The stigma around mental health is KILLING men: How to care for someone who is struggling with mental illness and addiction
05/20/2020 // Zoey Sky // Views

According to Mental Health America, at least six million men in the U.S. are affected by depression annually. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that compared to women, men died by suicide at a rate of 3.54 percent higher in 2017.

In the same vein, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism notes that 62,000 men die due to alcohol-related causes every year, compared to 26,000 women. Additionally, men are at least two to three times more likely to misuse drugs than women.

Yet while depression and suicide are considered leading causes of death among men, men are less likely to seek mental health treatment than women.

The stigma of mental health

Dr. Raymond Hobbs, a physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield in Michigan, said that "toxic masculinity" may be linked to the issue of men's mental health.

A lot of men believe that admitting they have depression is perceived as a sign of weakness. Hobbs clarified that this kind of thinking is outdated and that earlier generations must be updated on “the current medical understanding of mental illness.”

Experts know more about mental health now, such as the chemical changes involved in certain conditions. One step to ending the stigma is to understand that mental illness is similar to diabetes and other health conditions.

Unfortunately, most people still have trouble grasping this concept. Rather, they think of mental health struggles as a personal issue and a sign that one lacks the strength of mind to deal with personal matters.


Due to this persisting belief and the stigma that still exists concerning mental illness, along with the pressure on men to just "grin and bear it," a lot of men have trouble acknowledging that they may need help.

Zach Levin from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation Drug and Alcohol Treatment Centers society musk work to address the stigma of asking for help.

It's true that there have been improvements when it comes to stigma and expanding opportunities for support, but there is work to be done concerning men who may experience shame and guilt that could make them less willing to ask for help. (Related: Mental health issues linked to higher mortality rates in men than in women.)

The repercussions of toxic masculinity

Aside from asking for help, some men also seem to have trouble establishing social connections.

Hobbs commented that when it comes to toxic masculinity, the main issue is how men are brought up. Even in movies and TV shows, stereotypical portrayals of male characters show them as strong and quiet, which can be dysfunctional in various ways.

And when the negative impact involves a greater risk of suffering from depression, substance abuse can also occur.

Levin said that if people with depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions don't feel comfortable with healthy coping resources, they may use alcohol or other drugs to drown their negative feelings.

But how can society change men’s perception of seeking help before it's too late?

Ending the stigma

Levin explained that a lot of men believe that they need to be “tough” to address all their problems alone. They worry that by showing vulnerability, even when physically sick, it might detract from their authority.

Because of this mentality, a lot of men resort to quick fixes that don't really address their problems. They may even deny that they are struggling with something.

Settling this problem and teaching men that being vulnerable and asking for help aren't a sign of weakness can only be achieved if society works to end the stigma surrounding these concepts.

Levin suggests fostering “more transparency around mental health and substance abuse issues.” After all, everyone experiences stress, and talking with someone you trust can help you practice empathy and experience camaraderie. These factors can help prevent feelings of isolation that can aggravate addiction and mental health issues.

If you are struggling with something, reach out to a family member, a close friend, or a mental health specialist. Read up on mental health and guidance for managing symptoms of anxiety and depression, and look for stories or case studies that may help you understand what other men are going through.

Hobbs added that education also plays a part in ending the stigma around mental health. There is hope, especially once people understand that these medical problems can be addressed with therapy and natural, drug-free treatments.

Hobbs also warned that, when left unchecked, mental health issues can manifest into physical ailments, particularly if you are self-treating with alcohol, drugs and other substances.

Awareness and education are crucial if you wish to help someone dealing with mental health issues. While there are many ways to address depression and other conditions, the first step is helping your loved ones realize that it is all right to try them.

If someone you care about is struggling, or if you believe that you need help yourself, here are signs that you may need outside assistance to address your concerns:

  • Weight changes
  • Physical symptoms (e.g., headaches and stomach issues)
  • A change in mood
  • A difference in work performance
  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness or anhedonia (a loss of pleasure and pulling away from things that used to provide enjoyment)

Contact a primary care provider or a substance use disorder professional if alcohol or other drugs are being used to self-medicate.

Levin said that a single appointment with a specialist to determine if a problem exists may be more acceptable than telling a loved one to commit to an inpatient or outpatient treatment program.

Let your friends and family know that there is hope and that it's okay to ask for help. If you have mental health issues, learn about addiction and mental health issues and understand that facing your problems and asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

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