There are many biological and sociological gender differences between men and women, but some of the most primary distinctions include men and mental health, which includes the prevalence, diagnosis, escalation and treatment of mental illnesses. Due to several millennia of male socialization and certain biological predispositions, many men around the world suffer from men’s mental health crisis in silence, leading to a host of other potential problems.
If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health issues, please call 772-774-3872.
The Silent Mental Health Crisis In Men
There’s a tragic intersection of low rates of diagnosed depression and high rates of suicide and substance abuse among the U.S. male population. Men account for 75 percent of all suicide victims in the U.S., with one man taking his own life every 20 minutes. Around the world, men are 3 – 7.5 times more likely than women to take their own lives.
Researchers have come up with some theories for this.
Men as the stronghold
We often think of mental health as an individual issue – something that only affects the person suffering from a mental illness. But the truth is, mental health problems can have a ripple effect, impacting not just the sufferer but also their families, friends, and colleagues. Since men and traditional thinking of masculinity put all the pressure on them, it is more likely for them to have issues
Men are struggling to fill the breadwinner role
Traditional societal norms position men to be the primary financial provider in the home. However, the decline in industries like manufacturing have left many men in certain regions unemployed, with women now as large a part of the national workforce as men.
Blurring of work and life
The blurring of work and life in men is nothing new. It has been happening for generations, albeit at a much slower pace and has become more prevalent in this modern world. So much of a man’s sense of self-worth is linked to how much money he earns. This, combined with advances in technology, has made it so some people never really escape the office. Over time, this can cause great stress and lead to worse mental health conditions. This can lead to feelings of guilt and conflict when men try to balance their work and home life.
This is not only a problem that affects men, but it’s easy to feel as though others are doing better than we are because on social media we see everyone’s holiday celebrations, vacations and gourmet dinners. When a person feels something is lacking in his or her life, it could cause depression and other mental health conditions, as some research has shown.
Some groups of men feel rejected
There are very high rates of suicide among veterans and gay men. Some have attributed this to the fact that these groups of men may feel (whether it is real or not) rejected by society and mainstream media.
Because it’s impossible to know all of the factors that lead a person to attempt a suicide, it’s difficult to point to a common trend that would link them together and lead to prevention strategies. One study of the different rates of suicide among men and women focused on the different methods they use when attempting to take their own lives.
It has been well established that men are more likely to use suicide methods of high lethality, or methods with an increased risk of death. This is supported by the finding in a European study that 62 percent of males who attempt suicide use hanging or firearms, compared to 40 percent of women.
While one could explain away the use of guns with men having more exposure to firearms, the same cannot be said about hanging. Some researchers have determined these suicide method tendencies indicate that compared with women, men who are at the point of suicidal thoughts are:
- More hopeless
- More resigned to die
- More likely to have a greater capacity to enact self-harm
- More unconcerned with the consequences of their actions
- More likely to be intoxicated
- More willing to carry out actions that might leave them injured or disfigured
If these conclusions are correct, it would support the theory that men are less inclined to discuss difficulties in their lives and their mental health problems than women. When difficulties with mental health are untreated, they only get worse, often leading people to abuse drugs and alcohol and eventually to suicide.
The silent mental health crisis among men is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. By increasing awareness and understanding of men’s mental health conditions, we can help break down the barriers that prevent men from seeking help. We can also provide support to those who are struggling and let them know they are not alone.
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High Substance Abuse Prevalence Among Men
Substance use disorders are three times more common among men than women. This has been historically accurate and may be reflective of the risk-taking tendencies caused by testosterone. Research has shown that substance use disorders are often accompanied by mental illness, and that alcohol and drug abuse are simply common yet flawed means of self-medication.
There is a strong correlation between substance abuse and suicide, which may partially explain why men commit suicide at far higher rates than women.
While the common logic among substance abusers centers around using drugs or alcohol to drown out feelings of depression, alcohol has the opposite effect. Studies found that people who abuse alcohol are six times more likely to commit suicide than those who don’t abuse alcohol. Being intoxicated may actually increase the risk of suicide due to decreased inhibitions, and increased aggression and levels of depression.
Unique Mental Health Difficulties for Each Gender
According to the World Health Organization, “gender differences in the rates of overall mental disorder, including rare disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are negligible. However, highly significant gender differences exist for depression, anxiety and somatic complaints that affect more than 20 percent of the population in established economies.”
The organization’s report, “Gender Disparities in Mental Health” highlights that global rates of depression are twice as high among women than men, and that gender stereotyping is a large reason for this disparity. Even when presenting the exact same mental health symptoms, women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression and less likely to be diagnosed with a substance use disorder than men.
“Many men quietly struggle with mental health issues such as bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder and depression for long periods of time without any treatment.”
