In 30 seconds
While statistically more women struggle with mental health problems than men, rates of suicide are higher among men. It’s time to beat the taboo. In some cases, men’s mental health illnesses may display differently, and understanding these nuances may be the key to effective treatment.
If you need help for symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, it is available in various forms, including talk therapy, medication, and lifestyle interventions.
If you need help right away, reach out to a friend, family member or healthcare worker or contact one of these helplines:
- National Suicide Prevention Helpline — Call 0800 689 5652
- Samaritans — Call 116 123 for free for help with any mental health struggles
- Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) — Call 0800 58 58 58 or chat through this link
Switchboard — For LGBTQ + peer support, call 0300 330 0630
If you are struggling with your mental health, you are not alone.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, one in eight men in England suffer with a common mental health disorder, such as depression and anxiety. That’s lower than rates for women — but men’s mental health is a complex issue.
That’s because the suicide rate is substantially higher in men than as it is in women, in all age groups, all over the world. The Samaritans, an organization that works to prevent suicide, report that the male suicide rate for 2020 was 15.3 per 100,00 men, versus 4.9 per 100,000 women.
This is one of our most major health concerns and requires urgent addressing.
Added to this, there also may be more nuances to the gender differences in experiences of mental health than we had previously thought.
Here, we’ll look at how specific types of mental health issues affect men, as well as what we can do about it.
What are some common mental illnesses that affect males?
- Depression in men
Depression is the name given to a group of conditions that negatively impact one’s mood. While we all feel sad or irritable from time to time, depressive symptoms are persistent and can get in the way of day-to-day functioning. They can lead to self-harm and suicidal thoughts and should always be taken seriously.
Several risk factors play a role in the development of depression, including the chemical make-up of our brains, our genes, and the environmental factors that have shaped us.
Added to this, research shows that men are far less likely to report depression.
And while the traditional symptoms of depression, such as feelings of guilt, sadness, and worthlessness, are common in women, many men may experience it quite differently. Instead, depression in men may manifest itself as fatigue, irritability, and anger.
Another important issue is that, while they can occur at the same time, grief and depression are not the same thing. Grief is a response to the loss of something in your life. The death of a loved one, a divorce, or the loss of a job can all leave you with a sense of deep sadness.
While grief tends to come in waves, depression is categorized by a low mood for a period of at least two weeks. Depression is usually always impacts one’s sense of self-worth, while grief does not tend to. In some cases, grief can be a catalyst for depression or co-occur with it.
Types of depression that affect men include:
- Major depressive disorder (MDD). Also known as Clinical Depression, MDD sufferers have intense depressive symptoms for more than a few weeks.
- Persistent depressive disorder (PDD). Also called dysthymia, PPD lasts for two years or longer.
- Bipolar depression. Bipolar disorder is defined by periods of very low (depressive) states, followed by very high-energy (manic) states.
- Psychotic depression. This very serious depressive disorder occurs when depression is accompanied by delusions and hallucinations.
- Postpartum depression. A severe depressive episode that follows the birth of a child, postpartum depression is commonly reported in mothers. While it’s not as well studied, postpartum depression also occurs in about eight to ten percent of new fathers.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Seasonal depression typically begins in the late fall and is more common in climates that do not have much sunlight over the winter months. It usually lifts as spring arrives.
All these conditions can affect your day-to-day functioning, and require treatment.
Recent research reported by the American Psychological Association (APA) has focussed on the plausibility of the idea that men may experience depression differently to women.
- Anxiety in men
We all feel anxious from time to time — but for some people, feelings of anxiety can be long-lasting, severe, and debilitating. And while anxiety disorders are the most common mental health illnesses, only 36.9% of people suffering with them in the United States receive treatment.
Anxiety shows itself in both psychological and physical symptoms. Feelings of excessive fear, worry, and doom may pervade your thoughts, interfering with your ability to function during the day and get to sleep at night.
Physically, you may experience excessive sweating, your heart may pound and race, and you might experience dizziness and shortness of breath. Some people also experience gastrointestinal symptoms.
Like depression, anxiety disorders stem from a complex web of factors that include biology, genes, and your environment.
As with depression, anxiety rates in women are higher than in men. More research is needed to figure out the gender differences in mental health so that appropriate treatment can be provided to those who suffer from it.
Types of anxiety include:
- Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). The trademark of GAD is feeling severe anxiety for an extended period of time that is not linked to a specific cause.
- Panic disorder. Leading to panic attacks, panic disorders are characterised by sudden onsets of feeling seriously at risk even though no outside threat exists. Those with panic disorder may live in fear of a panic attack happening any moment, which can interfere with their daily lives.
- Specific phobias. A phobia is an anxiety disorder that links specific places, situations or living beings to a severe fear response. They’re generally more long term and tend to stick around for more than six months.
