America is facing a mental health crisis. In a time when people can’t agree on anything, there’s a wide consensus that mental illness is a major problem. That’s especially true for men, who are more likely to suffer in silence. As men, we far too often pretend it’s an issue that only touches others, but we all deal with it. Despite societal efforts to destigmatize the issue, that stigma remains. The fact is we have to be able to discuss the importance of mental health for men.
I wish we didn’t have to make this a gendered topic. Unfortunately, men are often uncomfortable discussing their mental health; women tend to be better at seeking mental healthcare. Too many men still feel it’s a sign of weakness to acknowledge they’re not in a good place mentally. It isn’t. The brain is a physical organ with physical defects, like the heart or kidneys. Why is it any more embarrassing to seek mental healthcare than to get cancer treatment or splint a broken bone?
Mental health is just as important as physical health; it may even be more important. Yet, for far too many men, asking for help with problems of the mind remains unthinkable. This is a giant problem, for us as men, and for society. We, men, experience high rates of untreated depression and suicidal ideations. We are also frequently responsible for deadly violence, both in public and at home. We simply cannot afford to ignore this subject. So, let’s explore the importance of mental health for men.
Why Is Mental Health Not Taken Seriously?
In this article, I’m going to discuss some heavy, darker topics, including suicide and toxic masculine behaviors. But raising awareness of men’s mental health crisis involves acknowledging reality, no matter how uncomfortable. A mental illness can literally (yes, literally) change how one sees the world. The distortions that our minds play with reality can lead to poor decision-making and worse. You may not even realize how much a mental illness is affecting how you experience the world.
The first thing we have to deal with is this pervasive sense that mental health isn’t a big deal. Why is mental health not taken seriously, and what can we do about that? When there’s a mass shooting or someone has a public breakdown, mental illness is immediately blamed. But then we move on with our lives and treat mental health like it’s something only other people struggle with. Addressing this crisis means taking it seriously.
We have to treat mental illness the same way we do cancer or any other life-threatening illness. Because, make no mistake, mental illness can be a killer, in more ways than you might realize.
Why is mental health stigmatized?
It’s important to acknowledge that society has come a long way when it comes to discussions of mental health. A couple of generations ago, it would have been unthinkable to openly admit you were seeing a psychiatrist or therapist. These days, though, people openly talk about going to therapy and even proudly discuss the work they’re doing. It’s no longer a subject talked about in hushed tones. Nonetheless, for most men, addressing a mental health issue feels like admitting weakness.
The main reason why mental health is stigmatized among men is that we generally pride ourselves on our self-reliance. We hate admitting when we’re physically hurt or sick, let alone when the pain is (literally) in our minds. Acknowledging the role mental illness can play in our lives means accepting we aren’t entirely independent. We need help from time to time. The trick is asking for it.
Mental health is just as important as physical health
It's one thing to say mental health is just as important as physical health. It’s a lot harder to internalize and believe that fact. But that’s something each of us has to learn to do. Adding to the difficulty is that one’s mental illness distorts reality. When you’re depressed or anxious, for instance, your mind tells you things that aren’t true. When you’re feeling better, you realize they’re lies, but in the midst of a bad episode, you can’t see that.
This isn’t just some pep talk to make you feel better. There’s actual research that shows depression affects how we see the world, quite literally. For one thing, people suffering from depression see less contrast, meaning the world is duller to them. When your brain distorts what reality looks like, or flat-out lies about it, you make worse decisions. Every choice you make in life is based on external stimuli that your brain interprets. A mental illness can be like wearing the wrong prescription glasses.
This is why depression so often leads to suicide, even among people who seemingly have it all. A depressed person’s mind lies to them and tells them the world is better off without them. It isn’t the truth; I hope you know that.
Raising Awareness about Men’s Mental Health
People with ALS or a broken leg have physical symptoms that everyone sees. A mental illness like depression or anxiety has physical symptoms, too, but they’re seen as behavioral. How do you distinguish between what is a person’s mental illness and what is just their personality? That’s hard to answer when someone has been suffering from a mental illness all their life. It raises tough questions about things like free will and a person’s culpability in their own actions.
Which is why we need to bring more awareness to the topic. Maybe you suffer from some form of mental illness, or maybe you’re affected by someone else who does. Men’s mental health statistics tell us that you’re almost certainly within at least one of those camps. Whichever it is, you can play a part in helping destigmatize the topic. You may just help to save the life of someone you love, including yourself.
