It is difficult to calculate the exact number of people suffering from depression in the U.S. because many individuals don’t seek treatment. However, it is estimated that over 16 million American adults suffer from depression every year. While depression is a disease affecting both men and women, far more women report having mental health issues than men.
So, if fewer men suffer from mental health, why do men in America die by suicide at a rate nearly four times higher than women? Because far more women seek treatment for depression and other mental illnesses than men do, it can be easy to believe mental health conditions like depression affect more women than men. If you look a little closer at the numbers, you can see that this might not be the case.
Why Many Men Have a Harder Time Seeking Treatment for Mental Illness
Although more women reportedly suffer depression every year than men, depression, and suicide are ranked as leading causes of death among men in America. The suicide rate is also high becuase men tend to use more lethal forms of suicide. Men are more likely to develop a substance use disorder than women, and more men have drug and alcohol dependencies than women. In fact, 62,000 men die from alcohol-related causes every year, while the number of women who die from similar causes every year in the U.S. is 26,000 — less than half the number of male alcohol-related deaths. What these staggering numbers show us is that men are far less likely to seek treatment for their mental health issues, but still suffer from these issues in high numbers.
Culturally, there is a stigma surrounding mental illness and depression that makes it difficult for many people to admit they need help. This stigma is an unfortunate relic from the past — an attitude developed by previous generations who did not have the medical understanding of mental illness that we now do. Despite the archaic nature of this stigma, it is one that we have had a hard time letting go of, even when challenged by more recent discoveries and facts about mental illness.
Although we now know that depression is linked to chemical changes in the brain and is therefore caused by physical changes in the body, much like diabetes and other health conditions, culturally, we still don’t allsee it in the same light. Because some still can’t shake this belief that mental illness is not a real disease and is just a mental shortcoming, we cannot shake the stigma around it or the fear of asking for help.
The Role of Toxic Masculinity in Mental Illness
Toxic masculinity can be described as a set of traits stereotypically in and expected of men. Toxic masculinity is caused by certain cultural pressures for men to behave in a certain way. From a young age, men are taught to be strong, quiet, resilient, and tough. Boys are taught that to be “manly” means they should be aggressive, powerful, and never show weakness. In moderation, none of these traits are necessarily negative ones. But when these traits become overly pronounced and masculinity becomes toxic, it can be harmful to individuals and to society in general.
While the stigma surrounding mental illness and depression affects people of all genders, research shows that men tend to have an even harder time admitting they need help. Overwhelmingly, men feel a need to be strong and not admit weakness. Because of this macho approach, many men will ask for help because they do not want to risk appearing weak. While the stigma around mental illness discourages people from seeking help because they do not want to admit having a problem that is so frowned upon by society, traits of toxic masculinity encourage many men to suffer in silence rather than to risk appearing weak by asking for help.
Toxic masculinity is a bit of a double-edged sword, though. While these traits may discourage some men from asking for help, they can also lead to increased rates of depression in others. What often happens is that men refuse to ask for help, and their symptoms continue or worsen. With worsened conditions, they become more likely to “treat” their condition with drug and alcohol misuse.
Men and Women Have Different Symptoms
Depression sometimes manifests differently in men than it does in women. While women with depression may seem sad, lethargic, or vacant, men are more likely to appear aggressive, angry, and irritable. Because depression in men often hides behind these more hostile emotions, it is sometimes difficult for men to recognize what is going on within themselves, and harder still for others to recognize it in them. In fact, when men do seek medical treatment for depression, it is often for the physiological side effects it caused (racing heart, headaches, and digestive issues for example) and not for emotional ones.
It is also possible that one reason men so often fail to seek help is that mental health education does not give them what they need. The strategies used to teach about mental health issues rarely target men. While it is easy to say that men do not seek help, it is likely that perhaps they do seek help, but in a way, we may not recognize it. For example, men may seek help from someone they can help in return so that it feels more like a trade and makes them feel less weak.
How We Can Reduce the Stigma
One thing we can do as a society to make sure more people get the help they need is to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, depression, and substance use disorder. As a society, the first step is to realize that depression is a real and treatable disease. While we have come a long way already in reducing the stigma, normalizing treatment for mental health issues, and making treatment accessible for more people, many people still believe depression is just a lack of mental fortitude.
If more individuals understand that depression and other mental illnesses are caused by actual chemical changes in the brain, the way we talk and think about mental illness could change for good, and men could feel more comfortable seeking the treatment they need. If we continue to develop a more evolved cultural understanding of mental illness, depression, and substance use disorder, we could foster great transparency around these issues and make it easier for people to talk with others about their problems and not feel ashamed to ask for help.
How to Support Mental Health in the Workplace
There are many barriers preventing people from seeking help for their mental health issues. Stigma and traits of toxic masculinity are two hefty barriers we have been trying to dismantle, while accessibility and affordability of treatment are yet other obstacles. One strategy for supporting mental health in both men and women is for businesses to start advocating for mental health in the workplace.
In other words, mental health should be as much of a priority as physical health. Employers should provide employees with a comprehensive medical benefits package that includes mental health benefits and resources. This way, treatment for mental illness can become more accessible and affordable to everyone, and we can come that much closer to eliminating another barrier.
Training for management and leadership positions should be provided to help employees recognize the signs of mental health issues in themselves and others and have the tools and resources to help that person get the help they need.
Workplaces should also prioritize creating an environment in which talking about mental health is normalized and not something to feel ashamed about. It should feel as normal for employees to talk about their mental health issues as it would be to talk about their diabetes — after all, a disease is a disease, and the first step to getting treatment is admitting you need it.
When to Ask for Help
If you are worried that someone in your life might be struggling with mental illness, watch out for the following signs of depression:
- Changes in mood
- Changes in work performance
- Sadness, despair, hopelessness, or loss of pleasure/enjoyment in things that once brought happiness
- Noticeable weight changes
- Loss of appetite
- Physical symptoms such as frequent headaches, dizziness, or stomach issues
If you recognize some of these symptoms in your loved one, you can help by reminding them that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Remind them that the medical industry has come a long way, and there are a lot of resources available now in 2021. The most important thing is to convince your loved one that asking for help is OK, and nothing to feel ashamed about.
If you have suffered from mental health issues of your own, sharing stories about your experiences and journey can help to normalize the issue, reduce the stigma, and encourage others to speak out about what they are experiencing.
Holistic Mental Health Care at Sage Neuroscience Center
At Sage Neuroscience Center, we have been helping individuals overcome mental health issues like depression, anxiety, addiction, and PTSD for over 15 years. Our unique clinic offers a number of different treatment services to help provide access to behavioral healthcare and all behavioral health aspects under one roof for truly integrated care.
Don’t let caring for your mental health wait. Contact Sage Neuroscience Center today to learn more about our services, practices, and whole-person treatment style.
Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor, DBT Therapist, and BHIOP Facilitator
Andres Duran, LPCC, is a clinical mental health counselor and clinical supervisor with Sage Neuroscience Center. He focuses his clinical work on the intersection of behaviorism and mindfulness striving to bring compassion and change to the individuals and couples he works with. He is endlessly curious, an avid reader, and a world traveler