Men’s Mental Health: Don’t suffer in silence!

The COVID-19 pandemic and its response measures have had severe consequences for the mental health of people worldwide.

Depression, and particularly male depression, has gone up all over the world. Parents with young children have had to juggle watching young children and working from home as daycares worldwide shut down. Travel restrictions meant that some haven’t seen their family, friends and partners for months.

For people who are living home, lockdown measures have meant little to no social interaction. The result is increased stress, loneliness, anxiety and depression. Coupled with anxiety regarding the health of ourselves and our loved ones, reductions or loss of income, and the state of the world,  and we have a recipe for a mental health disaster.

Download free MENS MENTAL HEALTH pdf-one-pager here

Loneliness

Many men have learned to rely on relationships based on “doing”: bonding with coworkers or sports with friends. While women are traditionally more comfortable talking on the phone, texting, and having video calls, many men reserve these communication forms for family and partners – at best. When this becomes the main or only form of communication, many men struggle.

Stress

Hong Konger’s livelihood has been tested for a while, not only by the restrictions due to the pandemic. While both men and women suffer from this consequences, many men tend to over-identify with their jobs. Not being able to earn, to provide or simply being busy invokes feelings of failure. Cathay’s mass lay-offs and the like will affect the economical landscape mid-term.

Anxiety

While men and women both suffer from stress, depression, and anxiety, men are traditionally conditioned to repress their feelings. While these attitudes are shifting, it’s not easy to unlearn lifelong habits. When men feel anxious asking for help or being vulnerable, their stresses pile up. The result can be severe and debilitating anxiety. 

Depression

Men’s depression or anxiety often go hand-in-hand and can go undiagnosed. On the surface, we may see irritability or self-medication with substances, alcohol or sex. Physical symptoms of depression such as fatigue or body pain (back pain, tooth aches, …) are also common in men.

The way male depression manifests is poorly recognized by our current diagnostic criteria and approaches. Traditional concepts of masculinity deter men from seeking help, making the problem worse. It’s evident that while reducing mental stigma is essential, it’s not enough. We must also understand that men and women require different solutions and tailor treatment options accordingly.

Getting well versus Staying well

As a society, we like quick and easy solutions. With men, this tendency can be even more pronounced. Stereotypically, men are more solution-oriented, while women might prefer to give more space for emotions and understanding. And if the problem is that we’re feeling bad, we need to find a solution towards feeling good, right? Reality is a little more complicated than that. While external conditions significantly influence our internal state, we can’t expect our mental health to depend on them.

The good news is that the common mental health issues in men can be treated and that we can apply many successful measures of prevention. Depression and Anxiety as well as Stress and Loneliness are manageable and treatable. Learning coping strategies can make future episodes shorter and less intense. Treatments can help you reduce negative thinking, create strategies to tackle problems and improve relationships.

Getting Well

  • Educate yourself
    • Understand what you’re dealing with can help you come up with the best coping mechanisms for you
    • There are many good videos, podcasts, and blogs that you can find online for free
  • Start noticing and open your awareness
    • Work on challenging your negative thinking
    • We all have stories and core beliefs that we picked up early in life that may be no longer serving us
    • Picking up a mindfulness practice can help you become more aware of negative thinking patterns. As you do so, you’ll learn to let go instead of becoming attached to them
    • Practicing CBT (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy) sheets can help you change these thoughts at the core
  • Connection is King
    • Connect with yourself – remember The Matrix “…do you believe that my being stronger or faster has anything to do with my muscles in this place?…”
    • Connect with others – remember Along Came Polly when Mr Feffer speaks the truth: “…it’s not about what happened in the past or what you think might happen in the future – it’s about the ride! There is no point going through all this, if you not gonna enjoy the ride…”
  • Turn to a professional
    • Many men have a lot of resistance to going to therapy. It’s worth examing to see why that is. Are you ashamed of admitting you have a problem? Or is it that you’re afraid that if you talk about your pain, you will be overwhelmed by it?
    • A good therapist will make you feel heard and understood. They’ll also help you learn to solve your own challenges through new tools and coping strategies. 
  • Medication
    • Remember that medication takes time to work and isn’t a permanent all-encompassing solution
    • Medication can help you feel more stable so that you can build a stronger foundation for your mental health with therapy and other solutions.

Download free MENS MENTAL HEALTH pdf-one-pager here

Staying well

Remember that good mental health requires maintenance. While it may be tempting to drop all your new habits once you start feeling better again, this can backfire. Think of it as a diet: you can lose the weight, but if you start drinking soda and eating friend and sugary food all the time, you’re likely to gain the weight back. The same goes for depression and emotional wellbeing in general. Living a balanced, healthy lifestyle is just as important when you’re feeling good as it is when you’re struggling. 

  • Monitor your early warning signs
    • As you become more familiar with your inner world, you’ll learn to recognize warning signs before things get bad
      • Less reading, more Netflix? Less Sport, more deep fried Food?
      • Recurring thoughts like “No one understands me.” or “I am a failure.”
      • And you might begin to pay attention to physical symptoms of fatigue, heaviness, tension or shallow breath.
  • Keep Social with friends, family or in a group of likeminded
    • Any group of common interest can provide a safe space where you can learn to be emotionally vulnerable while receiving support from others facing similar challenges.
    • Join a men’s group. There can be something profoundly healing about sharing openly in a group of men – precisely because it’s so unfamiliar to many of us. In a study of older men (usually considered non-responsive to therapy), the men’s group was a valuable tool in treating depression.
  • Make time for Self-Care
    • It’s crucial to find the strategies that work for you. In a study of 465 Australian men, eating healthy, keeping busy, exercising, humour and helping others were their top strategies for preventing depression. Other successful methods included spending time with a pet and self-reward.
    • Most of the things mentioned in this article can be forms of self-care: support groups, physical exercise, counselling & therapy, eating healthy
    • Self-care can be making sure you get some quality-time with your Self. Outdoors beats indoors, Walking meets Talking.