We live in a world where men have always had many advantages – just because they are men, but in the area of mental illness perhaps it has always been those traditional male attitudes that mean that it is men who deal with their mental health problems less successfully. Of course mental illnesses affect both men and women, but the evidence is that mental illness in men remains both under-diagnosed by the medical profession and misunderstood by us all. We all just accept it as being normal that men are – well – that they’re men….
Men’s traditional unwillingness to talk about their feelings means that some mental illnesses present differently. For example, depression or anxiety in men often presents with anger, frustration, or alcohol issues. However, although it is no longer considered quite such a taboo for a man to express his emotions, the facts show that much still needs to be done to raise awareness.
It is important to promote a culture where men feel supported enough to seek help with their mental health issues: As recently as 2016, a survey by Opinion Leader for the Men’s Health Forum, showed that though the majority of men would take time off work to get medical help for physical symptoms such as blood in stools or urine, unexpected lumps or chest pain, fewer than one in five would do the same for anxiety (19%) or feeling low (15%)(Office of National Statistics). The fact is, over three quarters of those who kill themselves are men (Office of National Statistics) and men report significantly lower life satisfaction than women in the Government’s national well-being survey – with those aged 45 to 59 reporting the lowest levels of life satisfaction. Why is it that it doesn’t even surprise one to hear that 73% of adults who ‘go missing’ are men? (Office of National Statistics) or that 87% of rough sleepers are men? (https://www.crisis.org.uk/ending-homelessness/rough-sleeping).
You may have heard that alcoholism is increasing among women, but men are still nearly three times more likely than women to become alcohol dependent (8.7% of men are alcohol dependent compared to 3.3% of women) (http://content.digital.nhs.uk/) and they are about three times as likely to report frequent drug use than women (4.2% and 1.4% respectively) with more than two thirds of drug-related deaths occurring in men. (http://content.digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB12994/drug-misu-eng-2013-rep.pdf).
I suspect that won’t surprise you to hear that men make up 95% of the prison population or that men commit 86% of violent crime (and are actually twice as likely to be victims of violent crime) (Office of National Statistics). How about the fact that 72% of male prisoners suffer from two or more mental disorders? (http://nmhdu.org.uk/). – or that men are nearly 50% more likely than women to be detained and treated compulsorily as psychiatric inpatients? (http://content.digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB12503/inp-det-m-h-a-1983-sup-com-eng-12-13-rep.pdf).
So what can be done?
We know that men sometimes present a clinical picture which does not always fit with the conventional diagnostic models. Many men have less of the protective factors that women depend on to help with their mental health problems such as good social support systems and better educational engagement. However this isn’t enough to excuse men from doing more to help themselves. It’s not enough to just say that many men have had difficulty communicating what they’re feeling and figuring out how to talk about it. We need to help them of course – but men have to ‘man up’ – and help themselves.
So here are some important first steps for a modern man to take to be at optimum levels of mental – and physical – health. To be brave enough to be a real man:
- Seek medical attention. Start with your GP who is used to dealing with these issues. He or she can help you get the treatment you need. In many cases, you will be able to resolve your problems with just some therapy or by perhaps by taking some medicine for a brief time – who knows – but get that medical help. It is the best place to start.
- Find healthier ways of sharing your feelings. It can be easy and tempting to yell or act out or turn to drugs or alcohol when you are feeling unhappy – to make it someone else’s problem. But instead of lashing out in anger, breathe deeply, count to 10, and allow yourself some time to calm down. Do you know what? It might not be the rest of the world – it might be you….
- Manage your stress. Stress at work and at home can worsen the symptoms of many mental illnesses. Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself to do things you enjoy. You may also want to see if deep breathing, meditation, or doing some stretching help you to relax – and if you feel it might be embarrassing if someone sees you doing it – then just go away and do it somewhere privately…..
- Get regular exercise. We all know that the research suggests that daily exercise can help relieve the symptoms of depression, and that people who exercise regularly in their leisure time are less likely to suffer from a mood disorder. That doesn’t mean you have to become a lycra wrapped gym bunny though – it just means that you should go for a walk in the park every day. 15 minutes is enough….
- Take care of yourself. You deserve it. Just try to look after yourself more. Besides exercising regularly, get plenty of sleep and eat nutritious meals with lots of fruits and vegetables – like women do! Avoid drugs and alcohol abuse – it’s really not big and it’s definitely not clever – actually, it’s pretty childish and stupid. The fact is that being kind to yourself works – and being gentle with yourself will definitely put you into a better frame of mind to deal with a mood disorder like depression.
- Speak to a Psychiatrist: It is always better to have a proper understanding of what the problem is – then you can really be a man and face up to the truth. So have a comprehensive diagnostic assessment and get a management plan – really do something about it rather than hoping it will just go away. The fact is that the earlier one gets help the easier it is to then investigate those stresses, identify those negative cognitive thought patterns and get suitable counselling, therapy or in some cases medications, to help you to function optimally.If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article please click here.
Dr Muffazal Rawala
Consultant Psychiatrist, MRCPsych, MSc, Cert-Psychopharmacology.
You can view Muffazal’s profile here.