The side effects of this pandemic have not only been physical. The past year has brought to light another growing health concern in our country, depression and poor mental health. While it may seem like more and more people are comfortable talking about their mental health and are seeking help, there is a population that isn’t.
In high-income countries, three times as many men as women die by suicide, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report from 2018. But despite that scary number, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) report that men are less likely than women to have received formal mental health support in the past year. Men die from suicide more often but are being treated for their mental health less often. This is a problem that needs addressing?
But who are the best people to help end the stigma around men’s mental health and start taking steps toward a healthier future? Men. To encourage men to talk about their mental health and get help when needed, men have to be the ones willing to take the first steps in the right direction.
Here are a few ways men can start make conversations around mental health more normal.
Research has found that some men also have a harder time establishing social connections than women. This means when they need someone to talk, they don’t have close friends they are willing to open up to. So the first step toward better health is simply to make friends. Be deliberate about scheduling time with your friends having coffee, golfing, or just hanging out. The more you’re around someone when things are good, the more comfortable you’ll feel talk to them when things get hard.
Many men don’t like to just sit around and talk about feelings and that’s ok. Do something active like walking, running, or golfing and make it a habit of checking in with each other. You don’t have to dig deep, a simple, “you seem tired, is everything ok?” can make a big difference.
Be Aware of the Signs
It’s important for men and their family members to recognize the signs of depression or anxiety in men because they often present differently than they do with women. Because of a reluctancy to express weakness, men will often hide their signs and symptoms so instead of “seeming depressed” they become angry or irritable.
Watch for these symptoms in your friends or yourself and if you notice them, be ready to take action.
- Change in mood
- Difference in work performance
- Weight changes
- Sadness, hopelessness, or anhedonia (a loss of pleasure and pulling away from things that used to provide enjoyment)
- Physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach issues
Change the dialogue
The reasons men don’t talk about mental health or feel the need to be “tough” often stem from centuries old images of masculinity and manliness. These images and expectations were simply passed from generation to generation and while gender roles are shifting and some of these “rules” are falling away, some have stuck and it’s up to the men of this generation to change them. This change doesn’t have to be radical, it’s ok to start to small by simply changing the dialogue around mental health and views of masculinity.
To start changing the conversations men can change the way they talk to their friends or sons.
- Encourage asking for help
- Encourage expressing emotions
- Encourage simply talking
- Go the doctor when something doesn’t feel right
- Engage in mental health education
- Express admiration for those seek support
- Share your own worries and fear
- Normalize the subject of mental health
- Don’t just say, “I’m fine” when asked how you are. Instead, try, “Pretty tired. Today was a hard day.”
There doesn’t have to be a stigma around men and mental health and in order to save men’s lives, there can’t be. The mental health conversation is an important one, but it won’t do any good if the people who need it the most aren’t a part of it.
If you’re worried you might be depressed or anxious, seek help. If you’re worried about a friend or loved one, start a conversation.