Anyone can experience mental health problems, regardless of gender or sex. Although the prevalence of mental illness is higher in women, men are more likely to die by suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Because traditional gender roles and cultural expectations often complicate men’s health, many men hesitate to speak openly about mental health problems or seek help.
Celebrated every year in June, Men’s Health Month brings awareness to the health problems faced by men. Men’s health matters—and recognizing the signs that you or someone you love may be struggling with mental health problems is the first step to getting treatment.
Prevalence of Mental Health Conditions Among Men
In 2018, the National Institute of Mental Health reported that approximately 15% of men in the United States experienced some form of mental illness within the past year. However, the prevalence of mental health challenges among men could be higher, as men are less likely to report mental health symptoms. Additionally, health care providers are less likely to identify symptoms in men.
According to Mental Health America, over six million men in the United States struggle with depression, while approximately three million have anxiety disorders. In addition, one in five men develop alcohol addiction during their lives, and male veterans are twice as likely to develop a substance use disorder than women. Men typically experience an onset of mental health symptoms during adolescence or early adulthood, but they can occur at any stage of life.
Despite the prevalence of mental illness among men, only approximately 35% of men in the United States receive mental health treatment compared to 48% of women. Men are also less likely to seek consistent medical treatment, according to the Men’s Health Network.
Common Mental Health Challenges
Data suggest that men are at a higher risk of some mental health conditions than women, including substance abuse and antisocial disorders. In a recent study, men were more likely to externalize emotions than women through aggressive, impulsive, and non-compliant behaviors.
Men and women are affected by the same mental health conditions, including:
- Mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder
- Seasonal affective disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Personality disorders
- Eating disorders
- Substance use disorders, including alcohol use disorder
Symptoms of Mental Health Problems
While men and women can develop the same mental disorders and mental health conditions, their symptoms may vary. For example, men tend to report fatigue, irritability, and loss of interest in daily activities as depression symptoms, while women report feelings of sadness or worthlessness.
- Anger, irritability, and aggression
- Changes in mood, energy levels, sleep patterns, or appetite
- Difficulty concentrating, feelings of restlessness
- Increased worry or stress
- Drug or alcohol abuse, i.e., heavy drinking, binge drinking
- Suicidal thoughts
- Sadness, hopelessness, or low self-esteem
- Engaging in high-risk activities, i.e., driving with a high blood alcohol concentration
- Aches, headaches, digestive issues, and physical problems without a clear cause
- Obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors
- Thoughts or behaviors that interfere with social relationships or daily life
Men’s Social Issues
Traditional gender roles and cultural expectations about masculinity create some social challenges that are unique to males, such as:
- Prison populations are predominantly male. According to the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons data, over 93% of inmates are male.
- Men are more likely to externalize emotions and mental health challenges and are at a higher risk of suicide.
- Some men learn that they must be in control and that it is not appropriate to talk about emotions.
- Men are less likely to seek mental health services or speak to friends or family members about mental health problems.
- Men are more likely to use unhealthy coping strategies, such as excessive drinking.
These issues can further affect men’s mental health and serve as barriers to identifying mental health symptoms among men. Additional risk factors for mental illness include substance abuse, military trauma, and a family history of mental illness. According to the CDC, social isolation under COVID-19 can further exacerbate mental health conditions and substance abuse problems.
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What Should You Do If You’re Struggling With Mental Health Problems?
If you’re experiencing mental health challenges, the good news is that mental health conditions are treatable. Numerous strategies can help men cope with mental health problems and manage their mental health, including:
- Therapy: In response to COVID-19, the United States Department of Health and Human Services has taken steps to relax HIPAA regulations, enabling more men to access remote mental health services. Talk therapy—in both individual and group settings—can be an effective treatment for men facing mental health challenges.
- Support groups: Support groups can be a helpful component of mental health treatment. If you’re unsure where to start, the Face It Foundation offers support groups for men with major depression. In addition, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers several support programs, such as NAMI Basics, NAMI Connection, NAMI Faithnet, NAMI Peer-to-Peer, and the NAMI Family Support Group.
- Check-ups: Scheduling a check-up with your health care provider can rule out medical conditions associated with your symptoms. For example, high blood pressure, a common sign of stress, may be related to a chronic health condition like heart disease. Additionally, some symptoms can be managed with medications, such as anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications.
- Helplines: For immediate mental health support, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) or the Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741).
- Self-care: The term “self-care” has become prominent within the greater cultural conversation on health and wellness, but it still carries a negative connotation among men. Contrary to popular belief, self-care isn’t just about bubble baths and scented candles—it’s about making healthy lifestyle choices. Focusing on your physical health by eating a healthy diet, reducing drug and alcohol use, getting enough sleep, and participating in social activities that you enjoy can improve your overall health and lower your risk factors for chronic diseases like heart disease and prostate cancer.
What Should You Look For in a Therapist?
Whether you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or alcohol dependence, early treatment is essential. If left untreated, continued alcohol consumption over a long period can lead to serious health problems, including brain damage, alcohol poisoning, liver cirrhosis, increased risk for heart attack, and withdrawal symptoms, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
Some mental health providers think that contingency-based therapies may be more helpful in managing men’s mental health. Regardless of gender, many types of treatment are beneficial, including psychodynamic psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other forms of talk therapy.
Because many mental health conditions require long-term treatment, it’s important to find a therapist you feel comfortable with. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the understanding between you and your mental health provider can significantly influence your treatment’s effectiveness.
To find a mental health provider, consider reaching out to a therapist through WithTherapy. WithTherapy’s unique matching service will connect you to a healthcare professional you feel comfortable with, regardless of your personal preferences and requirements. One of the mental health experts on the WithTherapy platform will help you develop healthy coping strategies and manage your mental health.