Silent and Deadly: Barriers to Men's Mental Health

Image: Joshua Earle

Image: Joshua Earle

Ladies, a word:

Have you ever noticed how much conversation there is about your physical, mental and spiritual health?

It's amazing!

As women, we're able to have conversations about how we're feeling in a variety of venues. Further to that, if our well-being is suffering, we're almost always directed to free or affordable resources designed to support us through our challenges. As a woman in our society there are plenty of barriers, but getting help to live our healthiest lives isn't one of them.

This is one of those rare arenas in our society where women have it much, much better than men.

Barriers to Support for Men's Mental Health

There's a myth in the definition of masculinity, and it has a big impact on how men are "allowed" to feel.

"Real" men aren't allowed to talk about their problems; they're not allowed to feel sad or experience despair. If they do find themselves feeling hopeless, they're certainly not allowed to tell other men about it.

In short, men are "supposed" to be stoic, to suck it up, and to get over it.

This limiting belief about what it means to be a man is at the heart of a current crisis in men's health. While depression has been historically thought to affect far more women than men, it's now evident that men suffer just as much from poor mental health. The affliction is in some ways worse for men, because they're unable to talk about how they're feeling. A direct result of that lack of conversation is the notable lack of resources for men dealing with severe, clinical depression.

The Staggering Statistics About Men's Mental Health

As mentioned above, historically we've believed that women experience depression and other mental health disorders more than men. The current statistics prove otherwise: 10% of men experienced symptoms of the surveyed mental health disorders and substance dependencies, compared to 11% of women in Canada.

What's even more devastating: among Canadians of all ages, four of every five suicides are male.

Clearly this is a topic that needs more attention in our country.

Physical Symptoms of Depression

Without space to express the emotional aspects of depression, many men exhibit physical symptoms instead. Chronic back and shoulder pain, poor digestion and extreme fatigue are a few of the most prevalent indicators that a man may indeed be suffering from a mental health condition, especially if these indicators persist despite treatment and lifestyle changes.

What's more, because there still isn't a ton of conversation about men's mental health, many men don't even realize they're experiencing a period of depression which is, in turn, impacting their physical health: they assume it's the other way around.

What Men (and their Supporters) Can Do

Thankfully, awareness about men's mental health is on the rise.

A partnership between the University of British Columbia and the Movember Foundation called Heads Up Guys is a fantastic new resource for men - it provides information, education, and external resources for any self-identified man who thinks he may be dealing with depression.

Women can also act as advocates for then men in their lives - if you notice your partner/father/brother/friend exhibiting signs of depression, try (gently) opening the conversation, directing them to Heads Up Guys, or even encouraging them to talk to their health care provider.

The more we talk about men's mental health, the less silenced alone men who are suffering from depression will have to feel.