○ 19 min read
The Overlooked Mental Health Issues Impacting Men’s Wellbeing
Are you the strong and silent type? Have you ever been shamed for crying or been told you need to toughen up? It’s time to throw those old belief systems out of the window. Men are told to keep their problems to themselves, “man up,” and power through tough experiences. This outdated gender stereotype has left many men struggling through life without emotional support. Eventually, it can catch up with you and may take its toll on your mental health.
It’s time for a new approach. With occurrences of mental health disorders skyrocketing, men need to prioritize the time to find healthy ways to cope with life’s challenges. Rather than ignore your symptoms, learn to tune in to what they might be trying to tell you and get help!
Common Overlooked Mental Health Issues in Men
Many people think they know what depression is, but often the symptoms get overlooked, especially in men. Those unfamiliar with it may assume that if you are depressed, you simply feel sad all the time, but there are many other ways in which depression symptoms can manifest. Depression can produce a full range of difficult emotions, such as anger or resentment, as well as physical symptoms. Many men who are depressed don’t necessarily feel an overwhelming sadness, so they might not make the connection that what they are experiencing could be depression.
The biological impact of depression is very complex, and some types of depression have been linked to low-grade inflammation in the brain. While the brain chemistry is affected, emotional and physical stress, poor sleep quality, past trauma, dietary choices, nutritional deficiencies, unhealthy relationships, financial instability, and lack of exercise can all contribute to depression. Rarely is the cause due to just one thing, so of course, rarely is there just one simple solution. Instead, many people find relief from depression with a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes that support their mental health in various ways.
Depression may be a little different for everyone, but these are common symptoms of depression to keep an eye out for:
♦ Loss of interest in hobbies or social activities
♦ Physical aches and pains
♦ Sexual dysfunction or loss of sexual desire
♦ Drug or alcohol use
♦ Reckless behavior
♦ Difficulty focusing
♦ Difficulty sleeping or sleeping more than usual
♦ Hopeless thoughts or feelings of worthlessness
We’ve all probably experienced that rush of adrenaline when we get called into the boss’ office or have a close call on the freeway, but what happens when the threat is over and our body isn’t able to calm down? Sometimes we may overreact to small things that send us into a state of panic, triggering feelings of worry, or fear. Often, it can even be hard to identify what the problem is, and some people may be filled with an overwhelming sense of dread that just won’t go away.
Many forms of anxiety exist, and people experience this issue very differently. Men are more likely to experience anxiety as a form of restless agitation, often resulting in anger. They will often ignore or dismiss their symptoms, tend to avoid seeking treatment, are more likely to use substances to cope, and in many cases, are less able to express the complex emotional experiences they are going through.
Although categorized as a mental disorder, anxiety symptoms are often felt physically, especially in men. A racing heart, lightheadedness, increased sweating, and nausea can all be anxiety symptoms. Defined as “excessive apprehension about perceived or real threats,” anxiety can lead to long-term stress-induced health problems and disrupt your daily life, work, and relationships.
In our fast-paced world, where an endless stream of bad news is at our fingertips, it can be easy to get caught up in feelings of being in constant crisis. Some people even get used to living in a state of anxiety and may not recognize it for what it is. Many people experience a panic attack and think they are having a heart attack, only to be told it is “all in their mind.” These terrifying physical symptoms are real and shouldn’t be discounted. They are your body telling you something is wrong, and you need to find solutions to help you shift out of a state of fear.
Symptoms of anxiety include,
♦ Feeling unable to relax
♦ Overthinking worst-case scenarios
♦ Worrying about the future
♦ Having feelings of dread
♦ Loss of appetite
Symptoms of a panic attack include,
♦ Feeling disoriented
♦ Rapid heartbeat
♦ Chest pain
♦ Feeling out of breath/hyperventilation
♦ Trembling or shaking
♦ Numbness or tingling in hands or feet
Many people have succumbed to emotional eating after a breakup or a bad day, but when your relationship with food takes over your life, it is time to seek help. Although eating disorders are more prevalent in women and people who identify as trans, gender non-binary, or gender diverse, many cis men are affected by this dangerous mental health disorder. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental health disorders, and bulimia, binge eating, and other eating disorders can cause significant health problems in those who suffer from them.
With the onslaught of unhealthy beauty and body standards glorified on social media, movies, television, and advertising, many men fall victim to the impulse to demand perfection from their bodies, keep incredibly fit, or deny themselves precious calories in order to reach some unattainable goal. These disorders aren’t always well recognized in men, and they may even be commended for their willpower and ability to “go without.”
