May was mental health awareness month, and you might have read about the importance of caring for your mental well-being.
However, mental health is a year-round concern, and men’s mental health, in particular, is often overlooked.
Why? Our society sends a toxic message to males that your emotions are not OK to talk about. Rather, you will be “stronger” if you suppress them.
There is danger in neglecting our mental health. What happens when we routinely suppress our emotions? Eventually they will manifest in other forms.
Strong correlations have been found between clinical depression and addictive behaviors (drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex and eating), relationship stress, job stress/loss, physical problems and suicide.
Depression can be deadly if left untreated. Statistics indicate that men complete suicide more than women, and the majority of those who died by suicide experienced a depressive episode during the time of the suicide.
Let’s look at clinical depression further. Typical symptoms include:
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities.
- Social withdrawal.
- Changes in sleeping or eating patterns.
- Difficulty concentrating/indecisiveness.
- Prolonged feelings of sadness.
- Thoughts of not wanting to live anymore.
If the emotional components are not discussed openly with a doctor during a physical exam (after years of suppression), the remaining symptoms might misguide to a hormonal imbalance or some other medical condition instead. Thus, clinical depression might be entirely missed without a proper screening and openness between the patient and doctor.
This is why it’s important you feel comfortable discussing these matters with your family doctor. Most family doctors can talk to you about a medication regimen and referral for counseling once depression is identified.
Men might be more resistant to seeking help, because they like to be “fixers,” i.e., making things that are broken work again.
Treatment for depression can be extremely effective, particularly when cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) counseling is supplemented with medication. CBT is a popular approach by therapists that focuses on reasoning and thought, empowering the individual to learn new ways to fix things. No goal is too small in therapy, and the therapist will work with you at your own pace.
In counseling sessions, it might be challenging for male patients to break the habit of avoiding feelings. This process entails vulnerability, trust and willingness to assess and understand emotions better.
However, the brain has an amazing capability to adapt to new patterns of words, thoughts and behaviors, which over time can become easier and empowering with the support of a therapist.
To summarize, find a doctor and/or therapist you are comfortable talking with. If you suspect something is not right or you recognize any of the symptoms listed above (particularly suicidal thoughts), talk to your provider and ask for help.
You are not alone in this. It does not imply weakness. Therapy might help draw out strengths you didn’t realize you had. Be proactive and listen to your emotions! They are there for a reason.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts and need immediate help, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Natalie Gamble, MS, LPC, LAC, CAC1, is a certified addiction counselor and licensed professional counselor. She is a substance use disorder counselor at HopeHealth in Kingstree and participates in the South Carolina Youth Suicide Prevention Initiative. Dan H. Allen, Ph.D., is a staff psychologist at HopeHealth Behavioral Health Services in Florence. He is a member of the American Psychological Association and South Carolina Psychological Association and specializes in individual, marital, and family therapies, and psychological evaluations.