Batman. Ironman. Spiderman. Superman. Everyone admires these super heroes and most guys want to be one. Super heroes seem to have it all: insurmountable strength, the coolest gadgets; they get the supermodels, live double lives and show no weakness.
The super hero image has super screwed the male self-image: power, courage, six-pack abs and wealth is how many men today determine their self worth and success. The unspoken rule is: men never expose chips in the armour — especially not when it comes to their mental health. Physical ailments like a broken leg are like a badge of honor; you can pretend to bat with your crutch while at the beer league game. Being hobbled by severe anxiety, depression, substance use or burn out are much more difficult — if not impossible — things to discuss among friends.
In comparison to women, we know that men are less likely to seek professional help for struggles related to mental health.2 Mental health problems hit men across the lifespan, presenting itself with different behaviours according to age group. Male youth engage in destructive behaviours such as vandalism, aggression and law breaking which if severe enough fall into a category called conduct disorders. They may also be diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). For adult men, mental health problems can manifest in “externalizing behaviours” by displacing their feelings with other actions such as drug and alcohol abuse or rule-breaking.3 Men have increased risk of suicide, with middle age men having the highest risk. https://suicideprevention.ca/understanding/suicide-and-high-risk-groups/
Super heroes don’t exist in real life. Men can be successful, adventurous, strong and powerful — yet also have mental health challenges. Seeking help when you are struggling is a sign of strength and courage. Every individual copes with stress in unique ways but general patterns show that men are more likely to cope with stress through drinking, substance use, aggression and violence. Some men internalize their feelings and end up struggling alone, hoping that these dark, depressive feelings and thoughts will change of their own accord.
In the words of Albert Einstein, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues life that is impacting work, relationships and the enjoyment of life, there are ways to tackle the problem.
- Health – Focus on the main pillars of health: sleep, diet and exercise. Can you improve one or more of these?
- Problem Solve – Try to identify key stressors that might be perpetuating your difficulties and find ways to improve them.
- Socialize – Solitary confinement is a form of punishment and torture. Yet people will often retreat into isolation when feeling unwell or overwhelmed. If you have been isolated — saying “no” to social invitations, say “yes” instead or even initiate a casual outing with friends.
- Get Help – If mental health challenges are limiting the things you want to do, talk to your family doctor or another professional such as a counsellor or therapist.
Making small changes to your daily routine can lead to big dividends in improved mental health. Show strength by taking action.
1) Moyser M. Women and paid work. Statistics Canada. 2017. 89-503-X. Accessed September 10, 2017. URL: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-503-x/2015001/article/14694-eng.htm
2) Lynch L, Long M, Moorhead A. Young Men, help-seeking, and mental health services. Exploring Barriers and Solutions. 2016. American Journal of Men’s Health. 1-12.
3) American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington
4) Suicide Risk in the Aging Population (2011) Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention Accessed September 22, 2017. https://suicideprevention.ca/suicide-risk-in-the-aging-population/