease and does not make them less of a man by showing their vulnerability, weakness and asking for help.
Spreading awareness and educating the society is the first step towards reducing the denial and stigma of mental health.
When Should You Seek Help With Your Mental Health?
Given below are some of the signs and symptoms which indicate that it is time to seek professional help: Mood changes; weight fluctuations; changes in work performance; hopelessness; sadness; and anhedonia.
Physical symptoms include: Stomach problems; sleep issues; headaches; difficulty to concentrate; body pains etc.
If you are suffering from any of these symptoms, do seek help. Accepting that you have a problem is a sign of empowerment. Asking for help is actually a sign of STRENGTH, not weakness.
Consult your primary care provider who will treat you or refer you according to your condition. If you are using drugs or alcohol as a means to cope with your mental health problems, then you will be referred to substance use disorder specialist.
There is always hope. Help is always available if you find the strength to seek it. Discard the notion of toxic masculinity. Do not consider your mental health struggles, as a sign of weakness or as an indication of anything less in you. Learn about your mental health and addiction issues. Take part in support groups or seek family support to cope with mental health issues and addiction.
Seeking help is the beginning of the journey towards self awareness and in reducing the stigma regarding mental health. It is important to know and impart the message that it is okay to be not okay and it is PERFECTLY OK to ask for help and to seek treatment for whatever problem you are going through. After all, problems are what make us human; and facing and accepting those problems is what makes us stronger than before.