Statistics show that mental health struggles are on the rise among men. So what symptoms should men be aware of — and how can they seek out help when they need it?

Men's Health | 2 years ago

Ending Stigmas and Making Mental Health a Priority for Men

Statistics show that mental health struggles are on the rise among men. So what symptoms should men be aware of — and how can they seek out help when they need it?

One area that sometimes goes ignored by men is mental health. In fact, suicide has become a silent killer for men, with statistics showing us that men are nearly four times more likely to die by suicide than women. This trend is proof that men need to start taking their mental health seriously. So to better educate men on this issue, we spoke to Victor Armstrong, Atrium Health's vice president of behavioral health and facility executive of Behavioral Health - Charlotte. Victor is a community suicide prevention advocate, giving him unique insight into the mental health struggles affecting men.

A male-dominated problem

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, men are 3.54 times more likely to die by suicide than women. Men, in fact, account for almost 70% of all suicides.The rate of suicide is highest among middle-aged white men in particular. But why is this?

One reason for these male-dominated statistics is that men tend to turn to more fatal means when attempting suicide, such as firearms. Additionally, there are a multitude of stresses facing men that contribute to or exacerbate mental illness. Financial pressures, supporting a family, and juggling a career are just a few of the day-to-day challenges that can affect a man’s mood. Not talking about these stresses only makes the problem worse.

Symptoms to look out for

Statistically, about 90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental illness at the time of their death, most often depression. At the heart of depression in men lies a disinterest in the activities that used to bring you joy. Bad moods, apathy, an inability to sleep or sleeping too much are other signs of depression. And in terms of anxiety, a feeling of persistent anxiousness, restlessness, or racing thoughts can all be present.

“The challenge can be differentiating between clinical depression and merely a bad mood,” says Victor. “Overall, if these symptoms get in the way of you living your daily life — and end up damaging relationships and infringing on your performance at work — then you have a mental health condition that requires treatment.”

Opening up about mental health

Women are diagnosed with depression at a much higher rate than men, Both men and women experience depression but the willingness to talk about their feelings may be very different. This is one of the reasons that depression symptoms for men and women may be very different as well. Men are less likely to open up about their mental health struggles.

“Men don’t always seek help,” explains Victor. “They’ve been socialized to shy away from showing signs of weakness and they’ve been taught to ‘fight through’ mental health issues.” This attitude makes men more likely to discount serious symptoms as simply apathy or a bad mood. In the worst cases, they can go on to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.

For Victor and others in the medical community, it’s important to normalize men speaking about their mental health and create safe spaces where they can voice their feelings without judgement. These spaces break down the stigma surrounding men and their feelings — and mean fewer men have to suffer in silence.

Sometimes a good start is speaking with a primary care physician who they trust. To encourage these conversations, more primary care physicians are proactively asking men about how they’re feeling.

Creating mental health safe spaces

Talking about mental health in a medical setting can still be intimidating for men and women alike. So in the behavioral health department, the team is trying to create as many opportunities as possible for men to open up. To drive this effort, they’ve worked with Mental Health First Aid, a national initiative that has educated over 1.5 million Americans about mental illness. The backbone of Mental Health First Aid is their 8-hour training session, which helps people identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness.

“One thing we’ve done in our community is trained local barbers to notice these signs,” says Victor. “And we’ve also worked with local churches to encourage conversations and an awareness of the symptoms.”

These safe spaces create low-pressure environments where men can open up to people they know and trust. Such engagement with mental health outside of a medical setting is particularly valuable for communities of color, where there tends to be a particular distrust of mental health treatment.

But sometimes the safe space starts at home. In this case, it’s up to a man’s loved ones to ask how he’s feeling and recommend seeking help if there appears to be a persistent issue.

"Show that you’re there, you’re present, you’re non-judgemental and you’re willing to help them through whatever they might be going through," advises Victor.

Getting help when you need it

Once you’ve asked for help, a world of options opens up to you. Therapy, medication, or some combination of both are common treatments. And coping mechanisms such as changes to diet, exercise, or meditation are also viable options.

“Treatment works on a patient-to-patient basis,” explains Victor. “We have cases where a patient has an actual chemical imbalance that causes depression, and then there are other cases where situational depression can arise due to major life changes.” These different root causes might call for different medical intervention.

The statistics surrounding men’s mental health are hard to ignore. Changing the way men engage with their emotions is a crucial first step in terms of turning around these numbers. Encouraging men to open up about their feelings and seek out effective care is essential as we work to help men live their lives to the fullest.

If you or a loved one is in need of assistance, Atrium Health’s Behavioral Health Help Lineis available 24/7 at 704-444-2400. 

Don’t forget that physical health is just as important as mental health. Be sure to learn about the advantages of visiting your primary care physician for annual checks in order to maintain your health.