Reducing the Stigma of Men’s Mental Health
Each year, six million men in the United States experience depression. They also have a higher rate of suicide and are two to three times more likely to abuse drugs than women. Despite these facts, men are still less likely to seek professional treatment. They may be reluctant due to the old stereotype that men should be strong, quiet and dismissive of their feelings.
This misconception is one of the many reasons Men’s Health Month, an annual campaign each June, is so important. It draws attention to physical and mental issues that disproportionately affect the male population. Through various awareness efforts, the goal is to reduce the stigma of prevalent health conditions such as:
- Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD): Also known as alcoholism, AUD is a chronic disease characterized by an uncontrollable dependence and overconsumption of alcohol. Men are twice as likely to binge drink than women. The effects can be devastating and range from divorce, job loss, trouble with the law, drunk driving and suicide to cirrhosis, brain damage, dementia, accidents and death. Unfortunately, many remain in their addiction due to the inability to acknowledge the severity of the problem.
- Depression: In the past, depression was only viewed as a mental illness. It was considered a weakness and often shamed. We now know it’s a mood disorder that’s linked to genetic, environmental and medical factors and not a personal failing. Depression can cause loss of interest in things that once brought joy and happiness (anhedonia) and can occur with seemingly opposite behaviors. Some people lose weight while others gain. Some people have insomnia while others sleep most of the day. Although depression is treatable (with medications and counseling), individuals continue to suffer because of its negative image.
- Substance Abuse and Opioid Use Disorder: There’s been a significant increase in the abuse of opioids and other addictive drugs for recreational use. This includes illegal substances such as heroin, prescription drugs like morphine, oxycodone and codeine as well as synthetic “designer drugs.” From 1999 to 2017, 218,000 U.S. citizens died from overdoses related to prescription opioids alone. Overdoses were five times greater in 2017 than in 1999. It’s an epidemic that has destroyed families and ravaged entire communities. This problem may feel insurmountable but with a strong support system, including loved ones, individuals can be motivated to seek help.
Men should feel empowered to take control of their mental health. But the first step is reducing the stigma associated with such conditions. That means identifying the problem and educating the masses on their causes and treatment options. One can successfully manage a mental illness and go on to live a long and healthy life.
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About the author: Dr. Raymond Hobbs is a physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
Photo credit: asiseeit