We Need to Talk About Men’s Mental Health

When it comes to gender, mental illness doesn’t discriminate. Unfortunately, masculine norms do. The societal rules and expected behavior associated with manhood prevalent in American culture create a barrier for men, preventing them from seeking help for their mental health—or even realizing they may be having issues in the first place. 

Data from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows a disparity between women (51.2%) and men (37.4%) with any mental illness (AMI) who receive some form of mental healthcare treatment.

Sadly, this stigma also likely leads to an underdiagnosis of mental illnesses and other mental health issues in men. 

“Mental health issues are often associated with weakness or a character flaw,” explains Alan Fong, Clinical Director of Valera Health. “However, talking about mental health and seeking help takes courage and strength.”


Common Mental Health Issues For Men

The following information about major mental health problems affecting men comes from Mental Health America (MHA). Due to the disparities between men and women seeking mental healthcare/treatment, it’s estimated that numbers and percentages in the following statistics may actually be higher than data that is currently available.

  1. DEPRESSION: While the current number of men suffering depression each year is over six million, depression in men often goes undiagnosed. According to MHA, “Men are more likely to report fatigue, irritability, loss of interest in work or hobbies, rather than feelings of sadness or worthlessness.”
  2. ANXIETY: For American adults ages 18 to 54, approximately 19.1 million have an anxiety disorder. Reportedly, Over three million men suffer from panic disorder, agoraphobia and other phobias.
  3. BIPOLAR DISORDER: Currently, 2.3 million Americans are affected by bipolar disorder. An equal amount of both men and women develop bipolar disorder, with the average age of onset for men being from 16 to 25 years of age.
  4. PSYCHOSIS & SCHIZOPHRENIA: Schizophrenia is one of the leading causes of disability in the U.S., and 3.5 million people in the country are diagnosed with this illness—the majority of which are men. By age 30, 90% of those diagnosed with schizophrenia are men.
  5. EATING DISORDERS: Men make up approximately 10% of patients diagnosed with anorexia and/or bulimia as well as 35% of patients diagnosed with binge-eating disorder. However, these numbers are likely to be higher as men are less likely to seek professional help for eating disorders than women.
  6. SUBSTANCE ABUSE: Approximately 1 in 5 men will develop an alcohol dependency during the course of their lives. The alcohol dependency rate is higher in gay and bisexual men, who are more likely to have higher rates of substance abuse than heterosexual men. Regardless of their form of service, male veterans experience nearly twice the rate of alcohol and drug use as women.
  7. SUICIDE: The highest rates of suicide in the U.S. are found in caucasian men over the age of 85. Since 2000, male suicide rates have been on the rise. Consequently, suicide is now the 7th leading cause of death among men, accounting for 2.2% of all male deaths in 2011. Suicide rates affect LGBTQ+ men disproportionately. Gay and bisexual men are shown to have an increased risk for suicide attempts when compared to heterosexual men, especially before the age of 25. Over four times as many men in the U.S. die from suicide as women. In 2010, for example, 38,364 Americans died from suicide. Men accounted for 79% of the aforementioned suicide rate. Contributing factors to male suicide rates include—but are not limited to—social isolation, substance abuse, unemployment, military-related trauma (including PTSD), genetic predisposition and mood disorders, according to MHA.

Other Barriers to Treatment

“There are a number of factors why men may experience internal or external barriers to receiving care,” says Fong. “Men may face gender stereotypes and be seen as weak for seeking help. There may also be cultural considerations of masculinity that teach boys and men to minimize their feelings. Among BIPOC communities, mistrust of the medical establishment and the assumption that problems can be resolved within the family system are also huge barriers to treatment.”

“We’ve made great strides in decreasing the stigma of mental health care,” he adds. “But we also have more work to do, especially in meeting the needs of anyone who identifies as a man.”

Providers have to be cognizant that the way symptoms of certain mental illnesses present themselves in men can be different then how they are presented in women.

For example, men exhibiting signs of depression may appear angry or aggressive, rather than sad, an emotion more commonly associated with depression. Depression and anxiety can also manifest as physical symptoms, such as frequent headaches, gastrointestinal or digestive issues, a tightening heart or a racing chest. Men are more likely to go to the doctor for physical symptoms than they are to go to a therapist or psychiatrist for emotional symptoms—meaning the underlying cause behind these physical symptoms may get missed. 

Men may also be less likely to talk about their feelings than women are, since historically, discussing feelings has been stigmatized and not being “manly.”

However, this couldn’t be further from the truth—opening up and being vulnerable isn’t an easy thing to do, and doing so doesn’t make you less of a man. But, discussing your feelings can help you develop emotional strength and emotional intelligence (the ability to manage and understand your own emotions).


Final Thoughts

Help is available, and you are worth it.

Valera Health offers telemental health care services—including therapy, psychiatry and medication management—from expert providers.

Our diverse team of compassionate mental healthcare specialists are highly trained in serving patients of all genders and in communities such as the LGBTQ+ community; children, adolescents and families; those going through difficult transitions of all kinds; those with Serious Mental Illnesses (SMI) such as bipolar I & II, personality disorders and schizophrenia; and much more. 

To learn more, request a free consultation with one of our health connectors or visit valerahealth.com.