Men's mental health awareness
In the US and much of the world, June is Men's Mental Health Month. During the month you’ll find numerous articles and resources on the subject. It’s great a month was set aside for the topic, but, the mental health crisis is a yearlong concern. It’s important to keep the spotlight on it.
I appreciate there are people who are doing the work to raise men’s mental health awareness. One such man is global movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Over the last few years, he’s regularly spoken out about the topic. He’s done everything from discussing social media’s effect on mental health to offering personal encouragement to depressed fans.
The Terminator isn’t the only “manly" man who's been willing to discuss mental health. Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman, recently discussed how “necessary” an onset psychiatrist was for a recent film he did. Other actors who have openly addressed the issue include Zac Efron, Jonah Hill, and Pete Davidson. Still, it says something that it’s much easier to find comments from actresses than actors. Discussing male mental health remains a touchy subject.
And that’s a very bad thing.
Men's mental health statistics
For decades, stats have shown women are more likely to attempt suicide, but men are more likely to succeed. One clear reason for this discrepancy is that men tend to use more violent methods, particularly firearms. Relatedly, men are far more likely to use guns in public confrontations, including mass shootings. Also, men are nearly twice as likely to be homeless as women. What do these societal issues all have in common? I think you can guess.
In 2021, only 12% of men in the United States received some sort of mental healthcare. And that represented a high watermark at the time. It’s not just depression and anxiety, either. Men suffer from other common problems, like eating disorders, irrational phobias, and schizophrenia. But they’re far less likely to seek treatment. What happens when mental illness goes untreated? The same thing as a physical illness. It worsens, eventually leading to more health problems, both physical and mental.
Men’s Mental Health Month is great. But we still have much further to go as a society. It’s not just about raising awareness. We have to take action. And that starts with each one of us.
Accepting the Importance of Mental Health For Men
If you believe male mental health is an important cause, you should want to do something about it. Considering how huge this issue is, though, you might be wondering how you as an individual can make any difference. As with all large problems, the best way to tackle them is to focus on what’s in front of you. Start with yourself, and work outward.
Address your own mental health
Lead by example. Have you been having problems in relationships? Do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by life or like you no longer have any interest in your hobbies? Maybe you’re struggling with a deep sense of shame or embarrassment. However, it manifests, if you’re dealing with some sort of mental block, don’t ignore it.
First, acknowledge that you’re struggling, and then seek help. Talk to a friend, get therapy, see a counselor, and ask for a prescription. Whatever it takes, do the work. Ask friends and family if you feel comfortable doing so. If you don’t, the internet has tons of tools that can point you in the right direction.
The tricky thing about mental health is there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Just because something worked for someone else doesn't mean it’ll work for you. Depending on what you’re struggling with, you may only need to see a therapist for a month or two. Or you may need treatment for life. Again, think about it like a physical illness. A sprained ankle will heal. Diabetes will be with you for life. Neither one is more “real” just because of how long it lasts.
Discuss mental health with your male friends
Once you’re doing the work, make yourself open to your friends who may be struggling too. If you didn’t feel comfortable talking to your friends about your struggles with mental illness, they probably feel the same. So, let your friends know you’re willing to discuss the topic. If it’ll be uncomfortable in a group, have the chat one on one. Ideally, though, you’ll get to a place with your friend group where everyone feels free to open up.
I am aware these aren’t easy conversations, especially among guys. It can be an awkward, embarrassing topic to raise. But I guarantee you, the reward for getting past the awkwardness and having such conversations is worth it. You won’t just feel better. You could save a life.
Frequently Asked Questions about Men's Mental Health
Why might someone avoid getting help for a mental health concern?
There are numerous reasons, including financial concerns and lack of access to therapists or medication. However, even when those issues can be resolved, people often still avoid seeking help. Men, especially, often feel that seeking mental healthcare is evidence of weakness because it isn’t “manly.”
If a person does not seek help for a mental health condition, what could happen?
Maybe nothing too severe; maybe something terrible. Like any health issue, a mental health problem left untreated can fester and worsen. Some conditions can come and go, but without addressing the underlying issue, they come back, potentially even worse.
What steps should you follow to support a peer with a mental health need?
Listen. People often don’t like talking about mental health issues because they feel ill-equipped to help. Sometimes, though, just knowing there is a friend who will listen is all someone needs. You can also guide them to professional help; there are often local free mental health services you can find online.
In America, who is most likely to receive mental health treatment?
Women in the US are nearly twice as likely to seek mental health treatment than men. That includes seeing a therapist or counselor and taking medication. As a result, millions of American men struggle with mental health issues in silence.