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June is Men-tal Health Awareness Month

Just be strong…. Shake it off…. It’s not that big of a deal…. Men don’t show emotion…. We don’t talk about our problems…. How many times have you heard this or said this to men in your life?

From a young age, these are messages that men have learned and have come to believe as truth. There’s a longstanding perception that men can’t or won’t show emotion or it’s not seen as being a man if they do. When it comes to mental health, women are encouraged to talk about their feelings and widely encourage each other to engage in therapy. Men, however, more often than not adopt a strong and silent response. Even in 2022, our society stigmatizes men who seek out mental health services, and unfortunately that burden is even heavier for the Black man. That’s why it’s so important for all of us to acknowledge that June is Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month.

This month it’s time to start supporting men who experience mental distress, from “everyday” stress to more serious conditions like depression and suicidal ideation. With the world seeming to spin further out of control by the minute, we need to normalize mental health treatment for men and help reduce the stigma. Statistics tell us that for some men, it could be a matter of life and death.

Without reaching out for help, the risk of suicide increases.

A 2019 article in the American Journal of Men’s Health paints a chilling portrait of what happens when men’s mental health issues go unnoticed and untreated. “Globally, males are 1.8 times more likely to take their own lives compared to women (Chang, Yip, & Chen, 2019; World Health Organization, 2017). This disproportionality higher suicide risk is often associated with men being less likely to seek help for mental health difficulties. Men tend to hold more negative attitudes toward the use of mental health services compared to women.”

Why do men have negative attitudes about seeking help? Their reasons may be unfounded, but they persist, partly because men hesitate to confide in each other when something is wrong. They expect themselves to be strong, emotionally controlled, and dominant. Their training tells them they should be able to solve their problems alone. Men may expect to encounter shame and judgment if they admit they are in distress – and too often their fears are confirmed.

Drowning their sorrows: Doing it old-school

According to that same 2019 article in the American Journal of Men’s Health, men are more likely to avoid introspection and “treat” their distress with drugs and alcohol. “Men cope with mental health difficulties differently compared to women, demonstrating an increased tendency to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs to alleviate emotional distress (Kilpatrick et al., 2000; Möller-Leimkühler, 2002; Oliver, Pearson, Coe, & Gunnell, 2005; Rutz & Rihmer, 2009). This is supported by higher prevalence rates of substance use disorders in men (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2004; Wilhelm, 2014).”

Drinking and substance use may defer or dampen the pain, but they don’t make it go away. The relief of working through a problem simply never comes. And because they don’t talk about their feelings, men get less practice in expressing them. They may not know what’s actually going on inside. The guy who is supposedly inarticulate may just be unused to talking. Or, sadly, he may fear that if he opened up about his fears, he’d be laughed at, dismissed, or belittled.

Compassion tells us that when someone we care about is in trouble, we should reach out and love them where they are at. Here are just some of the signs that may tell you a man you know may be struggling with mental health.

Men and Women Express Mental Health Issues Differently

Nine percent of men in the U.S. report feeling daily feelings of depression or anxiety, according to Medical News Today and one-third of men report having lived through a period of depression in their lifetime. Why do we not know that? For men, depression often goes unidentified, in part because their symptoms may present differently than for women. Men with depression may experience symptoms such as:

· Anger, irritability and aggression

· Body aches/pains and digestive problems without a clear cause

· Difficulty focusing

· Engaging in risky behaviors

· Feeling unexcited by things they used to enjoy

· Misuse or abuse of alcohol and/or drugs

· Sadness

· Suicidal ideation

· Trouble sleeping

You may experience any of these symptoms in the course of an average week. But if they persist, I encourage you to reach out for help. Reaching out for help can be one of the hardest and most courageous acts you can do. You don’t have to suffer alone in silence.

Help is Affordable, Available, and Effective – in June and All Year Long

So many men – and women – are struggling now. Multiple factors including inflation, war, COVID, family, work, finances, relationships are adding to our daily stressors of life. Some days may feel exhilarating, but just as often, it fills us with uncertainty, sadness or anxiety. In stressors like these, women may be better equipped to cope, and men may find themselves in jeopardy. So, before this month is over, please consider checking in with a man you care about. Ask him how he’s doing. If he says “Fine,” say, “Really? Not me!” Express a little of the vulnerability we are all feeling right now. If you’re lucky – if he’s lucky – he may find his own authentic words to share.

If you’d like to talk more about how mental health issues could be affecting a man in your life, please feel free to reach out. I’m happy to help. Here’s how to book a time on my calendar.

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