I’m so glad you’re here with me. I hope you’re having a delightful week and if you’re not, I’m sorry. I’m hopeful that wherever you are is guiding you to where you need to be and that you can shift some energy by doing something that brings you peace and joy. Whether it’s a shower, a walk, a stretch, a cat video on YouTube, or a nap, I hope you’re able to take that step and that it eases your suffering. June is an important month for several reasons. It begins a new season and marks us being halfway through our year. But maybe most importantly, it’s Men’s Health Month.
Men’s Health often falls by the wayside because a)there’s a stigma that being ill or having to pay attention to health means weakness and b) it’s not nearly as flashy as “save the tatas”. But it’s so important! Ignoring your health is dangerous and is a huge issue when it comes to heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses. But, I’m not a physical health professional, I’m a mental health professional. So let’s talk about that.
The Stigma for Men
Men’s mental health often doesn’t get talked about because the stigma is even stronger for men. And that’s dangerous. Men are much more likely to go undiagnosed even when they have a higher instance of illness. For example, over four times as many men die by suicide than women. In fact, suicide is the seventh leading cause of death for men and 75% of the victims of suicide are men. Things like substance abuse, low testosterone, unemployment, military trauma, and being a member of the LBGTQIA+ community are all correlated (note, not caused by but associated with. Members of the LGBTQIA+ often deal with depression and suicidal thoughts because of how society treats them, not because they are LBGTQIA+) with higher suicide rates.
When we think about suicide, we often think about depression but men are more likely to develop other mental illnesses, too. 90% of the people diagnosed with schizophrenia before the age of 30 are male. Substance abuse (which we know from above is a risk factor for suicide) is more common (3:1) in men than women. And please please PLEASE don’t forget that men also suffer from anxiety and eating disorders even though those issues are frequently stereotyped as women’s issues.
It’s a Bigger Issue
This is a complex and multi-faceted issue. There is no one reason that men are suffering so much and suffering in silence but instead several reasons, most of which are social norms and expectations.
Men are trained to pay very little attention to the social and emotional aspects of their lives. They’re less aware of how they’re feeling and what they need. I’ll throw my poor husband under the bus as an example. I have often asked him “what are you thinking?”, “what do you need”, and/or “when’s the last time you spoke to Mr. Friend?” and his answer is often “I’m not sure”. In his family of origin, his mother maintained social relationships and monitored everyone’s health in the family while his father was the sole breadwinner. He didn’t learn to develop an internal calendar for checking in on relationships, emotions, and needs. He’s had to develop that on his own and it’s challenging! By checking in with ourselves more often and asking “How am I emotionally” and having the bravery, to be honest rather than dismissively saying “fine” before we even pause for a moment, we stay on top of our well-being.
The social norm that men are the breadwinners presents another issue that impacts men’s mental health: employment. When work was plentiful and one income could support a family, many men took pride (and taught their sons to do the same) in providing for their families as their purpose in life. They used their ability to provide as the biggest piece of their self-esteem. What happens to self-esteem then when you’re laid off? Or when your pay isn’t making ends meet?
Men also tend to downplay their symptoms or aren’t encouraged to build the emotional intelligence necessary to identify and cope with them. There’s an interesting idea in psychology that Anti-social personality disorder (symptoms include having little empathy for others, harming others, being destructive) is what men get diagnosed with and Borderline Personality Disorder (unstable relationships, fear of abandonment with dramatic attempts to avoid it, self-destructive behaviors) is just another side of the same coin, but is what women get diagnosed with.
For women, it’s more acceptable to be more vocal about their emotions and for men, the expectation is that the only emotions they have are anger or happiness. You can see how these expectations cause men to silence (or not even connect with in the first place) their emotions and downplay anything they’re feeling. They’re supposed to be strong and silent and stoic, right? But men are humans, too, and human beings have emotional experiences. It takes emotional intelligence to identify the difference between anger and hurt and the only way it gets better is to practice it. Take time when you’re emotional to tune in and identify the feeling.
It also should be noted that men (especially as they age) often have different symptoms than those “typical” for depression. Men may be uncharacteristically angry or irritable instead of sad and “mopey”.
I want to leave you with a suggestion for a word/phrase change. I was scrolling social media the other day and found a post about the phrase “man up” (which I despise). When people say “man up” they mean “be stereotypical! Don’t express your emotions! Just suppress them so they come out as a huge explosion of anger later!” but that’s not great advice. They instead suggested using the word “fortify” and I love it. You can acknowledge weaknesses in your defense and be more calculated about how and where you build strength to fortify. It’s not about just acting tougher, it’s about making yourself stronger, and that sometimes means admitting you have something wrong and working to strengthen it.
Friends, please be well. Practice checking in with yourself. Load your mental calendar with dates and times to check in about how you’re feeling in all areas of your life. I’m sending you lots of love and hope for a wonderful week. Reaching out is not a bad thing, connect with Perspectives Therapy Services to discuss.
Kayla Valley is a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) who works at the Highland location of Perspectives Therapy Services. She became a therapist to help people struggle with the depression and anxiety that she understands intimately. She loves being a Michigander and is an avid sewist who loves spending time with her cats and sugar gliders.
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland and Fenton, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Additionally, we offer psychiatric care in the form of evaluations and medication management. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.