In the past decade, mental health awareness has been on the rise, bringing much-needed attention to serious and sometimes debilitating disorders that affect millions of people in the U.S. and around the globe. Our culture has come a long way in shedding light on those hidden shadows of depression and anxiety, among other psychological disorders many people suffer from in the dark of shame. Now there are TV dramas, social media messages and celebrity voices that have all helped to normalize mental illness and remove the stigma that has always been associated with it. This progress has benefited countless people and helped them feel less alone in their suffering and more comfortable seeking the treatment they need.
Sadly, depression and suicide rates have been growing in alarming rates in the last few years, no thanks to the pandemic and the constant barrage of headlines highlighting horrific natural disasters, rampant political madness, and ongoing cultural calamities that have been ripping through our country and our world. Our children have been equally affected, as the statistics for depression and suicide in young people have been increasing faster than any other age group.
All this information on depression is truly depressing, and the data is quite inaccurate due to the countless cases that aren’t documented. In the U.S. alone, some estimates suggest that as many as two-thirds of the people who suffer from depression aren’t diagnosed, and consequently not getting the help they desperately need. Not surprisingly, experts believe many of those cases are men because they are least likely to admit they are struggling and rarely seek help. Research shows that fewer men acknowledge their feelings of sadness and hopelessness, and instead develop destructive coping skills such as working compulsively, drinking more or engaging in dangerous activities. Men will often mask their feelings of depression with irritability, aggression or isolation. (Headsupguys.com)
Surely men are just as susceptible to having mental health problems as women, but women are better able to express their feelings as well as being more comfortable reaching out for help. Most men still hold onto the stigma of mental illness and feel the need to appear strong and secure, no matter how much they are struggling inside. Our culture has developed the stereotypical man as being impenetrable to psychological distress, and that’s not OK. Our men need to address their emotional problems and take care of their mental health. It will take a lot of work to dismantle the layers of manhood defined by society, but many celebrities are speaking out about their own mental illness, and this is a good place to start.
Still, the majority of men hide their true feelings and resist seeking help when they are suffering emotionally, so it’s important to be looking for specific signs of depression in the men in our lives. Everyone experiences depression differently, but according to the National Institute of Mental Health, many symptoms include: withdrawing from people and activities, lack of pleasure in things they usually love to do, chronic exhaustion, inability to concentrate or perform everyday functions, changes in appetite, physical aches and pains, drug or alcohol dependency, lack of sexual desire or problems with sexual performance, and thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts.
Experts at the Mayo Clinic recognize additional symptoms seen in men with depression, such as having more physical ailments and growing more controlling, violent and abusive. And although women are more likely to attempt suicide, men are more likely to die by suicide because they use more fatal methods and act impulsively with no warning signs, since they seldom talk about it.
Any man at any age can experience depression. Three possible risk factors for men are:
• Genetic predisposition with a history of depression in their family
• Life circumstances, such as the loss of a loved one, financial problems or relationship struggles
• Serious medical conditions and possible side effects from medications taken to treat them
If you think your friend, husband, coworker, family member or any other man in your life is suffering from depression, they need to know there is treatment and they can get help. Tell them they don’t need to cope with it on their own. If they are still resistant, you can start by focusing on their physical symptoms. Men are more comfortable talking about their physical ailments than they are talking about emotional issues.
Acknowledge whatever physical symptoms you notice that need medical attention, and they might be more willing to see a doctor for those symptoms first. Are they experiencing digestive problems, headaches or backaches, sleep disturbances, chronic exhaustion or changes in their appetite? If they can make an appointment with their primary care physician, that’s a step in the right direction. In doing so, they might be willing to discuss issues related to their mental health that are associated with those symptoms.
Most importantly, tell them that suffering from depression is not a sign of weakness, and seeking support does not make them any less of a man. There are many athletes, celebrities, artists, businessmen and public figures who are being bold enough to step out of the darkness and share their experience with mental illness. Reading their stories will help the men in your life feel less alone. Give them hopeful assurance that there are treatment options available that have been proven to be successful, such as various psychotropic medications and psychotherapies. And let them know you will be by their side through every difficult step they take toward feeling better.