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Whayne Herriford: Men and mental health — if you need help or know someone who does, reach out

I recently did a Podcast about men and mental health and found some interesting data in my research, courtesy of Mental Health of America:

• In the US, over 6 million men suffer from depression annually.
• 3 million men have a panic disorder, agoraphobia or another phobia.
• 1.5 million men are affected by bipolar disorder with an age of onset between 16 and 25 years of age.
• Men account for 10% of all people with anorexia and 35% of people with binge eating disorders.
• More than four times as many men than women die from suicide. The rates are particularly high for gay and bisexual men, Native American men and veterans because of other social and environmental pressures they face.
• One in five men will develop alcohol dependency in their lifetime. Male veterans experience nearly twice the rate of alcohol and drug use as female veterans. Thirty percent of men with anxiety use alcohol to cope with the symptoms.
• It is estimated that only 35% of men with mental health needs to seek treatment.

Men have a tendency to not seek help for depression, substance abuse and stress due to social norms that suggest it’s a weakness to do so. (In fact, some research suggests that men use substances to treat symptoms of depression, resulting in an increased incidence of substance abuse among men.) Additionally, because of a general reluctance to talk about personal things with others and a tendency to downplay symptoms, they tend to be underdiagnosed. Lower levels of testosterone are associated with depression, stress and mood swings – especially among older men. There is also a genetic predisposition to depression, that is men with a family history of depression are more likely to have it themselves.

Whayne Herriford

One of the strongest predictors of success in a counseling relationship is the comfort the client has with the provider. To the degree men seek other men to provide them with mental health support, there are 2.1 female providers for every male (according to the Center for Workforce Studies, 2013) and Kentucky ranks towards the bottom within the US for the number of mental health providers in general (less than 1000 in the entire state). So, finding a male therapist/counselor to work with can be difficult. (Clarification: I’m not suggesting that women can’t provide therapy to men, but that in many cases men are more comfortable talking with another man.) For men of color or gay/bisexual/transgender men, it’s even more difficult to find a therapist who is of color or non-heterosexual.

Symptoms that men present when they are struggling with mental health issues can include anger, irritability, or aggressiveness; noticeable changes in mood, energy level or appetite; difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much; increased worry or stress; misuse of alcohol and drugs; sadness or hopelessness; feeling flat or having trouble enjoying themselves; headaches and digestive problems; obsessive thinking or compulsive behaviors and unusual thoughts or behaviors. (National Institute of Mental Health, 2019)

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms mentioned above and it is affecting their ability to maintain relationships, carry out responsibilities related to work or family, or they appear to be unable to cope with things around them they may be in need of some support from a professional. Even when men are unwilling to see therapeutic support, encouraging them to see a medical doctor about to talk about physical symptoms of depression can be an important first step. Additionally, some of the other suggestions to support men who might be experiencing a mental health disorder include:

• Being patient, understanding and supportive when they are expressing any feelings related to their mental health
• Don’t ignore any comments they make about self-harm or suicide. Contact their medical provider if there are serious concerns about these types of issues.
• Encourage physical activity (which is a good natural way to address depression) by inviting him to participate in hiking, games or other events
• Encourage them to talk about their medications with their health care provider if he feels like they are not working or that the side effects are creating difficulties

Insurance providers’ websites or Psychologytoday.com are also great resources to assist in the identification of providers in your area who can help with mental health-related concerns.

Whayne Herriford, MS, LPCC is a licensed professional clinical counselor in the state of Kentucky and practices in both NKY and Cincinnati. He lives in Bellevue. This column is intended to provide general information to people about mental health-related issues and is not for diagnostic or treatment purposes. You should always consult with a mental health professional when you have concerns about thoughts or feelings. If you have any specific questions you would like him to address in a future article you can contact him at whayneherriford@gmail.com.

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