I’ve noticed more than a few new mustaches around the office recently, reminding me that we’ve once again entered the month of November or, more accurately, Movember. This year’s Movember advocates are emphasizing the importance of mental health for men, a topic I think is one of the most important challenges men face. I’d like to take a few moments this week to talk about men’s mental health, in particular, why men are particularly vulnerable to mental health problems, and how you can get the men in your life on track for better mental health.
Men Often Shun Mental Health
Being emotional is hard for many men. We’re raised in a culture that tells us to “man up” and suppress our emotions. Young boys are discouraged from crying at an early age and are taught to act strong to hide any hint of weakness in the presence of others. When it comes to learning to handle and express emotions, most men get one message: Don’t let your feelings show. The problem is hiding your emotions is the opposite of what you need when mental illness strikes. Mental health conditions like depression or anxiety affect millions of men every year. But rather than seek help from a professional, most men try to suppress rather than reveal their emotions.
Unfortunately, you can’t hide mental illness for long. The conditions change the fundamental chemistry of your brain and distort the way you think. Suppressing these emotions may work temporarily, but many men turn to substance abuse to help them ease the emotional pain they’re suffering from. A shocking 87 men end their lives every single day, many who struggle with a mental illness. We know that counseling and medications are the best approach to these illnesses, but many men avoid treatment to maintain the tough exterior they were taught to hold onto from an early age.
Middle-Aged Men Deserve Special Attention
Several years ago, the World Health Organization did a large study of the global problems caused by mental illness. They found that depression affects an enormous population of people and is more disabling than any other disease people suffer from. Depression prevents people from being able to work effectively, disrupts their relationships with friends and family, and can push a person to end their life. So which men are most at risk for this disabling disease? Studies have found that it’s men between 40 and 60. In other words, men at the prime of their life are being struck down in the hundreds of thousands every year by mental illness. There are many factors that could cause this, such as these men put their careers, family, and community commitments before their own needs. They write off aches and pains shrug off concerned friends as being overly sensitive. Yet these are exactly the men who need help the most. When their barriers finally break down, the results can be devastating.
Young Men Are Also at Risk
This isn’t to say that young men aren’t also at risk. Illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder often strike in a young man’s early twenties, sometimes completely out of the blue. Many turn to cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs as a way of coping with their condition. Unfortunately, these chemicals come with significant risks and rarely work to address the psychological symptoms these young men have. They end up dependent on a variety of drugs that can do as much damage to their work and family lives as the mental illness they’re trying to escape.
How to Approach Someone You’re Worried About
The most important thing to do when you’re concerned about mental health is just to do something. Too often people are worried about how the other person might react to their concern and remain silent as a result. They’re paralyzed by the stigma and shroud of shame that surrounds mental health in our culture. Expressing your concern to someone who you think may be struggling with mental illness lets them know that people around them are worried. They may not admit they’re struggling at the time, but your words may eventually help them come around.
You should also seek advice from a professional. That could be your primary-care doctor, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or one of the many mental health organizations that offer advice and counseling to those struggling with mental illness and those who care about them. It may take months to years for someone to come around to the idea of seeking help for what’s going on in their head, but when they do, they’ll be thankful you were there to support them.
Things You Can Do to Improve Mental Well-Being Today
While we haven’t figured out the definitive treatment for many mental illnesses, there are things you can do to improve overall well-being and lower your chances of mental illness. Exercise is a key player in improving mental health. Time and again it’s been shown to reduce symptoms or anxiety, depression, and negative mood and it helps to improve your sleep and relieve stress.
Staying connected is another important factor and I don’t mean on the Internet. Having a close group of friends who you see regularly and can talk to about anything is essential. You don’t have to have a lot of these people in your life, but a few good friends who are willing to support you can go a long way. We’re social animals (even the introverts among us) and a few hours throughout the week with people you love spending time with is extremely important for your overall mental health.
Finally, it can be a very good idea to see a therapist, even if you don’t have a mental illness. We all struggle with various problems in our lives and a therapist can help you to understand how to tackle life’s problems in a healthier way. Often times, at least a few therapy sessions are covered for free by your insurance or an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) offered by your company. These sessions can help you address anything from family strife to alcohol addiction.
Let’s use Movember to break the silence around men’s mental health. I want you to know that you have the power to help the men in your life achieve better mental health, now and in the future.