A Man’s Guide to Mental Health Disorders – And what Men are Doing to Beat Them
DISCLAIMER: This web site does not take the place of your usual medical practitioner, it is intended to give information only and not to diagnose or provide medical treatment. If you are at all worried about your health, or any of these points below raise a concern for you – please see your own doctor. Do not delay this as a result of anything you may have read about on the web. Many symptoms can result from a variety of causes, some may require specialist diagnosis and treatment.
STATISTICS SUGGEST THAT men are far less likely to seek help for mental health problems than women.
It takes courage to be open and honest about mental health when you’re a guy, but reaching out is a vital step towards recovery.
Allow a mental health issue to linger, and the impact can be devastating.
The fact remains that one in four people experience a mental health issue every year, and in this post, I’m going to list the most common mental health problems found in men and show how they can be dealt with.
Stress or anxiety disorders
Stress manifests itself in many different ways and it can hit you no matter how invincible you might feel.
The onset of anxiety or a panic attack might at first feel like something entirely different. Vision narrowing, light dimming, trouble breathing; you’d be forgiven for thinking there was something wrong with your heart.
In reality, it’s your mind that’s ailing, and the effects may hit you completely unawares.
Studies suggest that men have half the reported rate of anxiety disorders compared to women. The reasons for this are in part biology related, because testosterone boosts action of two brain chemicals that are found to be low in anxious people.
The same studies note that 30% of men will turn to substances rather than seeking help.
The first step in taking action when you feel overly stressed or susceptible to panic attacks is to remember you’re not weak for having to do so, but you can also:
- reach out to others. Your mates, family and co-workers will want to know if you’re feeling unwell;
- talk to your doctor. The best source of professional help and a must if the symptoms are particularly bad; and
- develop a plan. Work with your GP to plan how you’ll make positive changes to your life through stress management, exercise and better sleep.
Feelings of inadequacy and self-hatred
Just because you’re a man, it doesn’t mean you need to be strong all of the time.
Your masculinity doesn’t define you, but the perception often held by society that it should makes feelings of inadequacy and self-hatred particularly hard to deal with.
Every man harbors insecurities and vulnerabilities. We’re all scared of something, but we also have a deep-seated need to be successful and show our ‘manly’ side.
There’s a few things that can make you doubt yourself:
- perceived lack of career opportunities;
- low wages;
- lack of confidence around women;
- lack of material possessions;
- inability to speak up in within large groups;
- inability to hold down a relationship; and
- lack of desire to start a family.
Society encourages lads from an early age to ‘measure up’ and become accountable for their masculinity. This is why anger is often a response to feeling disrespected as a guy.
To overcome any feelings of inadequacy, you first need to understand the root cause.
List the reasons you’re down on yourself and cross-reference them with reality. In the long run, how many really matter to your happiness?
Olympic gymnast, Louis Smith, achieved the first gold medal for Team GB in one-hundred years at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but when he returned home, the glory evaporated.
“I think people can look on successful people and think everything in their life is perfect,” explained Smith. “It couldn’t be further away from the truth. There’s a lot more to just being happy and successful in life.”
The Olympian was talking about his battles with depression, and highlighted how men tend to be proud rather than talk about their problems.
Like most of the mental health disorders in this list, depression can creep up unawares and isn’t easily identifiable.
Often likened by sufferers to an ‘energy-less fog’, depression is capable of destroying families, ruining careers and, in the worst cases, causing death.
There are four common strategies that help get men through bouts of depression:
- Understanding. Men are usually reluctant to talk about depression, but by helping ensuring a balanced diet and plenty of exercise, those close to the sufferer can start the process of understanding that a chemical imbalance exists.
- Acknowledgement. Depression is a recognised illness, but it’s easily dismissed as unhappiness. Confronting depression in a man is tough but vital and can be done by avoiding the ‘d’ word, and demonstrating a desire to make them feel better.
- Self care. This applies both to the guy and person caring for him; both parties will need to stay healthy and remain connected to outside interests and friends.
- Professional help. The most effective way to cure depression, and one that is often approached with the support of a loved one.
Twenty percent of anorexics are male.
And that figure is rising.
In fact, according to the NHS, eating disorders in men have risen by 70% over the last six years.
There’s lots of reasons for the onset of anorexia in men. It might be after a tough breakup with a partner, as a result of bullying or linked to any one of the disorders listed on this page.
Experts point to a lack of sympathy and even understanding when it comes to men and eating disorders, which results in a barrier for people who desperately need help.
Men afflicted by anorexia often feel too stigmatized to go and see their GP. Which can make diagnosis and treatment for this type of disease is notoriously difficult.
Counseling is recommended, but support from a loved one also highly desirable, and for that reason, most guys suffering from an eating disorder could turn to the strategies listed in number 3 when seeking help.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
“Oh, that’ll be my OCD – I always arrange the cutlery like that.”
OCD has become a throwaway line in many friend groups.
In reality, obsessive compulsive disorder is a serious mental health disorder and one that can have catastrophic effects on people’s well being.
