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Men’s mental health often does not get the attention that women’s mental health does. Men face similar challenges, but frequently, these issues aren’t readily brought out into the open.
While exceptions exist, men often tend to keep their mental health issues quiet, or at least discuss them with as few people as possible. Men may not recognize that they deserve to have concerns about their well-being acknowledged and supported with understanding and proper professional help.
The American Psychological Association reports that 9% of men in the U.S. have feelings of depression or anxiety daily, and that over the course of their lives, 30.6% of men suffer from a period of depression. However, only one in four speak to a mental health professional about these feelings.
Depression and anxiety aren’t the only mental health issues that men face in or out of the workplace. Understanding the facts about men’s mental health and the barriers that keep men from seeking help, recognizing the symptoms of various disorders, and supporting men when they have mental illness should be a priority for companies.
Facts and figures about men’s mental health
The ease with which men are comfortable speaking about mental health issues tends to vary by generation. Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, have more difficulty talking about mental illness than those who are younger, according to the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM). Only 32% of Boomers—and these statistics include both males and females—are comfortable talking about these problems. Millennials, those born between the early 1980s and the mid-late 1990s, have an easier time being open about their mental health. Sixty-two percent of Millennials will let others know they’re having issues. And, members of Generation Z, the youngest adults in our society, have the least amount of trouble talking about their mental illnesses.
Despite which generation they belong to, however, men are less likely than women to recognize or acknowledge their psychological issues. When they are men of color, that likelihood decreases even more.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that Black people are “20 percent more likely to have serious psychological distress than whites,” but Black men are often resistant to discussing their mental health problems. They may not recognize that their issues are not normal. If they do recognize their issues, they may fear talking about them makes them look weak. They may also think that no one cares about their mental health. Studies show that African Americans are only half as likely as white people to get treatment for their mental disorders.
Major mental health problems that affect men
According to NIMH, depression is a brain disease that affects 6 million American men each year. Factors such as stress, the loss of loved one, illness and even the history of depression in a family can make a man more susceptible to depression. Treating the illness is important, but unless it’s diagnosed, it can’t be treated.
Depression is more than just feeling sad or irritable for a couple of days. It’s a mood disorder that affects the ability to think, feel and handle every day tasks. These symptoms usually need to last for at least two weeks to be diagnosed as depression, also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression.
Suicidal thoughts are another mental illness that affects men. In 2018, over 48,000 people died by suicide in the U.S., and men were 3.7 times more likely to commit suicide than women.
Some of the signs of suicidal thoughts are obvious, such as talking about killing oneself, giving away important possessions, searching for suicidal methods online, and saying goodbye to friends and family. Other signs are more subtle, such as changing eating and sleeping habits, withdrawing from friends and family and getting anxious or agitated.
Until professional help can be provided, those concerned a man may be considering suicide should ask if he’s thinking about killing himself, keep him safe, listen to him, connect him to a suicide prevention hotline and follow up with him.
Not everyone looks at addiction to drugs and alcohol as if it’s a mental illness, but substance addiction is considered a mental health issue. More than half of the people who have both a substance use disorder coupled with another mental illness are men.
Substance use becomes a mental disorder when it begins to interfere with work, school and previously good relationships with friends and family. Treatment for addiction is available through therapists, physicians and support groups.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
After a traumatic experience, many men may have post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD. The natural reactions the mind and body have while in danger can linger long after the danger is over, leaving men stressed and frightened for seemingly no reason.
Adding to the confusion as to why someone might have PTSD when there is no danger is the fact that the disorder isn’t always brought on by physical danger. It can also be brought on by an unexpected loss, like the death of a loved one. Treatment for PTSD can be psychotherapy or medication, or a combination of both.
One mental illness that some adult men don’t know they’re able to have is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, more commonly referred to as ADHD, since it’s commonly diagnosed in children or teenagers. However, many adults have undiagnosed ADHD, which is characterized by an “ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.”
An inability to stay on task, focus and stay organized, a consistent need to move or fidget, and making impulsive, hasty actions and decisions are all signs of ADHD. It’s estimated that about 8% of adults ages 18-44 have this disorder, with men four times more likely to be diagnosed with it than women.
Why men have difficulty seeking help for mental health concerns
Although men are as likely to have mental health issues as women, they are much less likely to talk about them or seek help for them. African American men are especially subject to social taboos that can keep them from dealing with mental illnesses.
From a young age, men are often told to “man up,” “don’t cry” or “just deal with it.” Admitting they have a mental illness and need help goes against traditional social expectations.
Men may also be concerned that if they admit they have a problem, others will think they’re unable to take care of themselves and their loved ones. Fear of being discriminated against in the workplace, perhaps looked over for promotions if people know they’re having difficulties, can also be a barrier to asking for help. And, because men don’t talk about it much, they simply may not know where to turn to for help.
Mental Health America suggests some less obvious reasons why men may fail to access mental health help. The strategies used to educate about mental health are often not targeted to what men need. Men also ask for help differently. While it’s common to say men don’t seek help, perhaps they are seeking help using different strategies, such as looking for help from someone they can help in return—so they don’t feel weak.
Also, men and women can experience symptoms of mental health differently. While most people think of sadness as a sign of depression, many men get irritated and angry when they are depressed. Since they don’t think of anger as a sign of depression, they don’t seek help for it.
How to support men’s mental health
Human resource professionals and others at work can help to support men’s mental health in a variety of ways. According to Human Resource Executive, implementing strategies to support the mental health of all employees will benefit men.
One strategy is to start from leadership on down. Those at the top of an organization should be modeling a mental-healthy workplace, making sure to focus both on employees’ physical and mental health. This includes offering comprehensive mental health benefits to employees, taking away the barrier of affordability to access to services.
Training for both management and employees should also be provided so people can recognize the signs of mental health issues and know how to access resources if mental health help is needed.
Workplaces also need to create an environment where talking about mental health is normal, never something to feel shame about, so those who need help feel comfortable asking for it.
Spring Health’s clinically-validated technology can match each member of your workforce team to the mental health care he needs. Request a demo to find out how Spring Health can support your employees.