There are multiple influential factors at play. First, mental health issues manifest differently in men than women. For example, depression in men often results in irritability, anger, hostility, risk taking and escaping behavior. However, depression in women is more commonly associated with sadness, crying, feelings of guilt and changes in appetite.
Another factor is the lack of willingness in men to seek treatment for any mental illnesses. This tendency frequently results in a situation in which many men quietly struggle with a mental health issue for long periods of time without any treatment. The longer the condition remains untreated, the more severe the problem potentially comes. This may help to explain the high rates of suicide among men.
Men And Mental Health: Overcoming Gender Stereotypes
A mixture of gender and sex-based differences accounts for the different ways that men and women experience and respond to mental health difficulties. Before delving too deeply, it’s important to distinguish the difference between gender and sex. Gender relates to socially shaped behaviors and how we are expected to think and act as men or women. Sex refers to biologically determined characteristics.
Biological factors influence sociological ones, just as sociological factors influence biological ones. This makes it difficult to determine what exactly causes men to act one way and women to act another, or in the case of this article, what causes men to be more or less predisposed to certain mental illnesses and why they choose to remain quiet about them.
Here are some of the common reasons why depression in men is undiagnosed so often:
- Failure to recognize mental and physical symptoms: Most people assume that feeling sad or emotional are the signs to look for when diagnosing depression. However, as discussed earlier, men and women experience depression differently.
- Ignoring or minimizing symptoms and signs: Many men assume they will just get over whatever problems are plaguing them and downplay the impact they are having on their lives. When men are feeling depressed, many assume that the problem will go away on its own.
- Reluctance to Talk About Problems: Men don’t generally discuss problems openly with close friends, so speaking to a mental health professional about them is even more unlikely.
Through thousands of years of male socialization, certain definitions of what is and isn’t manly have been created. Rather than openly discuss problems, the more “manly” thing to do is “tough it out” on your own.
This is something that is drilled into male psyches from birth. You can see these male depictions in literature, television, movies, advertisements and in sports. The athlete who “plays through the injury” is always considered tougher and stronger than the ones who aren’t able to do so. The term “man up” does not mean to go talk to people about your problems and ask for help.
Wanting to be like their male heroes and likely following the examples men in their lives set, boys are taught from an early age to suppress their emotions. By the time they become adults, many are unable to properly express any emotion other than anger.
How to Solve Men’s Mental Health Crisis
Given the extremely high rates of depression and substance abuse among men, it is clear that mental health struggles in the male population require extra attention. More research and documentation (like this Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration guide that address specific treatment needs of adult men living with substance use disorders) into what would make men more likely to seek dual diagnosis treatment for mental illnesses and other health issues is needed. However, perhaps the first step in the process involves changing the narrative about what it means to be a man.
The stigma of asking for help must be eliminated
While it will take a considerable effort to undo several millennia of male socialization, boys need to have it impressed upon them that reaching out for help isn’t a sign of weakness. But this is difficult considering the myriad subliminal messages prevalent throughout our culture. How do we as a culture on one hand tell our sons that they should speak up and ask for mental health treatment when the majority of the idealized fictional and real-life men in our culture are celebrated for not doing so? The stigma of asking for help must be eliminated.
Another step our society can take is to stop normalizing destructive behaviors and mental health issues in men by explaining it away as “boys being boys.” This age-old justification only serves to enable the behavior to continue. It’s time we challenge the idea that boys will be boys and instead hold them accountable for their actions.
We need to start having conversations with young boys about what it means to be a man. We must teach them that being a man doesn’t mean being destructive or abusive. We must show them that being a man means being kind, caring, and respectful. Only then can we hope to change the culture of toxic masculinity that is so destructive to our society.
The professionals at Behavioral Health Centers are committed to remaining at the forefront of addiction and mental health treatment. We are a comprehensive addiction recovery facility located in North Palm Beach, Fl. Men who receive mental health treatment in our facility are accompanied by healthcare professionals from start to finish.
If you or someone you care for is struggling with addiction, mental health problems or both, we encourage you to contact our Port St. Lucie treatment center at 772-774-3872 to learn more about our programs. Nock MK, Borges G, Bromet EJ, et al. Suicide and suicidal behavior. Epidemiol Rev 2008;30:133-154. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4183915/ Varnik A, Kolves K, van der Feltz-Cornelis, et al. Suicide methods in Europe: A gender-specific analysis of countries participating in the “European Alliance Against Depression.” J Epidemiol Community Health 2008;62:545-551. https://bcmj.org/articles/silent-epidemic-male-suicide https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272735800000702 https://www.who.int/mental_health/media/en/242.pdf https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4907547/ https://sites.oxy.edu/clint/physio/article/Genderdifferencesinmentalhealth.pdf https://www.apa.org/monitor/jun05/helping