I wanted to write an article for Mental Health Awareness Week, but I had no idea where to start. I couldn’t define mental health, or offer any significant insight. That shortcoming illustrates a common obstacle with mental health. It’s often misunderstood and hard to explain. If the average person doesn’t understand it, how would they seek treatment for it?
Mental health is as important as physical health. But, mental health often doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Why is that? It may be because we’re less willing to discuss mental health. It can be harder to diagnose, and people often self-medicate instead of seeking treatment.
I’m not an expert on mental health. If you want – or need – to talk to a professional, then please do so. Instead of serving as an expert, I wanted to create awareness and start a dialogue.
A system is a set of interrelated processes. When one process breaks down, it can affect the others. Our minds are a powerful tool, and they are very much part of a system. The mind processes information, makes decisions, rationalizes thoughts, and feels emotions. It leads a team of neurons, organs, bones, and blood into life every day. That’s when the system works properly. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Mental health and men
“Suck it up. Be a man.” What terrible advice. Men sometimes perpetuate mental health problems upon ourselves. We often don’t allow each other to communicate in an open and meaningful way. We’re too quick to dismiss any showing of weakness, for fear that might be contagious. (Let me assure you that it’s not.) It takes strength to admit a weakness. And strength is contagious.
Men are less likely to discuss mental health. There’s sometimes a don’t ask, don’t tell mentality. There is a stigma with men. We often don’t like to ask for help or otherwise appear to be weak. We’re more likely to suppress problems, feelings, and emotions. Why is that? Why is it hard for a man to admit, “Hey, I have a problem. Can I talk to you about it?”
Mental health starts with awareness, but it’s a broad topic. For this article, I wanted to focus on depression. While depression isn’t the only mental health issue that men face, it’s one of the most common.
What is depression?
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states: We all feel sad at times. It’s temporary, and sometimes lasts a few days, but it usually passes. Depression is more than feeling sad. It is a mood disorder. “Depression affects the ability to feel, think, and handle daily activities.”
Depression often masks or accompanies other symptoms. Not only that, but men often disguise depression as anger or aggression. This makes it more difficult to diagnose. Of course, if you don’t talk to your doctor – or go to a doctor in the first place – it will be even more difficult to diagnose.
What are some of the common symptoms of depression?
Someone with depression may experience a few or many of these symptoms, among others.
- Anger, irritability, or aggressive behavior.
- Feeling anxious, restless, sad, or hopeless.
- Loss of interest in activities or relationships.
- Feeling tired, sleeping too much, or not enough.
- Eating too much or too little.
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts.
- Physical aches or pains.
- Engaging in risky behavior.
- Alcohol or drug abuse.
- Withdrawal or becoming isolated.
How is depression treated?
Medication or therapy may help treat depression. Some individuals have better results with a combination of both. It takes time for treatment to be effective. Results aren’t immediate.
When taking antidepressant medication, take the recommended dosage. Talk to your doctor about any concerns that you have. And, realize that there may be unpleasant side effects. Know the potential side effects and the best way to manage them.
Speaking with a professional can be helpful. It’s vital to be open and honest, so your doctor or therapist knows the full story. Ask questions and be receptive.
Depression is a serious topic. If left untreated, it can escalate to other issues.
What can happen to depression if left untreated?
Men are often more likely to self-medicate than women. This self-medication can include abusing (or misusing) alcohol, drugs, or other substances. Substance abuse can lead to dependence or addiction. The cycle of addiction can be difficult to break. It often requires treatment from a professional.
Depression and substance abuse are factors that can lead to suicide. Suicide often doesn’t get the attention it deserves until it happens – usually with the death of a celebrity. Years of personal struggles culminate into a single moment. It changes the lives of everyone the person knows. It’s a preventable death. Men are more likely to die from suicide than women. That’s a harsh reality to face as a man – knowing that members of your brotherhood are more likely to carry that burden. Not only that, but they’re likely to face that burden alone and not seek help.
This article helped me see why men are reluctant to talk about mental health. It’s often an unpleasant conversation. Men are more likely to speak to a mechanic about their car than their doctor about mental health. Let’s get our priorities straight, gentlemen.
The Internet has a wealth of information and resources. Doing research can help you get started, but don’t stop there. Consider discussing your mental health with a trained professional. They can help you make the right decisions for your health. Of course, that approach is most effective when you’re open and honest with them. If you don’t provide the full story, it can be more challenging to get the treatment you need.
Maybe Kelsey Grammer, as TV’s Dr. Frasier Crane, had it right when he wished us all good mental health. A simple, impactful sentiment.
Yet, perhaps Benjamin Franklin said it best – “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Prevention is the best cure. Preventing mental health issues starts with awareness.
I encourage you to take care of yourself. We’re all in this together. There’s a support system available for you, and willing to help. All you have to do is ask for it. Treatment for mental health is available, and it can improve your well-being. It may also save your life.
Jason S. Sullivan, 10-14-19 (updated 10-14-20)