Men’s Mental Health: It’s Time to Talk About It
In honour of Movember (click HERE for more details on that) this week’s Blog is exploring men’s mental health – something society needs to start addressing more openly and honestly. A combination of stigma related to mental health, societal expectations and sexism have led mental illness and suicide to be two of the leading causes of premature death in men.
TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses depression and suicide. If you or someone you know needs help now dial 9-1-1 or reach out to your nearest crisis centre (find a list HERE).
Because women are diagnosed with depression at rates 1.5 to 3 times higher than men are, it sounds reasonable to deduce that more women are living with depression and are therefore higher risk. For many years this was the conclusion drawn by the research community and it was easily reinforced by society’s belief that women are more prone to more extreme emotional states than men – an unfortunate but highly relevant example of how sexism plays a role in health care.
Suicide rates paint a different picture: although women attempt suicide more often, because men tend to choose more lethal means they die by suicide at rates nearly four times higher than women do (here in Canada). What’s been surmised in more recent years is that perhaps women are not actually more likely to experience depression, they’re more likely to be diagnosed with it because they’re more likely to reach out for help. Research assessing people’s attitudes about mental health backs this up: women are more likely to take mental health seriously and to seek medical care for symptoms of mental illness, whereas men, on average, are more likely to view their own symptoms of mental distress as embarrassing, opting to “suck it up” rather than reaching out for help. When someone feels they’re alone in their struggle and experiences barriers to accessing support it often leads to a sense of social disconnection and isolation… which – you guessed it – typically compounds symptoms of many mental health issues, most certainly including depression.
Living with heart disease or chronic high blood pressure increases one’s risk of having a heart attack, which is potentially fatal. The risk increases drastically if the health issue is left untreated or isn’t managed consistently or effectively. The relationship between mental illness and suicide is much the same: suicide is, essentially, the fatal outcome of mental illness. We must recognize that mental health issues are, indeed, health issues and just like one would strive to manage a physical health concern by tapping in to appropriate medical expertise and making certain lifestyle adjustments, mental illness is treatable and needs to be taken seriously.
If you want to read more on this topic, I recommend THIS article by the Canadian Centre for Suicide Prevention. This week, challenge yourself to initiate a conversation with a man in your life about mental health. Set a norm within your family and social circle that it’s OK to talk about mental health. Encourage open dialogue even about sensitive topics. We’re all human and it’s completely normal (and extremely common) to encounter challenges with respect to our mental health from time to time. You never know whose life you might save just by having a simple conversation.
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to frequent keynote speaking and corporate training on mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.