Looking at the statistics, it appears that mental illness presents itself far more in woman than it does men, yet men die by suicide at a higher rate than women. If woman are diagnosed at a much higher rate than men, why do so many men take their life?
When you think of society’s idea of a man, what comes to mind? Most people would say things like strength, assertiveness, and masculinity. When you think of society’s idea of a woman, most would say things like dainty, emotional, and modest. This separation between the sexes that society has created, could quite possibly be the number one reason why men are so much less likely to be diagnosed or treated for mental illness. Realistically, there’s no scientific reason why women would suffer from mental illness more than men, So the answer is not that women experience more symptoms, the answer is that men typically tend to hide the symptoms they are experiencing.
In our current society, men are expected to be strong, they are expected to “man up”, “don’t be a p*ssy”, “assert” themselves. Anything less than absolute emotional stability, is seen as weak, undesirable, “feminine”. Unless we’re talking about anger, of course. Anger is an “acceptable” emotion for men to feel, leading to a generation of men with pent up emotions, releasing themselves as anger. Men are not allowed to show sadness, intimacy (unless it’s with a woman), or grief in our society. This creates a cycle of broken men who do not have the coping skills to deal with their emotions in a healthy way. This also creates a cycle of men experiencing symptoms, but not being willing to seek treatment or counseling.
A study done on a group of 21,000 American men shows that nearly 1 in 10 men experience the symptoms of depression and anxiety, but less than half sought treatment. This is an extremely concerning problem in this country, that seriously needs to be addressed. Men are worthy of care, they are worthy of treatment, and they are worthy of having a support system. Everyone is. If we do not stop these issues in their tracks, I can only predict the numbers to escalate.
Substance abuse is an extremely common way that men cope with their mental distress, with approximately 1 in 5 men experiencing alcohol dependency. When men are not given the space to be open with their emotions and feelings, they turn to alcohol, as it gives them an “excuse” to be emotional or intimate with their friends. Have you noticed how socially accepted it is for men to hug their friends, but only when they’re drunk? Have you ever noticed how open and relaxed a majority of men get when they are drinking? This is, of course, not referring to the men who get angry and violent, which is also a result of a hidden mental illness or distress.
We need to recognize the signs of mental illness, especially how they present in men, so that we can reach out to the men in our lives that need support, without forcing them to come clean about their distress when they are not ready. Men typically report having irritability, a loss of interest in their work or hobbies, and fatigue, rather than expressing feelings of sadness or despair. Over 6 million men experience depression every year, and those numbers are climbing every single year, with the pandemic bringing the highest numbers we’ve seen in a long time.
Eating disorders are a common form of mental illness worldwide, but would you guess that they also affect men at an alarming rate? When society discusses eating disorders, you are typically shown images of women with hollow eyes and all their bones exposed. While this IS a depiction of eating disorders in our country, its not a fair one. Males account for 10% of diagnosed anorexia/bulimia, and 35 % of binge eating disorders, with even more going undiagnosed. When eating disorders are brought to light, it is usually, and fairly, seen as a problem that our society has created. We know that there are unrealistic body expectations for women, but have we paid attention to the unrealistic expectations of men in our society as well? Super heroes with bulging muscles and tall/muscular athletes littering our TV screens. Societal expectations do not stop at women.
At the very least, this information should encourage you to reach out to the men in your life, even the ones that appear to be strong and put together, they might just need someone to ask them if they’re okay. My hope is that one day, we can all feel comfortable sharing our emotions and struggles, so that we can try to find solutions, instead of being another statistic.