4 Tips to Address Men’s Mental Health
The smell of freshly cut grass, the sizzle of your favorite meat on the grill, kids laughing as they play “Marco Polo” in the swimming pool on a hot day. All of these things remind me (and I hope you) of summer. As we transition from a fast-paced spring and move into summer and all that it brings, the month of June is Men’s Health Month. Specifically, we want to take some time to reflect on an aspect of men’s health that many times is neglected not only by men themselves, but by society in general. The awareness of mental health and mental illness for men is limited to say the least and my hope is to increase awareness by reminding us of some important factors and statistics.
“Man up!” and “Boys don’t cry,” are cliché sayings that many men heard growing up. They feed into a societal mentality that men with feelings, emotions, and problems are “weak” and that they can and should simply get over whatever it is that they are facing. Many of the male clients that I have the privilege of working with mention these phrases and express that feel they are falling short simply by beginning to do the work of therapy.
The stigma for men and addressing their mental health is real. Men are experiencing mental illness at staggering rates. 30.6 percent of men have suffered from a period of depression in their lifetime, when measured by a "gender inclusive depression scale" that includes symptoms such as rage and risk-taking, according to a 2013 study in JAMA Psychiatry. The study found no significant difference between the rate of depression in men and in women. Studies that use traditional depression scales, in contrast, found that depression is more common in women than in men. When it comes to suicide, the rate for men is about 4 times higher than it is for women according to the CDC. This study is only taking into account a few statistics for depression and does not cover anything regarding anxiety, bipolar disorder, instances of psychosis, substance abuse, and more. These statistics show just a fraction of the issues men face in addressing mental health and illness today.
Here are a few things that we can think about as we work to address the impact that mental health and illness has on men:
- Get Plugged In. Men need others that they know they can lean on and feel safe in opening up to. This doesn’t mean just chatting at the water cooler or with your work out buddies. Men are in need of authentic relationships with family, friends, and specifically other men that may be experiencing the same struggles that they have. These types of relationships help to normalize what has been taught from an early age to be “weakness.”
- Reduce the Stigma. As we are open and more vulnerable with one another, we begin to reduce the stigma that mental health and illness has among men. Whether it is Ted Talks, podcasts, conferences, or pastors preaching in the pulpit we must find ways to discuss with men that it is OK to not be OK.
- Increase Knowledge. For many men, part of the stigma that we face is that there is something wrong or “broken” that they are not able to live up to the standards that are set by society. Many times, little is known about what mental illness is, who it can effect, and how it is treated. By increasing knowledge surrounding the nature of depression, anxiety, and other mental illness, we can educate men that this is not a weakness. The example that seems to help many is relating mental illness to other diseases and illnesses. Would you say that someone fighting cancer is “weak?” In the same way, those that fight depression and other mental illnesses are not weak.
- Know the Spiritual Implications. Psalm 34:18 states, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Remembering that God is close companion through life’s struggles and periods of suffering is a comfort to many. While spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, giving and serving are extremely helpful in addressing symptoms of many different mental illness, it is not a “cure.” Instead, God promises that he is with us no matter what, guiding and protecting, suffering along with us in many cases.
My prayer is that in addressing many of these areas, we can begin to bring awareness to the struggles of men specifically, offering support and hope for those that suffer.