It’s no secret that men are less likely to seek help for mental health issues than women. In fact, according to a study by National Alliance on Mental Illness, only a few men are willing to talk about mental health problems among their friends. This statistic is even more alarming when you consider that men are more likely to die by suicide than women.
So, what explains this disconnect? Why are men less likely to reach out for help when it comes to mental health? Let’s look at some of the most common mental health disorders among men and explore some possible reasons why men might be hesitant to seek treatment.
Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness, affecting 40 million adults in the United States. Anxiety symptoms can include persistent and excessive worry, intrusive thoughts, physical symptoms like sweating and a racing heart, and avoidance of situations that trigger anxiety. While a specific event or situation can trigger anxiety, it can also be general and pervasive, affecting all aspects of someone’s life.
Men are twice as likely as women to develop an anxiety disorder, with the panic disorder being the most common type of anxiety disorder among men. Given our culture’s expectations around masculinity, it’s unsurprising that many men struggle to ask for help with their anxiety. After all, we often tell boys and young men to “tough it out” and “suck it up.” As a result, many men learn to suppress their emotions and bottle up their feelings, which can lead to serious mental health problems down the road.
Depression is characterized by persistent sadness and emptiness, loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, fatigue, changes in appetite, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and thoughts of death or suicide. Depression affects 16.1 million adults in America and is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide.
While depression affects men and women equally, research has shown that depression manifests differently in men than in women. For example, men are more likely than women to report feeling irritable or angry when depressed. They’re also more likely to use substance abuse to cope with their depressive symptoms. Additionally, studies have shown that depression is underdiagnosed in men, which means that many men who are struggling with depression don’t even realize it.
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes extreme mood swings that range from periods of abnormally high energy (known as mania) to periods of depression. During mania, people often have difficulty sleeping, suffer delusions or hallucinations, become easily agitated or angered, and engage in risky behaviors like drinking excessively or spending large amounts of money without regard for the consequences. Bipolar disorder affects 2.6% of American adults each year.
While bipolar disorder affects both genders equally, there is some evidence to suggest that bipolar disorder manifests differently in men than in women. For example, studies have shown that manic episodes last longer in men than in women, and that mania is more likely to lead to legal troubles or Substance Use Disorder in men than in women. Additionally, suicide rates are higher among males with bipolar disorder than females.
A person experiencing any combination of these symptoms should talk to a doctor as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital for managing bipolar disorder effectively.
Eating disorders used to be rare among men, but the numbers are rising. Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by excessive weight loss due to restrictive dieting, a fear of gaining weight, distorted body image, and binge eating. Anorexia is fatal in 10% of cases, and the mortality rate rises to 20% when severe complications are considered.
There are many possible reasons why men might be hesitant to seek treatment for an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa. For one thing, there’s still a lot of stigma surrounding men’s weight. Unlike women, society view men as the embodiment of strength and masculinity, so, understandably, many men would feel ashamed to acknowledge any body image issues or eating disorder. Additionally, research shows that men with eating disorders are more likely to be overweight than women, making a recovery even more difficult. Thankfully, there are anorexia rehab centers that cater to both men and women. These centers offer a supportive environment where men can feel comfortable talking about their eating disorders, working with a team of therapists, and getting the resources they need to recover.
Mental health disorders are pervasive—yet often undiagnosed—amongst males in the United States due mainly partly to cultural norms around masculinity, which dictate that boys and young must “tough it out” instead of expressing emotions openly. If you’re a man reading this who has been struggling silently with your mental health, know that you’re not alone and there is help available. If you think you might be suffering from a mental health disorder, please contact a doctor or mental health professional for assistance.