By John Shin, MD
One out of every five adults each year will have a mental health illness. Effects of mental health problems are devastating for the person affected and their families. The impact can be especially troubling for men, who often do not seek treatment because it is seen as a sign of weakness. It is a national epidemic that can be averted.
How serious is the problem? Over 6 million American men will suffer from depression every year. Approximately 3 million men will have a panic disorder, agoraphobia or other phobias. About 1.15 million men will develop bipolar disorder. Around 3.5 million Americans will be diagnosed with Schizophrenia, of which 90% are men diagnosed before the age of 30. Four times more men die by suicide than woman in the US. One out of every five men will develop severe Alcohol Use Disorder during their lifetime. Men are obviously overwhelmingly impacted by mental illness in this country.
What are the barriers to care? The lack of recognition of psychiatric symptoms in men is one key barrier to care. Men can demonstrate symptoms which has a less obvious connection to a psychiatric illness. For instance, men are more likely to report fatigue, irritability, and loss of interest in work or hobbies, rather than feelings of sadness or worthlessness when they are depressed. Men also are more reluctant to talk to others, often downplaying symptoms and are not encouraged or supported to get help. Seeking help might imply weakness, lack of strength of character, or be perceived as being plain “nuts”. Men have many obstacles in the way to get effective treatment for a very treatable medical condition.
What can be done? The first step is education and recognition. One needs to recognize that being irritable, moody, and misusing substances, is not normal. Inability to function as a father, friend, or employee cannot be simply wished away, if one wills it to be. It may be a sign of discontentment or frustration of life, but it also could be a serious mental health illness which can be readily treated. Suffering in silence is not the answer. Drinking or using drugs is not the answer. Having the courage and fortitude to seek help is the key. Getting treatment is not a sign of weakness. Knowing you have a major problem and seeking help is a sign of strength. You can only be your true self, if one recognizes your mental illness, own it, and improve; so you can be the person you always had potential of being.
How can I get help? Get education about mental health conditions. The American Psychiatric Association, American Psychiatric Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Institute of Mental Health, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration have websites you can research. A visit to your Primary Care Provider can be a useful start and seeking an evaluation by a mental health professional is a necessity as well.
Help is available for those who seek it. There is no reason for men to suffer in silence from mental illness which negatively impacts your life and those around you. You can get help, get better, and be the person who you should have always been if you get the mental health treatment you deserve and need.