The Men in Mental Health

Firstly  – this story isn’t just for men. This is actually more of a collection of thoughts, than a story. But I want to explore the issue of mental health in men. Mainly, because men are men – we have difficulty accepting that we have a problem or and that we’re not coping on our own.

Picture yourself building an IKEA set – the instructions are all there in front of you, you’re trying to match up those little bits and pieces to the picture, you lay out the bits of cheap ‘wood’.  You begin to get impatient – so you start building before you finish reading the instructions (because that would be a complete waste of time, obviously). But then, uh oh – you might, just maybe, have made a mistake. Just possibly. Not likely, of course – because you’re a man. ‘Mistake’ and ‘Man’ are mutually exclusive.

But it’s possible…you…made…a mistake.

Do you tell anyone? Do you ask for advice? Of course not – remember, you’re a man – men aren’t supposed to do that – men deal with things on their own.

The same sort of thing, I think, applies to men and mental health.

It’s not a revelation – I’m not claiming to have discovered this phenomenon. It’s something that is well documented, even taught in medical school. It’s actually pretty obvious when you think about it– men are just terrible at talking about ‘feelings’.

When girls have little pajama parties with magazines, drinking rosé wine, talking about these things called ‘feelings’, blah blah blah blah blah, men are meanwhile more concerned with sports, drinking beer, and good old fashioned banter…but ‘feelings’ don’t ever get brought up. If you do, you probably won’t be invited to the pub next week.

If men don’t like to talk about feelings, and if men can’t admit when there’s a problem, how are men going to deal with a problem with their feelings?

Answer?

Not very well.

It doesn’t help that there is still a significant amount of stigma surrounding mental health conditions. In fact, our society often views the treatment of mental health problems as the equivalent of using one part in one million of rose thistle to treat a broken arm (by the way, I’m not sure if rose thistle is even a ‘real’ homeopathic ingredient, I just made it up – if it isn’t, it probably could be).

I recently watched a modern classic Christmas film, whereby the new husband of the main character’s ex wife, who’s a Psychiatrist, is more than once referred to as ‘not a Doctor’. It’s funny, yes – I think it’s important to see humour in all walks of life. But it’s sad, as well, because it represents a general view and attitude towards psychiatry and the treatment of mental illnesses as ‘hocus pocus’, something that ‘real doctors’ don’t deal with. In reality, mental health issues such as depression is amongst the most common presenting issues in the world of GP/family medicine, right up there with musculoskeletal lower back pain.  And I’m not even sure if the general population understands that people can go to their GP about this sort of thing.

So let me make a point here – mental health illnesses such as Depression are COMMON. Your GP sees it everyday. Literally – every day. In some form or another. So, there’s no reason for anyone to feel ashamed about going to see your doctor if you’re having problems with low mood or depression.

Going back to the whole ‘Men’ thing. The reason why I put the term ‘Men’ in quotations is that we have a funny perception of what being a man really is. Many men – from clinical experience I must add – often say things like “sorry, I’m being silly”, or “sorry, I shouldn’t be crying”, or “sorry, I’m acting like a little baby”.

Let’s break this down. Firstly, men frequently include the term “sorry” when they eventually do get talking about their feelings in a GP practice. The obvious thing to learn from here is that men feel awfully apologetic for presenting with Depression – when there is no need to feel sorry. (Mind you, there’s the co-existing symptoms of Depression which can make you feel that way anyway – I appreciate this). Secondly, men have a perception that they shouldn’t be crying, or even be depressed, as that’s not what men do.  Men believe ‘Men’ shouldn’t feel this way.

Ironically, if you want to stick to the classical arguments of what a man should or should not do, I’m sure the classical ‘Man’ should at least be able to look after himself. And, in the modern day, looking after yourself – a manly trait if you will – means being able to recognize when you need help.

So – you need to recognize yourself that you need help. Many people come in to a GP practice complaining of symptoms of depression, without actually realizing they are depressed. This is perhaps evidence that we as a medical profession have not done enough in spreading the message as to what exactly depression really is. So in order to recognize it, we need to know the symptoms – which include low mood, sleep disturbance, change in appetite, lack of interest in doing things you normally do, and many more.

I’ve had a few cases where men present to the GP practice and go about their presentation in a rather round about way, avoiding breaching the topic of depression itself. For example:

“Doctor, my shoulder kind of hurts…”

Hmmm…

“…and…there’s something else.”

Ah hah!

There it is.

The ‘something else’. It’s man’s way of saying, ‘I think I have another problem, but, I don’t want to explicitly say myself that I have a problem. There’s just ‘something else’.

But I hope this will change.

I hope that men in particular will find the courage to go and see their GP to talk about their mental health – you’re not the only one, and this is one way of looking after yourself. The same goes to women as well. Regardless of sex, breaching these topics with someone you may have never even met before is understandably daunting, but necessary for your own well being.

Doctors are there to help you. It’s also easier to manage the issue the sooner you breach the topic, so don’t put it off. At this time of year (the Christmas season), there are a huge number of lonely, sad and depressed people out there. You may even be recognizing it in someone other than yourself.

Please, go and see your GP. It might be difficult – I understand, but they are there to help.

Wishing you all the best.

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3 thoughts on “The Men in Mental Health

  1. This is a great article. I was an employment counsellor for a number of years and was shocked at the number of depressed men – very capable – who became like zombies following divorce, lay-off, firing…life events. There wasn’t much help for them; the ones on anti-depressants seemed to be doing worse. Men don’t manage well alone in general – most of them don’t know how to cook a healthy meal so they probably get into more trouble eating junk food and at irregular times…you know, blood sugar. There are far more homeless men than women; men also have many more work accidents that may affect their mental health – mild to severe concussions that are not diagnosed (falls, equipment hitting their heads, fights on the job or in bars…) Society doesn’t really help men much.

  2. Thanks for the comment. Yes – mental health in men is an area I believe we can do more to raise awareness in. It obviously affects women as well, but as mentioned, I feel it’s often more difficult for men to admit to, or seek help for their mental health issues. Another interesting area I find is PTSD in war vets – especially considering the recent suicides in the Canadian army.

  3. Hi Jon. Just reading your post after Ali told me about it while we were talking about mental health yesterday. By the way, what a lovely young woman that toddler I knew has grown into. I find you post most interesting as I recently wrote on a similar subject and although I know that women also suffer from depression and mental illness, it was clear in my thirty year career as a police officer that men were mainly the ones who came to our attention and it was mainly men who were involved in acts of violence against others. As a society we simply do a very poor job of getting men to open up about these things. I suppose, in a way, one of the reason’s I have a way more friends who are female, stems from the fact that I do like to talk about my ‘feelings’ and even share a tear with someone in those special moments … thanks for posting on this subject John. Your friend, Harold

    ps: I am just completing a post and a few comments about the wonderful visit yesterday to Salt Spring while attending your grandma’s funeral. Harold

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