According to the NHS, some of the most common phobias include the fear of spiders (arachnophobia), confined spaces (claustrophobia), and open spaces (agoraphobia).
- Social anxiety disorder. Everyday interactions bring on feelings of humiliation, fear, and self-consciousness. This can be particularly debilitating and cause the sufferer to withdraw from social life.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While PTSD is not technically an anxiety disorder, it is closely linked. This condition is triggered by either witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event, and can cause highly challenging symptoms. These include nightmares, flashbacks, and serious episodes of anxiety.
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD is also not an anxiety disorder per se, but it is connected. As the name suggests, those who suffer with OCD experience obsessive thoughts that compel them to perform behaviours in a repetitive manner.
This could manifest in a fear of germs, excessive organization to make things symmetrical and neat, or constantly checking to see if a stove is off or a door is locked.
- Personality disorders in men
Personality disorders are a wide range of conditions that occur when thoughts and behaviours become incredibly rigid and immovable. They can make it difficult to deal with the stressors that life throws at you that require you to bob and weave.
There are currently ten types of personality disorders, grouped into three main categories. They are:
- Suspicious (paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal)
- Emotional (antisocial, borderline, histrionic and narcissistic)
- Anxious (avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive)
This Cambridge study put the prevalence of personality disorders at over 12% of the general population, noting that they often occur alongside other mental health disorders.
- Psychotic disorders in men
Psychotic disorders cause thinking and perceptions of the world that are not in touch with external events. You may experience delusions, such as constantly thinking someone is out to get you, or hallucinations, where you see, hear, and touch things that are not objectively there.
The most common psychotic disorder is schizophrenia, where you experience delusions and hallucinations for a period of longer than six months.
People with other mental health issues and substance abuse problems may experience psychotic episodes.
As this study suggests, psychosis can present differently in different genders, so there is a need for treatment to take this into account.
- Substance-abuse in men
It’s vital to include substance abuse disorders (SUDs) when it comes to talking about mental health. It has complicated and deep ties to various other mental health challenges, including PTSD, psychosis, and depression.
If you are suffering from a particular mental health challenge, using substances to cope can cause addiction and lead to your symptoms worsening. This study, for example, showed how common it is for PTSD and SUDs to exist together.
This can also make treatment complex. This study of bipolar disorder, for example, discusses how the some of the symptoms of the condition overlap with those of drug and alcohol abuse.
While this gap is narrowing, a greater number of men struggle with substance abuse disorders than women. Seeking help for substance abuse may also lead to accessing treatment for other mental health challenges.
How can we improve men’s mental health?
Mental health care is available in various forms. If you are struggling with your own mental health, the first step is to reach out to someone — a friend or family member, crisis line, or mental health professional. Then, explore the various treatment options available:
Also called talk therapy, psychotherapy can help treat a wide range of mental health illnesses. Psychological therapy has been proven to help either alleviate some of the uncomfortable symptoms you might experience, or help you manage life with them. It can either be used in isolation or in conjunction with other treatments.
There are various schools of psychotherapy that can be administered one-on-one with a therapist or in a group. The most common of these are:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which focuses on changing thoughts and behaviours that may be harmful to you.
- Interpersonal therapy, which helps you understand the relationships in your life and work on ways to resolve conflict and problems related to others.
- Dialectical behavioural therapy, which helps you regulate emotions. It’s used to treat those suffering with suicidal thoughts, as well as borderline personality disorder and PTSD.
- Psychodynamic therapy, which goes back into your childhood experiences to help improve self-awareness and change old patterns.
Other therapies like animal-assisted and creative arts therapy have proven to be effective for some people in providing emotional support. Support groups like ManHealth’s “Time to Listen” can also be really beneficial.
Most effective when used in conjunction with talk therapy, antidepressants, anti-anxiety and antipsychotics all work on different chemicals in your brain to help regulate mood and thinking. The kind of medication you are prescribed will depend on the condition.
Important: Always take medication under the guidance of a doctor. If you suspect that they are not doing what they are intended to do, it’s essential that you let your doctor know immediately. It might be as simple as adjusting the dosage or prescription to get you on track.
- Lifestyle strategies to reduce stress and improve mood
- Eat healthily
- Get sufficient sleep
- Try to cut down or cut out harmful drugs and alcohol
- Practice mediation, yoga, and breathing exercises
- Get out into nature
- Connect with others in your community
- Do things you love as a matter of priority
There is a broad spectrum of men’s mental health issues that affect a wide range of the population. Anxiety, depression, psychosis, and personality disorders are the most common, and can occur in conjunction with one another. Substance abuse and mental health have a complex, challenging relationship to one another. While mental health issues still come with old stigmas, there is help available in various forms. Combining talk therapy and medication has shown to be effective at treating various mental health disorders.