Written by the TELL Lifeline’s A. Arao
Recently, there has been a lot of talk about mental health. Celebrities and athletes have become mental health advocates. Mental health has been incorporated into Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Mental illness, particularly depression, is now acknowledged as the leading cause of disability [World Health Organization, 2021]. Suicide continues to be a concern. Globally, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among teens and young adults [National Institute of Mental Health, 2022]. In Japan, the changes and stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in a significant increase in the suicide rate (東京新聞, 2021). By gender, the suicide rate, globally, for men is over twice the rate for women, and in Japan, the suicide rate for men is almost three times greater [Dattani, Ritchie, Roser, 2021]. It is widely understood that there is a link between poor mental health and suicide. Research indicates that at least 46% of people who take their own lives have a known mental health condition [National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2019].
Despite this, of the people that seek help for their mental health, only one-third of the population is male (American Addiction Centers). A significant number of men choose to suffer in silence.
As June is Men’s Mental Health Month, it is a good opportunity to examine the challenges facing men and their mental health, as well as how we can start making a difference in the lives of our fathers, husbands, sons, brothers, friends, and partners.
Consider the following factors that significantly affect men’s mental health:
- Gender roles. Men trying to live up to typical masculine ideals are more likely to have poor mental health. The fear of appearing weak discourages many men from talking about their feelings.
- Exposure to high-stress situations. Traumatic events such as past sexual abuse, prolonged exposure to extreme emotions, or a dangerous environment (military personnel, firefighters, police officers) increase the risk of anxiety disorders.
- Work stress. Stress from poor working conditions or an increasing workload coupled with a lack of social support increase the likelihood of mental health issues.
- Financial worry. Worrying about money is the primary cause of stress for many people and affects the ability to cope with other stressors in life. The loss of employment, especially when coupled with traditional gender roles, increases the risk of mental health problems. In addition, mental health problems are often a barrier to employment opportunities.
- Relationship. Depression is more prevalent in men who experience the end of an intimate relationship, such as through separation or divorce.
- Alcohol and drugs. Men are more likely to self-medicate, use alcohol and drugs to distract themselves from their stress and anxiety, and risk developing a substance abuse disorder.
Do any of the men in your life experience one or more of these?
Though men have become better at taking care of their physical health—getting regular exercise, watching what they eat, scheduling health exams and screenings—men’s attitudes toward their own mental health have changed very little. Many still subscribe to the traditional notion of a man as someone who is able to provide, protect, and be strong. This expectation of what it is to be a man leads to roadblocks when seeking help.
MAN UP! Real men don’t ask for help.
Men often resist getting help because they are brought up to think that asking for help is a sign of weakness. They are told to “suck it up” and ignore the pain, which will eventually disappear.
BIG BOYS DON’T CRY. Strong men don’t have emotional pain.
There is a lingering belief that men need to be strong, not show emotion, and hide any sign of weakness. This expectation runs counter to conditions such as depression, anxiety, PTSD as well as substance abuse which all can lead to feelings of vulnerability, fear, and insecurity.
BE A MAN. Do it yourself.
From an early age, men are encouraged to work out problems on their own. Unfortunately, men who isolate themselves often damage professional and personal relationships. Moreover, they tend to use coping mechanisms to avoid engaging with how they are feeling, such as overworking, drinking, substance abuse, and other addictions like gambling or video games.
This expectation of how men should behave overshadows who they are and what they might be feeling—anxious, frustrated, afraid. This stigma of emmasculinity (not being a “real” man) can cripple men into silence. Making the situation worse, many people still believe that :
IF YOU DON’T SEE IT, IT ISN’T REAL. If you are not physically ill, then you are not really sick.
If you break an arm or a leg, you go to the hospital and get a cast. You would probably be worried and visit a doctor if you experience sharp chest pains. What if you lost all interest in your hobbies? Or if it takes all the energy you have, just to get out of bed? What if, no matter what you do, you feel that you are just not good enough? The truth is, mental illness, though not visible, is very real and can be extremely dangerous if left untreated. In fact, many mental health issues will eventually affect our bodies in very perceivable ways—sudden changes in weight, high blood pressure, diminished immune system, stomach problems, chronic fatigue, loss of appetite, emotional outbursts, self-harm, and even suicide.
