Mental health issues don’t discriminate. Regardless of age, race, socio-economic status and indeed gender, mental illness can affect anyone. Despite this, there’s a disparity between the treatment and outcome of mental illnesses between genders. The alarming number of males not seeking help shows us that mental illness is an epidemic that we must continue to take seriously and speak up about.
During men’s health month at GuavaPass, we are opening up this dialogue on men’s mental health issues. Enlisting the expertise of psychologist Beata Justkowiak, we are here to unpack the important topic.
Because not talking about mental health is literally killing men.
Men’s Health – The Current State Of Mind
Traditionally, heart disease, cancer, and alcoholism were the predominant diseases affecting men. However, perceptions are shifting with increasing awareness that mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety including Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), panic attacks or performance anxiety, eating disorders, body dysmorphia and suicide risk are on the rise for men from all walks of life.
This has been highlighted in the media recently, with male celebrities revealing their own personal struggles. Prince Harry opened up about his battles with mental health after the tragic passing of his mother, Princess Diana. Likewise, actors Ryan Reynolds, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson shared their struggles with bouts of anxiety and depression, respectively.
In speaking up about their experiences, these men are increasing social awareness of mental health in mainstream culture, urging others to voice their fears and concerns, which can be potentially lifesaving.
Statistically, it’s difficult to determine if the figures recorded are a true representation of the male experience. Typically, women find it easier to address their emotional and mental health, whereas men may attempt to mask or cover up their symptoms.
The study reported that the most common disorders were Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Alcohol Abuse and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). According to the study, 1 in 17 of the adult population has suffered from MDD at some point in their lifetime, with individuals usually encountering an initial onset in their twenties. The study revealed that men abuse alcohol more commonly than women, at a ratio of 4:1, the treatment gap was highlighted again: amongst those with alcohol abuse issues, 96.2% did not seek help.
The impact of the stigma of mental illness for men is evident in the fact that while on average more women are diagnosed with mental health conditions than men, the rate of male suicide is significantly higher. In 2017, 7 out of 10 suicides in Singapore were male victims – male suicide rates rose by nearly 30%, while female suicide rates fell by 20% in the past decade.
The Male Role
Justkowiak equates a majority of mental health issues with low self-confidence, fear of failure, chronic stress and performance anxiety – at work, at home, or in the bedroom. Then there is the biological drive to provide. For many, there is a pressure to provide and to be the best. In their minds, there is no “I’m good enough” she explains. “Commonly there exists a belief or perception that men have to have it all together, to be powerful, successful and/or a commanding presence and often feel responsible to provide for their families”.
“Man Up”: The Stigma
It’s the Greek chorus of the male playground: “don’t be such a girl”, “boys don’t cry”, terms thrown to impressionable minds of young boys and developing teens, sticking with them into adulthood.
This traditional male stereotyping and societal conditioning has blocked men from openly expressing their emotions in the past, casting stigma or shame onto those that do openly address mental health concerns. This stigma is a contributing factor preventing men seeking support or receiving the treatment they require.
Justkowiak explains, “values come from an open heart and mind, but stereotypes and rigid rules such as ‘you must be a strong boy, boys don’t cry’ come from an inflexibility of our society. These outdated values lock the ability to be self-aware, in turn blocking self-regulation.” This antiquated male role then limits how they can help themselves during bouts of mental illness. “They don’t know how to talk about their emotions as it hasn’t continuously been encouraged, so tend to avoid the uncomfortable as they work through their experiences”.
Men who do speak up, may fear, often justifiably, the judgment of being perceived as weak. Even with the courage to speak up, they may not get supportive responses; whether told to “man up”, a quick diversion from the conversation or simply not hearing the right words from mates. This stigmatization was evidenced in the results of an IMH study with findings suggesting considerable stigma towards individuals with mental health issues could deter affected individuals from seeking out the help and treatment they require.
The harsh reality?
The macho theory of stuffing it down, getting on with it, is outdated and dangerous. Men are suffering from mental distress, but may not be asking and receiving the help that is so needed. It is time that we encourage all males, from boys to the elderly, to be brave enough to speak up about their concerns or their symptoms of mental illness – to change the obsolete attitudes and to save lives. And we need to listen.
If you do notice someone is struggling, start the conversation – it could literally save a life.
If this article has triggered any response, or if you feel the need to reach out on behalf of a male in your life, please find a list of local support groups below. Remember, there is always someone who is there to listen to you.
Samaritans Of Singapore
Silver Ribbon Singapore – Free Counselling Service
Singapore Association For Mental Health
Toll-Free Helpline: 1800-283-7019