Men and mental health stigma: Why do men choose to suffer in silence?

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“Boys are not supposed to cry.” 

“Crying is weak.” 

“Stop being so emotional.”

From a young age, many boys hear these statements around them. They are often taught to be strong, quiet, resilient and tough. They are told that being “manly” means being aggressive, powerful, and never showing any weakness. These gender stereotypes contribute to the notion of toxic masculinity. These messages can eventually get internalised and lead to men having difficulty expressing their feelings and emotions later in life. Additionally, it can make it more challenging for men to identify and acknowledge their mental health concerns and throw up emotions like guilt and shame in asking for help. This can lead to additional mental health conditions and men having a harder time seeking treatment.

The link between male mental health stigma and suicide

⚠️If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, help is at hand. Please visit this list of helplines and resources for different countries.

Depression and suicide are one of the leading causes of death among men, and yet they’re still far less likely to seek mental health treatment than women. In the US, male deaths represent 79% of suicides, amounting to roughly 105 men who die by suicide every day. Further, American men suffering from mental illnesses are also four times more likely to die by suicide than women. 

Many barriers stand in the way of men getting mental health care, and stigma is one of the most prominent reasons. This stigma can be both public or social, as well as self-stigma about seeking professional help. Ending the stigma around male mental health can help reduce the risk of suicide in men. Sharing stories and raising awareness on this issue can play a significant role in developing social acceptance and enabling men to feel more comfortable seeking the treatment they need. 

What causes mental health issues in men?

Approximately 1 in 8 men will experience depression and 1 in 5 men will experience anxiety at some stage of their lives. Here are some risk factors that can make men more vulnerable in addition to the stigma.

  • Loneliness and lack of social support
  • History of alcohol or substance abuse
  • Childhood trauma or abuse
  • Internalising toxic masculinity
  • Untreated mental health issues
  • Poor coping skills
  • Financial dependence or crisis

 

 

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What are the signs and symptoms to look out for?

Anyone can experience a mental health condition, but the signs and symptoms can look different in men. It is usually a mix of mental and physical symptoms ranging from developing anxiety disorders to deteriorating sleep health.

  1. Loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed
  2. Increased anger, irritability, or aggressiveness 
  3. Isolating from friends and family
  4. Reduced or increased need to sleep
  5. Reduced or increased appetite
  6. Working excessively without taking a break
  7. Problems with sexual desire and performance
  8. Constantly feeling anxious, restless, or on the edge
  9. Excessive use of alcohol and/or drugs
  10. Thoughts of suicide 

This list is not conclusive and it’s not necessary that all men experience all these symptoms. It is thus important to seek help if someone has been experiencing one or more of these symptoms for more than two weeks. However, if you are not ready to ask for help, consider using an anonymous and secure mental health platform like Wysa that also offers self-help tools to manage anxiety, depression, and other symptoms of mental health concerns.

6 tips for men experiencing mental health issues

Seeking help despite the stigma around men’s mental health not only helps you but can also encourage others around you to do the same. It takes courage to stand up and put yourself first. Here are some tips that can help.

  1. Look at it as an illness and not a fault or weakness  

Use the broken leg analogy if you had a leg injury, would you be harsh on yourself and not seek help and not do things to improve it? Mental health issues affect our mood as well as some cognitive functions managed by our brain. The brain is an organ and a part of our body. So try to look at them just like any other illness.

  1. Seek professional help

You cannot just “get over it” or “sleep it off” no matter how hard you try. Bottling things up could eventually make mental health issues worse and make you prone to conditions such as substance use disorder, anxiety, and stress. That being said, seeking help from a professional is easier said than done. Thankfully, there are loads of options out there. If you feel you are not ready to have an in-person session yet, that’s okay. Start small. You can try online options such as Wysa which offers text-based sessions with a coach.

  1. Stick to a routine

Often the first things to get affected by deteriorating mental health are your personal care and work routine. Due to a lack of sleep or oversleeping and feeling low on energy, you may find yourself struggling to get out of bed. So even if it’s happening an hour later than your usual time, make sure it happens. Slow is okay too. Take it one day at a time. Similarly, ensure that you eat regular meals and get adequate sleep.

  1. Get moving with exercise

Exercise, walk or swim or do any physical activity that makes you feel good, even if it is just for 15-20 minutes a day. Exercise is a natural way to boost your happy hormones, and increase your confidence and energy levels. You may not see the effects of physical activity immediately but consistency is key. Good physical health is directly related to your mental health as well. 

  1. Meditate and introspect

Remember, your thoughts are not facts. It can be frustrating to be invaded by negative thoughts. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed and mental exhaustion. Thoughts that make you feel low or hopeless need to be identified and challenged before acting upon them. Hence it’s important to incorporate meditation into your routine and not just the kind where you sit in silence and try not to think. Meditation comes in many forms, whether it’s taking a walk in the park or just writing down how you feel. Do what works for you. If you are still finding it difficult, consider seeking a cognitive behaviour therapist or a psychologist who could help you.

  1. Seek support

Speaking out about mental health, especially for men, is no easy task with all the stigma around it. However, you may find it surprising how many other men may have the same thoughts, feelings, and emotions as you do. Talk to a trusted family member or friend about how you have been feeling. It doesn’t have to be all at once, you can always start by sharing bit by bit. A strong non-judgmental support system can be extremely helpful during tough times. 

  1. Undertake new activities

One of the main symptoms of depression and most mental health issues is losing interest in things you enjoyed before. Consider trying something new and different that could give you a sense of achievement every day. It could be helping someone or playing with your pet or painting, or anything that would make you feel happy and good about yourself

  1. Try breathing exercises 

Practice a daily relaxation or mindfulness-based exercise that will help you stay calm, focused and grounded. A simple exercise could be to just breathe deeply and focus on the experience of breathing. Observe how the breath goes in slowly, inflates your abdomen (you could keep your hand on your abdomen to experience this) and then how the abdomen deflates as you breathe out slowly.

Managing work with a mental illness

For men, dealing with mental health issues on a daily basis can become a struggle in itself due to the stigma of talking about their feelings and seeking help. Poor mental health can seep into various areas of our life including work and affect productivity and job performance. Here are some strategies for coping at work:

1. Identify your stressors at work

Whether it’s a lack of recognition or difficulty saying no to tasks, identifying these triggers is a good first step in learning how to cope with such events. 

2. Try to develop a connection with your coworkers

If they are willing, try talking to your coworkers and build a relationship where you can confide in them about things troubling you at work. Even a simple venting can lessen your burden. 

3. Take breaks during work

Remember to take sufficient breaks during your work hours. Overworking could lead to additional stress which can eventually become a trigger. Try to take out some time during your work hours to simply relax, practice breathing exercises, or do other mindfulness exercises.

4. Confide in your manager or HR

If things are getting out of hand and you are unable to cope, consider having an open conversation with your manager. You don’t need to give every bit of detail if you are not comfortable. You can instead focus on how you are specifically struggling at work and explore options that could help you cope such as reducing your workload.    

5. Look into EAP resources at work

Most companies provide EAP resources specifically for mental health care such as counselling or therapy sessions. Talk to your organisation’s HR department and get information on what kind of resources are available to you. 

How can you help a friend struggling with mental health issues?

If you know someone who is struggling with his mental health, you can support him by offering support and helping him find a mental health professional if he is willing. It’s important to remember that a person suffering from mental health issues like depression cannot simply “get out of it”. 

If it seems like they are not ready to accept help or treatment, consider suggesting online mental health apps like Wysa that offer anonymity. Most importantly, be there for him as much as you can and avoid forcing him into anything.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio 

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