While women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression, millions of men are silently suffering from undiagnosed depression. This is reflected in suicide rates; men are at an increased risk of death by suicide – as of 2016, men are nearly four times more likely than women to die by suicide. Add that to the links between depression, anxiety, and heart disease, and men are looking at a serious health crisis, both mental and physical.
Making the problem worse, men are far less likely than women to seek out healthcare and mental health services, which contributes to the lower diagnosis rate.
Experts have found that a major reason for this is societal pressure to have “grit,” or be tough and independent. One study found that “masculine contingencies of self-worth” contributed to healthcare avoidance, regardless of gender. This is concerning; when left unchecked and untreated, depression, anxiety, and excessive stress in men can be expressed in violent, self-destructive, and damaging behavior. Often, men will self-medicate using drugs and alcohol, which can lead to even more health problems and a higher suicide risk.
How Health Professionals Can Inform and Empower
The first step is to raise awareness, starting in the classroom and continuing through the clinic. The more men are encouraged to take part in mental health practices such as self-care, communication, therapy, and stress management, the more normalized and socially acceptable those habits will become. Male patients who may be dealing with depression can be assured that it is common, and what they are experiencing should not be minimized by healthcare professionals.
Rob Whitely, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at McGill University, points out, “Formal mental health services are not finely attuned to men’s needs,” as some men may simply be less comfortable with talk therapy and will prefer more action-based resources.
Men should not be chided for subscribing to old-fashioned notions of masculinity and toughness, but rather empowered to seek out the right treatment for them, whether that means talk therapy, psychiatry, or something else.
Whitely suggests being an advocate for more male-tailored options in the mental health industry, such as “men’s sheds,” a space where men can go to find community with peers and build a social network while engaging in practical activities like bike repair and carpentry.
Bringing it to the Classroom
Since mental health is directly related to many aspects of physical health, nursing students should receive extensive education on how to identify patients with depression, anxiety, and extreme stress – especially male patients, who may be reluctant to explicitly say that they are feeling depressed – so that they know when it’s time to bring in an expert.
It’s important that nursing students not fear their patients with mental health challenges, male or female, but be prepared to empathetically approach them. Products like the VES VR Technology System, and Demo Dose® simulated antidepressants can help prepare students for real-life scenarios.
Health professionals should strive to meet men where they are and seek to understand their needs, all the while emphasizing that the strongest man is one who attends to both his physical and psychological well-being.
Resources for men and students: