Mental health affects men too, whether we admit it or not

The first step to addressing mental illness is to talk about it.

Solitary man standing outside a building and his reflection in the window.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, only one in three men seek help when suffering from a mental illness, whereas approximately half of women seek help.

In the past decade, awareness has increased regarding mental health struggles. Professional athletes such as Olympian Michael Phelps, NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall, former MLB pitcher Rick Ankiel and retired tennis professional Mardy Fish have publicly addressed their personal mental health struggles. Although we have begun to discuss the issues associated with mental health more openly as a society, continued efforts are needed to support those with mental health conditions as well as reduce and ultimately eliminate the stigma associated with it.

Awareness and open discussion is important, however, awareness of mental illness does not equate to treatment of mental illness. For example, the number of individuals self-reporting conditions of mental illness has not seen a notable decrease since 2007.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately one in five American adults will experience mental illness in a year. In 2016, 21.7 percent of women suffered from some form of mental illness — including depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors. In contrast, only 14.5 percent of men suffered from any form of mental illness.

With these figures in mind, at first glance, it might seem like mental health is less of a concern to the male population. However, a closer look at men’s mental health tells a very different story.

Although 43.1 percent of people suffering from mental illness receive some sort of medical treatment—inpatient or outpatient counseling or the use of prescribed medications—only one in three are men, whereas approximately half of women seek help, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Why do so few men seek professional help when suffering from mental illness?

The answer is most likely a complex mixture of factors that include the continued stigma attached to mental illness as well as societal pressures that traditionally fall on men. Examples of these pressures include an expectation to provide for family and project confidence and assertion but never sadness, vulnerability, or anything that may be seen as “weak.”

Healthy Men Michigan, an organization created to engage men in mental health conversations, has a brief quiz that men can use to find out if they have characteristics of depression. If your score suggests you may have signs of depression, it is recommended to speak with your primary care physician to determine a course of action.

Mental illness is biologically based and accelerated by a number of other life factors. According to NAMI, if left untreated, mental illness can significantly reduce one’s quality and length of life through increased physical sickness, substance abuse, homelessness, incarceration and potentially, suicide. However, when addressed with professional help, between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life.

If you are looking for support or help in finding treatment, here are a number of sources that may help you:

Michigan State University Extension offers a number of classes to help with handling stress and anger, which may help in improving your quality of life. Stress Less with Mindfulness and RELAX: Alternatives to Anger are classes taught by educators throughout the State of Michigan. Please contact your local MSU Extension county office.

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