Besides excessive food restriction, there is the other end of the spectrum. Binge eating and bulimia often develop as a form of emotional eating, can arise from unhealthy dieting practices, or can progress as a kind of food addiction. Often stemming from a deep sense of perfectionism, low self-esteem, and sometimes body dysmorphia, there is some evidence that eating disorders are closely related to obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it may take a multifaceted approach to treat the different aspects of these complex disorders.
Men who have participated in certain sports and activities that are closely connected with body size and shape may be at a higher risk of developing eating disorders. When involved in athletics that have weight classes, such as wrestling, MMA, or boxing, they may even be pressured by their coach to “drop weight” to have an advantage over their opponent. Dancers, models, actors, and social media influencers also may be more susceptible to the societal messaging of being thin or fit at all costs.
Warning signs of eating disorders include:
♦ Sudden or extreme weight loss
♦ Negative or distorted body image
♦ Preoccupation with food or obsessive rituals around food
♦ Secrecy around eating habits
♦ Low self-esteem
♦ Excessive exercise
♦ Frequent trips to the bathroom soon after or during meals
♦ Inflexible dieting habits (obsessively counting calories, excessive fasting, avoidance of certain foods)
♦ Use of laxatives or appetite suppressants
♦ Evidence of vomiting (swollen cheeks or decaying teeth)
♦ Withdrawal from social interactions
♦ Disappearance or hoarding of food
♦ Fainting or dizziness
Substance Use Disorder
Substance use is a slippery slope, and what may start as an innocent way to relax or blow off steam can quickly take over your life. When a few beers on the weekend turns into a 3-day binge, or you indulge in mind-altering substances more than usual, it can turn from a fun adventure to a nightmare.
When substance use turns into the inability to control your actions or begins to affect your work life, financial health, or personal relationships, it is time to seek help.
Often people turn to drugs or alcohol because of a preexisting mental health disorder, such as anxiety or depression, and they are trying to find ways to cope or self-medicate. But in turn, these substances can also contribute to mental health problems. They can start a cascade of challenging circumstances that make it even harder to stay healthy mentally and physically.
People with a family history of addiction may be more prone to develop substance use disorders. Some of these factors are genetic, but much can come from taking on the patterns of those around us and mimicking how they might deal with stress or conflict. While not all substance use is considered a problem, sometimes it is hard to see your habits clearly while in the midst of it. If someone in your life voices their concerns about your substance use habits, try to stay open-minded and take a closer look at why they might think you need help.
Substance use red flags:
♦ Thinking a lot about the next drink or hit of a person’s drug of choice
♦ Drinking or using drugs alone or trying to hide it from others
♦ Lying about substance use or trying to hide it from others
♦ Avoiding friends and family
♦ Pressuring others to drink or get high with them
♦ Risky behavior
♦ Missing work due to substance use
♦ Hopelessness/depressed mood
We’ve all got bad memories we would rather not relive, but when we experience something traumatic, the memory can be so haunting it disrupts our lives. Post-traumatic stress disorder often arises after a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events. It is most often seen in military personnel and first responders who have witnessed horrific circumstances, but it can happen to anyone. Experiences in childhood or adulthood can lead to a variety of symptoms that make life difficult for the person who has been traumatized and can also affect those around them.
There are several categories of PTSD, and there are a variety of symptoms that can arise. Flashbacks, nightmares, trouble sleeping, impulsive behaviors, and a variety of negative emotions are just a few of the issues that people with PTSD experience.
PTSD can cause changes in the brain, possibly reducing memory function, affecting emotional regulation, and reinforcing fear responses. It is hard for people with this disorder to feel safe, and they may avoid certain situations, people, and conversations that may trigger memories or feelings that are difficult for them to handle. It is also common for people to have difficulty remembering details about the traumatic event they experienced, so it can take time to uncover what is at the root of their particular issues.
Symptoms of PTSD can be mild or severe and can include:
♦ Difficulty concentrating/being easily distracted
♦ Difficulty regulating emotions
♦ Experiencing flashbacks
♦ Hyperawareness of potential threats or trauma, feeling “on edge” or unable to relax
♦ Emotional numbness
♦ Substance use
♦ Feeling disconnected from loved ones
♦ Difficulty feeling happiness or other positive emotions
♦ Guilt about the traumatic experience
♦ Verbal or physical aggression
♦ Unprovoked anger or irritability
Why Are Men’s Mental Health Issues Overlooked
Even when men may realize they are struggling with their mental health, far too often, they do not seek help. Our society expects men to be strong and handle their problems on their own. It is very common that even from a young age, boys are taught that it is not ok to cry or express their emotions when life gets hard. This type of forced masculinity is not only inaccurate, it is also harmful. There is a lot of stigma surrounding mental health issues for all genders, but men especially may see it as a sign of weakness and just do their best to “deal with it.”
