Written by Yuki Hayashi
3 min read
Men’s mental health issues are considered by experts, like the Canadian Mental Health Association, to be a “silent crisis” or “sleeper issue.” That’s because the extent of men’s mental health issues is bigger than previously thought, largely due to social barriers preventing awareness and access to care.
Strong & Silent
Men face considerable social pressure to be strong, stoic and all-too-often silent when it comes to their health and wellbeing. Asking for help or admitting to feelings of helplessness, fear or sadness are often perceived as weaknesses. And that has had a devastating effect on men’s health.
Breaking the silence – as women have done for women’s health issues – is crucial in getting men the help they need. Let’s start by shattering five common myths and misperceptions around men’s health.
Mental health myth #1: Depression is a “women’s illness”
REALITY CHECK: Anyone can suffer from depression. While women are diagnosed with depression in greater numbers than men, at least 10% of Canadian men will experience major depression at some point in their lives.
Depression symptoms can vary, causing some people to overlook symptoms other than sadness, such as physical pain and irritability, which may be more common in men.
Mental health myth #2: Suicide is a risk for younger men only
REALITY CHECK: Middle-aged men in the prime of their lives are actually at the highest risk for suicide. Men in this age group can also experience a dip in their sense of wellbeing, and heightened risk for depression and alcoholism. Experts believe factors such as unemployment and a decline in traditionally male industries, divorce, and strong adherence to traditional gender roles (ie. a reluctance to get help), are all factors in why men in this age group are at higher risk.
Mental health myth #3: Only moms experience postpartum depression
REALITY CHECK: New dads get the baby blues, too. According to one study published in Pediatrics, 5 to 10% of fathers experienced paternal depression during their transition to parenthood. This story in Parents magazine puts the number as high as 26% in the tumultuous three-to-six-month period after a baby’s arrival.
Psychological, social and financial stressors are intense, and, like new moms, new dads can feel overwhelmed and ill-equipped to deal with the changes in their lives.
Mental health myth #4: Mood disorder symptoms are universal
REALITY CHECK: Symptoms of mood disorders such an anxiety disorder can vary between individuals. And not all symptoms fit popular perceptions of these illnesses. Conventional symptoms include:
• Changes in mood, energy level and appetite
• Difficulty sleeping…or sleeping too much
• Increased worry or stress
• Sadness or hopelessness
• Suicidal thoughts
But they can also include lesser-known symptoms, like:
• Anger and aggression
• A need for alcohol or drugs
• Engaging in high-risk activities
• Feeling flat or not feeling positive emotions
• Headaches, digestive issues or pain
While these symptoms can affect both genders, some symptoms may skew more conventionally or stereotypically “male” (ie. anger or aggression) or “female” (ie. sadness, worry), whether due to biological or social factors.
Mental health myth #5: Substance abuse is a choice
REALITY CHECK: Experts agree that addiction to drugs or alcohol is a mental illness, not a personal choice or moral failing. In many cases, substance use disorder coexists with another mental illness; this makes both conditions harder to treat. According to the US National Institute for Mental Health, the majority of people with both a substance abuse problem and another mental illness are men.
Some people turn to alcohol or drugs in an effort to “self-medicate” symptoms of anxiety disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental illness. For some men who are less likely to speak out or seek help for their distress, self-medicating can turn into an addiction.
Speaking up for men’s health
It’s time to speak up about the silent crisis that is threatening men’s mental health. We can start by destigmatizing asking for help, and raising awareness about the resources that are out there. (TIP: you’ll find a lot of them in the hyperlinks in this article.)
Join the conversation: Do you feel pressure to hide stress, sadness or other feelings that bother you?
Read on: Get more info on mental health (including crisis support) here.