In the US, over 6 million men are affected each year with depression. Three quarters of all suicides are committed by men. While men are four times more likely to commit suicide than their female counterparts.
This is a silent epidemic which has only been increasing globally among developed nations. An immense stigma exists around the topic which must be torn down. If we are to end the needless, self-inflicted slaughter of our brothers, husbands, fathers and sons.
Certain social and interpersonal factors have coincided to create a perfect maelstrom of mental health issues among men. In certain respects, we are our own worst enemies. Refusing to discuss the internal pain which is burdening us. Choosing instead to remain ‘strong and silent’, lest we bother anyone.
This antiquated attitude is quite literally fatal. Social norms dictates that we downplay symptoms of distress. Yet, we are not useful to our families unless we are healthy. It defies logic to suffer in silence. Therefore, this article outlines common indicators of poor mental health and discusses ways forward, back into the light.
Loss of employment
During the recent economic recession, families were decimated by male suicide. Loss of employment being a significant risk factor in deterioration of mental welfare.
Male self-esteem is inextricably linked with the ability to provide. Traditional cultural values dictate that the male is a breadwinner or provider, bringing home the paycheck each week. When this is taken away, the resulting psychological stress can be catastrophic.
This feeling is compounded exponentially as time goes on. With the father or son seeing himself as a burden on his family and society at large, the longer he remains unemployed.
Bills mount and the stress of making ends meet becomes unbearable. Regrettably, this is when men take drastic irreversible measures. As the feeling of shame or failure has grown so intense that it has overwhelmed their rational faculties.
In many ways, our society is a contradiction in terms. We are blessed with more methods of communication than in any other time in human history. Yet, we are faced with an epidemic of loneliness.
Human beings are psychologically ‘programmed’ to thrive in strong social networks. Nearly all of our evolutionary history was spent in close-knit tribes. Battling the elements and the forces of wilderness together, united in common purpose. Without cooperation, we would simply perish.
This sense of meaningful community has vanished in the modern age. Tribes of one hundred have been replaced with a bustling metropolis of millions. This has left many without a feeling of belonging to a tribe. This is essential to the human psyche. Without it, we are destined to feel exposed.
Isolation particularly affects elderly men, as their support network tends to be tied up in their career. After taking retirement, elderly gentlemen lose a vital source of social connection.
Depression will lead men to isolate themselves. Creating a vicious cycle of rumination and further isolation. Leaving no clear way out. No outside perspective with which to stop the barrage of negative thoughts which come with mental illness.
US statistics show that 1 in 5 men are likely to develop a dependency on alcohol during their lives. While 50% of those with mental illness are at risk of abusing substances. Due to the inherent stigma and criminality, this problem is largely kept behind closed doors. Therefore, addicts rarely get the necessary treatment to recover fully.
Many turn to illicit substances as a means of self-medicating. It is an effective method of quieting unwanted internal dialogue or blocking out past trauma. Acting as a temporary numbing agent. Although it provides temporary relief, it can exacerbate symptoms in the long run.
The pain or unresolved trauma that an addict is avoiding will return with interest once the drug has left their system. Leading many to escalate dosage. In search of the same euphoric sense of relief attained early on in their addiction.
While under the influence, one is a lot more likely to engage in reckless behaviour or self-harm. Making substance misuse a band-aid that adds fuel to flames. Severe addiction also causes the sufferer to lose everything, compounding negative emotion and feelings of helplessness.
Early Childhood Experience
During early childhood, habits and behaviours are adopted, which literally build the architecture of the developing brain. This can have lifelong implications. Particularly relating to mental health in adulthood.
Children look to their parents for cues as to how to interact with the world. This is learning through emulation. If an unexpected event occurs, a baby will look to the parents expression, in order to gauge whether the unexpected event is a threat.
In this way, anxieties are passed on through generations, almost by osmosis. Through no fault of their own, parents sometimes pass on the insecurities sewn into their genealogy.
Trust is built at a young age. If parents are unreliable, children develop a sense of unease and distrust which never leaves. Unless childhood beliefs are reexamined in adulthood. Breaking this harmful cycle.
The foundation of strong mental health is laid in infancy. Feeling loved and valued by strong role models can set a person up for a wholesome life. With resilience when adverse events occur.
There is a strong correlation between early childhood trauma and increased levels of male aggression. The result is that almost 93% of prison inmates in the US are male. This creates a cycle in which male role models are incarcerated, recreating the conditions for childhood neglect. As fathers are missing from family units all over the nation.
Similarly, being in a state of fight or flight for long periods of time during childhood has been seen to change male brain-function, reducing mental resilience and damaging the metabolic system.
A new vision of strength
Men need a new toolkit for survival in the modern age. The first step is to break the silence around this frightful crisis. Silently, stealing the lives of those around us. Our dearest friends and closest family.
Men must bear in mind: a job is not what defines your worth. You are invaluable to your friends and family, just as you are, unemployment is temporary.
Find your tribe as isolation is never the answer. Reach out and speak to friends, they will be happy you did.
Be careful to examine your relationship with alcohol. If you are using substances to salve internal discomfort, step away from the bottle and look at solving the underlying issue.
Cast off the false beliefs of childhood as they no longer serve you in the present. Learn from the tribulations of the past and set them free.
A number of treatments have been proven to be effective when dealing with mental health issues. Intensive therapy helps you to find your bearings and break from harmful patterns. Medication can be purposeful in alleviating short term symptoms of distress. Similarly, the benefits of reaching out to family and friends cannot be diminished.
Keep in mind, whatever your going through, this too shall pass.