There are a number of resources available to support men experiencing problems with their mental health, but of all these, the most important resource is you and your willingness to talk and listen. We need to normalize conversations about mental health, especially for those, like men, who feel that they do not have permission to talk about how they feel. We need to support those who do choose to talk about their experiences and be willing to listen without judgment as they struggle to articulate how they are feeling.
This involves you not just talking about mental health but talking about your mental health.
Even if you are feeling fine, talking about how you are feeling can help someone realize “How I am feeling is not the same as you.”
This involves being ready to listen. How do you respond to men opening up about their emotions and struggles? Rather than feeling shocked or uncomfortable, feel honored that this person, despite the challenges and difficulties of doing so, has chosen to share how they feel with you.
How can you hold a space for these kinds of conversations? Is it possible to listen without the need to try and “fix” them, realizing that these men are not broken but burdened?
Perhaps the most important number on this page is one. One person can make a difference in the lives of the people they care about by being willing to listen without judgment, and by being willing to start the conversation about our mental health. One person. That person is you.
If you are ready to start this conversation, TELL has resources that can help. Visit our website https://telljp.com/lifeline/worried-about-someone/
If you are experiencing challenges to your mental health, we are here to listen, every day on the phone and chat.
Mon – Thu 9:00 – 23:00; Fri – Sun 9:00 – 2:00
Talk to us on the phone: 03-5774-0992
Talk to us on Chat: https://telljp.com/lifeline/tell-chat/
If you are interested in learning more about men’s mental health
in North America
https://headsupguys.org/ (Heads Up Guys, the University of British Columbia)
https://mantherapy.org/ (Man Therapy)
https://www.mhanational.org/infographic-mental-health-men (Mental Health America)
https://www.menshealthforum.org.uk/ (Men’s Health Forum)
In AUS / NZ
https://www.beyondblue.org.au/who-does-it-affect/men (Beyond Blue)
http://https://www.mkpjapan.org/ (Mankind Project Japan)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mTeVOQ_9JE (Man Therapy Case Study 2)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6BOLx1vJ1Q (Man Up, Male Mental Health)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0F1cICm9IM (Voices of Men, Men’s Mental Health Documentary)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qILKTWmZkCo (The Barter Barber. Men’s Health: Starting the conversation)
American Addiction Centers. (n.d.). Men’s Health. Retrieved June 16, 2022, from MentalHelp,net: https://www.mentalhelp.net/men/#:~:text=Men’s%20Health-,Men’s%20Health,or%20not%20taken%20as%20seriously.
Dattani, S., Ritchie, H., & Roser, M. (2021, August). Mental Health. Retrieved from Our World in Data: https://ourworldindata.org/mental-health
He, J., Ouyang, F., Qiu, D., Ling, L., Li, Y., & Xiao, S. (2021, September 27). Time Trends and Predictions of Suicide Mortality for People Aged 70 Years and Over From 1990 to 2030 Based on the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. Frontiers in Psychiatry. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2021.721343
National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2019, August). Risk of Suicide. Retrieved from About Mental Illness: https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Common-with-Mental-Illness/Risk-of-Suicide
National Institute of Mental Health. (2022, March). Mental Health Information / Suicide. Retrieved from National Institute of Mental Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide
World Health Organization. (2021, September 13). Depression. Retrieved from World Health Organization (WHO): https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression
World Health Organization. (2021, June 17). Factsheet / Suicide. Retrieved from World Health Organization (WHO): https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/suicide
World Health Organization. (2022, March 2). COVID-19 pandemic triggers 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. Retrieved from World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/news/item/02-03-2022-covid-19-pandemic-triggers-25-increase-in-prevalence-of-anxiety-and-depression-worldwide#:~:text=In%20the%20first%20year%20of,Health%20Organization%20(WHO)%20today.
東京新聞. (2021, October 14). コロナ禍が要因か、子どもの自殺が過去最多に 前年度比31％の大幅増加. Retrieved from 東京新聞: https://www.tokyo-np.co.jp/article/136584