Safeguarding Your Mental Health

Depression and other mental health problems are common in men, but men often don’t receive proper diagnosis and treatment.

Mental health in men is a serious issue. An estimated six million men in the United States suffer from depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Phobias, such as social phobias and panic attacks, are the second most common mental health condition in men older than 25. Although schizophrenia, a lifelong mental illness, strikes men and women in about equal numbers, it comes on earlier in men — symptoms appear in the late teens to early 20s in men compared to the mid-20s to early 30s in women. Most alarming, four times as many men as women die from the most serious consequence of mental health problems: suicide.

Fortunately, help is available for men with depression and other mental health conditions.

Men and Mental Health: Gender Differences

Studies have found that depression is twice as common in women as in men, but many experts believe depression in men may be under-reported.

“It’s well known that women are more likely to recognize that something is wrong and go to the doctor,” says Stephan Quentzel, MD, a family physician, psychiatrist, and assistant professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

Because women are more likely to go to the doctor with mental health complaints, they’re diagnosed more often. Additionally, depression looks different in men. While a depressed woman may feel sad, cry easily, and lack energy, depression in a man is more likely to exhibit itself as aggression, anger, and irritability. He may get into fights, abuse his wife and children, or compulsively seek thrills in high-risk behavior. Often, a depressed man will cope by taking drugs or drinking too much. This can mask depression, making it less likely that a man will receive treatment for the underlying mental health condition. “For a variety of reasons, many men aren’t getting proper diagnosis and treatment for their depression, which can be life-saving,” says Dr. Quentzel.

Men and Mental Health: The Stigma of Depression in Men

Cultural expectations can make it hard for men to admit to mental health problems and seek help. Because a man may feel pressure to maintain a tough-guy image, he may suffer in silence or try to fight through his depression, using strategies like violence or drinking.

“There’s a stigma attached to depression in men,” says Quentzel. “Men can see being depressed as a sign of weakness.” The alarming suicide rate in men may be a reflection of the stigma of depression. Rather than seeking treatment, a man may choose suicide as the best way out of his pain and distress. While women actually make more suicide attempts than men, males are more often successful in their suicide attempts, partly because they’re more likely to use guns (women often take pills). Many experts believe that proper diagnosis and treatment of mental health problems in men could greatly reduce the suicide rate.

Men and Mental Health: The Benefits of Treatment

Many mental health conditions are highly treatable. Medications for phobias and schizophrenia are effective for most patients, though it may take some trial and error to find the right one; and depression can be treated in a variety of ways.

“At least 80 percent of adults with depression improve when they receive treatment with antidepressant medication, psychotherapy (talk therapy), or a combination of both,” says Quentzel. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be a treatment option for severe depression. Men should start by making an appointment with their primary care doctor, who may then refer them to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other psycho therapist for appropriate diagnosis and treatment. With proper treatment, most men begin to feel better within six months.

Seeking help for mental health issues can lead to a happier and healthier life. Keep in mind that depression and other mental illnesses are real diseases that affect men as well as women. Getting treatment for a mental condition is not a sign of weakness. It may be the best thing a man can do for himself and his loved ones.

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