Decoding men’s emotional health

By Dr Lisa Webb on 29th May 2019

June is Men’s Health Month, and Dr Lisa Webb discusses why men might be more resistant to seeking professional help for their mental and emotional health…

More times than I can count, men have come to an appointment and when asked why they are in my office, they say, “My wife/ girlfriend/ partner/ significant other told me to.” For years, it was thought that women had greater mental health concerns since they tended to visit psychiatrists and psychologists more often than their male counterparts. This is clearly untrue — men commit suicide four times more often than women do. More men than women abuse drugs and alcohol and initiate violence.

Generally, I find the men whom I see are raised with the idea they should be strong. It is often considered ‘unmanly’ to admit feeling ‘low’ or ‘down’ and that they should just ‘push through it’.
Active men can be depressed

Depression among men is more common than you might realize; almost one in 20 men has a depressive episode each year. A study by psychologist D. B. Wexler indicated about half of men with depression don’t display classic symptoms, such as lack of motivation or diminished zest for life. Instead, they often throw themselves into alternative behaviors. These behaviors might be seen as ‘positive’ (such as exercising or working long hours at the office) or negative (such as engaging in high-risk sexual behavior, increased alcohol use or gambling).

For many men, this additional activity is actually an approach to cope with feelings— allowing them to mask the symptoms so they don’t have to talk about them or admit they are feeling empty or unhappy. This overactivity often comes with irritability, anger, and aggression and can take a toll on marriages, relationships and strain family life. Depression is highly treatable — and many times when a man starts therapy, men respond quickly. It almost seems that as soon as my male clients begin to unpack the baggage they have been carrying around, they feel relief.

Recognition is a key element to treatment
Many men deny they have depression, both to themselves and to friends and family. Here are some pointers for men who think they may be feeling depressed:

– Acknowledge the feelings:  Wound-up, over-tired, stressed-out, short-fused, worn-down — no matter what you call how you feel, depression is a real illness that requires real treatment.

– Understand what it really means to be depressed: It doesn’t mean you’ve failed or that it defines you or your ability to manage life. It simply means something isn’t working in your life and you need to figure out what that something is.

– Let go of outdated ideas of ‘being a man’: If we’re not athletic, successful in our profession or be rolling in wealth, we may feel as if we don’t measure up. Expand your definition of ‘success’ beyond the ideas traditional, antiquated ideas of masculinity.

– Look beyond the obvious: Mental health concerns can sometimes pose as physical health concerns. In a study of Johns Hopkins medical students, the depressed men were twice as likely as the non-depressed men to develop coronary artery disease or have a sudden cardiac death. The increased risk lasted for up to 10 years after the onset of their depression.

– Talk it out: If you hurt, you can be certain your spouse or partner knows it. Open up about what’s going on and be willing to work through it together.

– Get help: Acknowledging and seeking treatment can save your marriage — and possibly your life — so take responsibility and seek someone to talk to.

For more help: contact Dr. Lisa M. Webb at the Body & Mind Consulting Associates Group:

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