*Editor’s note: Today on the blog we have guest author Aimee van Spronsen. Aimee is currently a nursing student who is passionate about helping people and raising awareness. She has some fantastic information to share with us about men’s mental health and the myths we often believe about it. Mental health issues can affect anyone, men and women alike. The suggestions in this post are not meant to be taken as a substitution for professional counsel or medical advice – they are simply to generate awareness. If you’re struggling, please talk to a medical professional today.
In our society, depression and mental health issues seem to be on the rise. Did you know that men are four times more likely to die by suicide than women, yet half as likely to be diagnosed with depression? Depression is the leading cause of disability, and affects millions of men every year worldwide. Most Canadian men say they would feel ashamed to seek help, as depression has such bad stigma associated with it.
Researchers are beginning to recognize that men often experience different symptoms of depression. They may be more likely to deny feelings of guilt and worthlessness, or try to mask or hide them with other behaviours. Here are some myths that men (and women) believe about depression.
Myth: To have depression is a sign of weakness.
Reality: Depression is an illness.
Depression is a real medical condition that can affect your body, thoughts, emotions, and behaviour. The cause of depression includes genetics, neurotransmitters, social, and psychological factors. It is not a sign of personal weakness. It is an issue that many men struggle with, and chances are either you or someone you know struggles with this.
Myth: Feeling sad or down is not manly. Real men just get irritated or angry.
Reality: Sadness is an emotion that all humans feel, including men. Anger and irritation can be a sign of depression.
From the time men are young boys, they are taught that to have emotions is not manly. However, sadness is an emotion that all humans feel, including men. Depression is different from normal sadness in that it consumes your day-to-day life and interferes with your ability to work, study, eat, sleep, and have fun.
Common symptoms of depression:
- Depressed mood or irritable. You feel down or irritated most of the day, nearly every day.
- Decreased interest or pleasure. You lose interest in things you used to enjoy, such as going to the movies, reading, shopping, cooking, playing with your children.
- Significant weight change or change in appetite
- Change in sleep
- Change in activity. You may start feeling slow or agitated
- Fatigue or loss of energy. You feel low on energy even when you have not exerted yourself. This fatigue doesn’t go away with sleep or rest, and you wake up feeling tired.
- Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
- You have trouble thinking or concentrating, or making decisions.
- Suicidality. You have thoughts of death or suicide, or have a suicide plan.
According to recent research into male depression, symptoms of depression in men include:
- Aggression. This can include irritability, being overly sensitive to criticism, losing your sense of humour, experiencing frequent road rage, having a short temper, being controlling, or being verbally or physically abusive to others.
- Working compulsively
- Isolation from friends and family
- Physical pain
- Reckless behaviour. You might find yourself engaging in escaping or risky behaviour. This could mean pursuing dangerous sports, driving recklessly, or engaging in unsafe sex. You might drink too much, abuse drugs, or gamble compulsively.
Myth: Anyone who has enough willpower can just ‘snap out of it’. Buck up.
Reality: Depression isn’t overcome by willpower alone, you have to learn new tools and skills to beat it.
It might seem difficult, even impossible, but many guys have made it made it back from dark places they never thought they could be able to return from. Connecting with the right professional (a counsellor or doctor) is a key task, and there are many other tools to use against depression.
Some tools include:
- Getting enough sleep. Some ideas to help you improve your quality of sleep are: limiting caffeine and nicotine before bed, limit bright lights, avoid afternoon naps, and screen time on your phone and tablet.
- Manage your stress.
- Manage stressful situations: Slow down and step back, breathe deep and relax, walk away, concentrate your attention elsewhere, talk it out, burn off energy (physical activity)
- Proactive stress management: use your stress signals to avoid stress, know your limits, find someone to talk to, get active, use a list to organize stressful things, focus on what you can control.
- Off-track coping strategies: alcohol use, drug use, gambling, and excessive internet use. These are common ways guys can distract themselves from stress. Unfortunately, these usually turn out to become bigger problems than the stress they’re trying to hide.
- Invest in your social life. Your social connections are an important part of your life, and you can’t take them for granted. Focus on quality, surround yourself with positive people, support others, show initiative, create a list of different activities, schedule regular activities, and respect boundaries in relationships.
- Engage in physical activity. Set reasonable goals, make a commitment with another person or a group, reward yourself, and build a lifelong habit.
- Eat a healthy diet.
Your doctor or counsellor can help you find tools suitable to your needs, and give you additional tools to help you fight depression.
Myth: Men should not ask for help; they should be able to cope on their own.
Reality: Consulting other people for direction and guidance means taking control, and it’s the smartest thing to do.
Trying to put on a one-man show by doing it yourself will not get the job done. Fighting depression becomes much easier – and more effective – with the support of family and friends. Developing a partnership with a doctor or counsellor is critical. Through this support you are taking control of the situation.
There are many men silently fighting depression. Learn to recognize the myths and pursue reality in your life. To help you with this contact your local counselling service and/or your doctor today.
Information found from: Heads Up Guys (2016). Better Starts Here. Retrieved from http://headsupguys.org/