Men are statistically less likely to seek mental health help than women, and many reasons contribute to this problem. One big issue standing in the way of many men getting help is the simple fact that they do not recognize the symptoms of common mental health disorders. Many mental health issues show up differently in men, so the warning signs are missed. While many women tend to internalize their problems, men have more of a tendency to act out or express their struggles externally. They may bury their emotions by staying extra busy at work, avoiding deeper conversations, participating in risky behavior, or seeking out substances that will “numb” them from their feelings.
Reasons men avoid getting help for their mental health:
♦ Not wanting to be a burden
♦ Not wanting to be seen as weak
♦ Not recognizing mental health symptoms
♦ Lack of emotional support
♦ Lack of mental health resources
♦ They are not sure how to get help or how to find the kind of help they need
Consequences of Overlooking Men’s Mental Health Issues
By not getting the help they need, men will struggle to live up to their full potential in their work life, relationships, in reaching personal goals, and many other aspects of their lives. Ignoring mental health warning signs can lead to disastrous outcomes in some situations and put people at risk for physical health problems. As their personal relationships may suffer, they may feel more isolated, making the issue much worse.
This is a problem for individuals but also for our society at large. When men don’t get the help they need, this sets the pattern for the next generation, and young people should feel encouraged to find answers to their problems. When you get help, it helps others to be empowered to do the same.
Strategies for Addressing Men’s Mental Health Issues
If you recognize that you may be struggling with your mental health, don’t wait to find help. Although there are many things you can do on your own to support your mental health, these do not replace proper care by a qualified mental health practitioner. Find a counselor, psychiatrist, or psychologist to help you identify your struggles and help you find healthy ways to cope with the difficult aspects of life.
Never feel ashamed about seeking help. Being open about communicating your emotional needs can be difficult, but it sets a good example for those around you. It will benefit your relationships and help you continue moving forward in life.
Support groups can be really helpful to get used to opening up about your feelings, but they aren’t for everyone. There are a lot of different options when it comes to types of therapy and support, and sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start. Taking the initiative when you aren’t feeling your best can be hard sometimes. If you aren’t able to take the first step on your own, ask a friend or family member to help you make an appointment or find a provider for you. If you don’t feel comfortable with that or don’t have someone to rely on, you can talk to your primary care provider to see what options are available in your area.
You can always reach out to a crisis line (988 is our national lifeline) for advice or if you are feeling unstable. There are a lot of online resources available, and it is possible to find excellent counseling and therapy programs that make virtual appointments that might make it easier for you to find what you need. Many online options are more affordable than traditional therapy, so shop for something that meets your needs.
Types of mental health therapies include:
♦ Psychodynamic (Talk) Therapy
♦ Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
♦ Cognitive Processing Therapy
♦ Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
♦ Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
♦ EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing)
♦ Art Therapy
♦ Music Therapy
♦ Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy
♦ Guided Psychedelic Journeys (Do your research to find a reliable and qualified provider if you are interested in this kind of therapy!)
Additional activities that support mental health include:
♦ Exercise (jogging, yoga, kickboxing, rock climbing, biking, hiking, weight lifting, etc.)
♦ Healthy foods
♦ Taking walks
♦ Talk to an old friend
♦ Hang out with your pets
♦ Taking specific supplements that support mental health, such as omega-3 fatty acids, turmeric, ashwagandha, etc.
♦ Draw, paint, or find other artistic activities (you don’t have to be a good artist to enjoy this!)
♦ Learn something new (a language, how to play an instrument, etc.)
♦ Sing! Put on your favorite tunes and rock out!
♦ Watch an old movie that you loved as a kid.
The Essential Element
Let’s normalize getting help with our mental health! With all of the difficulties in our world today, it is easy to understand why some people struggle, and there is no reason to go it alone. Sometimes all you need is a long talk with a good friend, but some issues aren’t that easy to solve and will need a more in-depth approach.
Find compassion for yourself, and don’t give in to the impulse to “tough it out” or just wait for it to go away. At Essential elements®, we are here to help you be the best version of yourself, physically and mentally. We have found that exercise and nutrition are incredible support for your mental health, and they are good additions to a strong mental health protocol. While we can’t solve all of the world’s problems, we can help keep you motivated to step up your game and encourage you to seek help when necessary.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, be sure to find help! You can make an appointment with a counselor, or psychiatrist, or start educating yourself about the symptoms and treatment of different mental health disorders. It will be worth it!