OCD manifests itself within men in a couple of different ways.
There’s obsessive thoughts:
- fear of getting ill;
- constant worry that something bad will happen to yourself or a loved one;
- distress when material objects appear to be out of order;
- serious doubt over finishing a simple action (“did I shut the freezer?”); and
- aggressive thoughts or urges.
…and compulsive behavior:
- incessant hand washing;
- constant checking of door locks;
- praying over and over;
- constantly seeking approval;
- frequently changing clothes and taking showers; and
- repeating numbers or words in silence.
Obsessive compulsive disorder affects around 2.2 million adults in America alone, and to treat it, men are advised to seek Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), specialist medication or a combination of the two.
It’s easy to look past drug and alcohol use as nothing more than vices, but addiction to these substances is a serious mental illness.
It’s a big problem, too, with 20.2 million cases of substance use disorder recorded in the US during 2014.
Similarly, tobacco remains a substance that leads many to a lifetime of addiction, while non-substance based addiction such as pornography and sex can cause serious health problems for men and their partners.
Addictions can start at any age, but without professional help and support from loved ones can spiral into a lifetime of misery and even death.
If you’re concerned about what you feel might be an addiction, there have been some fantastic books written about all manner of subjects, from alcoholism recovery to self-help guides.
If you don’t yet feel ready to talk to someone, spend some time with expert words to find out how you can start the road to recovery.
Post-traumatic stress disorder typically occurs in men after witnessing a particularly shocking or dangerous event.
Those who have served in the army or worked in the police or ambulance services are arguably most susceptible to PTSD-triggers, but it can happen just as easily in everyday life.
Witnessing an act or terrorism or simply encountering a violent incident on a night out might be enough to cause PTSD.
Equally, the National Institute of Mental Health notes that PTSD isn’t always linked to dangerous events. The sudden death of a loved one, for example, can trigger it just as easily.
The tales of PTSD sufferers are a timely reminder that we can all be struck by this form of mental illness, with seemingly no mindset or character profile immune.
They talk of having to ‘grow up quickly’ and having nightmarish flashbacks that last for many years.
Thankfully, there are two common techniques for treating PTSD that have been proven to work relatively quickly. They are:
- The rewind technique, which involves bringing the anxiety to the surface before being gently calmed and guided back to the traumatic event in that state.
- The tapping technique, where specific ‘meridian points’ on the body are tapped while recalling a traumatic event.
It’s estimated that 2.4 million Americans have schizophrenia, a brain disorder that causes people to lose touch with reality.
This is another mental health disorder that will usually creep up on its victim and only become apparent when highlighted by someone else or by the time the symptoms are so bad they simply can’t be ignored.
Some of the smartest, cleverest people on the planet suffer from issues relating to psychosis.
Symptoms include paranoia, the inability to respond to others, hearing voices and having jumbled thoughts. It makes people reclusive, inexplicably angry and capable of doing the most uncharacteristic things.
The side effects of antipsychotic medication are sometimes worse that the symptoms they’re intending to treat. They’re also costly, with around $14.5bn spent on drugs of this kind every year.
So, while there are antipsychotics you can take for schizophrenia, alternative remedies are slowly gaining popularity.
For instance, cognitive therapy (CT) has been proved to reduce dropout rates for psychosis treatment, and involves encouraging the patient to talk about their experiences.
Although not guaranteed to work for everyone, CT might be a far more digestible form of treatment for this challenging disorder.
Would you be surprised to find out that the biggest killer in men under 50 is suicide?
Suicide is predominantly a male disorder. And that’s unfortunately comes of little surprise, when you consider how often I’ve referred in this post to the lack of a desire for men to reach out for help.
Women are apparently more likely to suffer from depression, but will typically seek help. Us guys, on the other hand, may succumb to ‘laddishness’ and revert to our masculine stereotype.
If you’re having suicidal thoughts but are reluctant to tell anyone, reading the personal accounts and anecdotes of sufferers who have successfully banished such thoughts could be a great first step.
Insomnia and sleeping disorder
We’ve all had nights where it seems to take forever to get to sleep. But for many guys, insomnia is a cruel mental disorder that is capable of ruining one’s life.
A TED Talk on ‘lying awake with insomnia’ talks about the realities of this illness, such as the incessant ‘woodpecker the pillow’ (which is actually simply your own pulse) and delves into the genetic makeup of insomnia.
Clearly, it’s a complex illness, but one which can be beaten.
As an expert once told The Guardian, humans are naturally inclined to beat things, which is exactly what we want to do when we encounter sleeplessness.
We try everything we can to make ourselves go to sleep, but forget that sleeping requires us to do absolutely nothing.
To improve the situation, you need to let go, and that means accepting you’re lying awake in bed and everything else that goes with insomnia.
When you’re ok with being awake, the likelihood is you won’t get in the way of your own sleep.
You don’t have to be the strong one just because you’re a man.
As a human being, you’re susceptible to every single mental health disorder above. The ability to recognize there’s a problem and then rectify it is what makes you strong.
If you have any comments about this article then please contact me here