Men’s mental health is not a subject that is often talked about in the public sphere. In fact, it’s treated more like a shameful secret in our culture. However, we are beginning to see more studies, surveys, online networks, journals and newspaper articles shedding light on this subject.
The greatest evidence of male vulnerability is in suicide statistics. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association:
- Among Canadians of all ages, four of every five suicides are male.
- In the UK, men are around three times more likely to kill themselves than women.
- In New South Wales, Australia, suicide has overtaken car accidents as the leading cause of death in males since 1991.
The following is a great TED Talk given by Steph Slack about male suicide in the UK (which closely resembles the problem in Canada and the U.S.)
The crisis of men’s mental is compounded by barriers to seeking help:
- The “code” governing men’s behaviour is one of the prime barriers preventing men from seeking help. Male and societal attitudes have fostered the silence.
- Cultural expectations of male toughness.
- Expectations that men should not be vulnerable or weak. (Our culture is very good at punishing gender deviation in men.)
- Low priority given to men’s health issues in the research community.
- It’s easier for men to acknowledge physical symptoms, rather than emotional ones, their mental health problems easily go undiagnosed.
Men are particularly at risk after a divorce or breakup where they lose full access to their children. Social isolation experienced by many men in this situation is believed to be a factor in the high suicide rate amongst divorced men. There is growing evidence that greater recognition of the significance of men’s roles as fathers and partners would help men cope with difficult feelings after a breakup.
In many cases, men describe their own symptoms of depression without realizing they are depressed. They make no connection between their mental health and physical symptoms. According to an article on Psycom.net, men are likely to exhibit some of the following symptoms:
- Feel sad or “empty”
- Feeling irritable, angry, hopeless, or anxious
- Loss of interest in work, family, or other hobbies or interests (including sex)
- Feeling very tired
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep disturbance (unable to sleep or sleeping too much)
- Changes in eating habits (overeating or not eating at all)
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
- Somatic complaints (aches or pains, headaches, digestive problems)
- Inability to meet daily responsibilities.
Why do men get depressed? There is a great article on Mainlinehealth.org that details many contributing factors:
- Disappointments in life
- Financial stress
- Partner/relationship strife
- Medications with depression side effect
- Health changes
- Hormonal changes
In Canada, men can get more information about depression by contacting their local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association or by going to the CMHA website. Also check out Heads Up Guys for some great resources.
The focus of my blog is health and wellness for middle aged men. Depression and suicide are arguably the most significant problems that many men my age face. I consider myself to be very lucky that I have had an amazing support network of friends, family and professionals throughout my separation. Many men are not so fortunate.
The following video is a keynote speech given by Karen Straughan. It’s a longer video, but worth the time because Karen has a very interesting perspective:
If you recognize the symptoms of depression in yourself or in friend or loved one, don’t hesitate to talk to them and encourage them to get help. Men can often try to put on a “tough” mask and will initially reject any help. Be persistent and encourage them to open up… you may just save a life! Please share your own experiences or those of your loved ones.