Mental health conditions don’t discriminate. People of all genders can experience depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. But they may look different in men.
Gender stereotypes and stigma can also make it harder for both men and their healthcare professionals to recognize when they might need mental health support.
Here’s the lowdown on all things related to men’s mental health, from identifying symptoms to finding the right kind of therapy.
Men can experience a wide range of mental health conditions, but some common ones include:
- generalized anxiety disorder
- social anxiety disorder
- obsessive-compulsive disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- bipolar disorder
Are men less likely to experience mental health conditions?
There’s a common assumption that women are more likely to have mental health conditions than men, especially when it comes to depression. But that doesn’t mean men aren’t affected.
In fact, in 2019, men in the United States died by suicide at a rate
Experts are increasingly acknowledging the complex factors at play when it comes to differences in how men and women experience mental health issues.
While biological factors, like hormone differences, can certainly play a role, they don’t tell the whole story. Internalized gender stereotypes, coping strategies, and clinical bias, among other things,
Men and women can sometimes experience the same mental health condition in different ways due to a mix of biological and social factors.
Mental health symptoms in men might include:
- anger and aggressiveness
- substance misuse
- trouble concentrating
- persistent feelings of worry
- engagement in high-risk activities
- unusual behavior that concerns others or gets in the way of daily life
- thoughts of suicide
Some mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression, can also have physical symptoms that people might ignore.
- changes in appetite and energy
- new aches and pains
- digestive issues
- trouble sleeping
- sleeping more than usual
Often, friends and family may be the first ones to notice the symptoms, as it can be difficult to recognize them when you’re experiencing them.
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This doesn’t mean men don’t need or benefit from treatment.
Rather, “men can find it more difficult being open about their mental health and seeking support because it’s likely to go against the kinds of messages they received growing up,” explains Dr. Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic.
She goes on to note that many cultures have strong cultural stereotypes around how men should behave, especially around managing their emotions and appearing “strong.”
Plus, men who don’t (or feel that they can’t) speak openly about their feelings might have a harder time recognizing the symptoms of mental health conditions in themselves.
If you’re thinking about reaching out for help but aren’t sure where to start, you have a few options.
Talk with your doctor
If you already regularly see a healthcare professional, they can be a good starting point. Depending on their background, they’ll likely refer you to someone who specializes in mental health, like a psychiatrist or psychologist.
You can also search through directories online.
For example, the American Psychological Association offers a psychologist locator tool that allows you to search for therapists in your area. Directories are especially helpful if you’re looking for a particular type of therapy or prefer a male therapist, because the tools allow you to filter your search.
HeadsUpGuys also offers a therapist finder that includes professionals who specialize in working with men.
A few other databases to consider:
- American Psychiatric Association
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- Medicare.gov’s healthcare provider tool (to find local professionals who accept Medicare)
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
Make some calls (or send some emails)
Before scheduling an appointment, reach out to therapists you’re interested in seeing.
Give them some basic background on what you’d like to address, as well as anything you’re looking for in a therapist. Do you want someone who’s available for night or weekend appointments? What about text support in between sessions? Are you interested in trying teletherapy, or would you prefer in-person sessions?
If you have health insurance, this is a good time to ask about that, too. Therapy isn’t always covered, but some therapists will provide documentation you can submit to your insurance provider for reimbursement.
During the appointment
Your therapist will likely spend the first session or two getting to know you. This is also an opportunity for you to get to know their approach, so don’t hesitate to ask any questions around what you can expect from future sessions.
It’s important you feel comfortable talking with the expert you choose. If you feel like you aren’t “clicking” with your therapist after a few sessions, you can always explore other options. Plenty of people have to see a few therapists before they find someone who’s a good fit.
Depending on your symptoms, your therapist might refer you to a psychiatrist to explore medication, including antidepressants.
Keep in mind that medication isn’t necessarily something you’ll need to take for the rest of your life. Sometimes, it just provides a temporary lift to help you start working through the underlying causes of your symptoms. A psychiatrist can also help you navigate any side effects you might experience.
Everyone can benefit from self-care, including men. While working with a mental health professional can be a big help, there are plenty of things you can do to support yourself between sessions.
Touroni highlights diet, sleep, and exercise as factors, but explains that “we also need to make sure we’re looking after our emotional well-being.”
And sometimes, that means being “able to acknowledge and stay with feelings — especially the uncomfortable ones — instead of pushing them away or denying them.”
Sitting with uncomfortable feelings is easier said than done, and that can make it easy to fall into unhelpful coping mechanisms, like substance use or ignoring emotions.
While both of these might offer some short-term benefits, they won’t offer long-lasting relief. In some cases, they might even create long-term issues.
The next time you find yourself experiencing an uncomfortable feeling or emotion, try:
- doing a quick body scan meditation
- writing out what you’re feeling
- practicing some simple breathing techniques
As you navigate different ways of managing your emotions, be gentle with yourself. If you don’t reach for the “perfect” coping mechanisms on a bad day, for example, don’t beat yourself up. There will always be another opportunity to practice new strategies.
Talking about what you’re going through with a friend can also be a big help, but that may be difficult if your friends are also men who might have a hard time opening up. But starting that conversation might end up being beneficial for both of you.
Mark Meier, the executive director of the Face It Foundation, says it’s important for men to “learn to understand the nuances of emotion” and recognize that negative emotions are “normal and recurring emotions throughout life.”
He recommends “finding someone that you can speak openly with about your personal challenges and open yourself up to growing more in-depth relationships with others.”
Your therapist can certainly be that person, but you might also find it helpful to open up to a peer.
You can try starting the conversation with something like, “I’ve been going through a lot. Do you have time to catch up later this week?”
If you feel up for it, you can also make yourself available to a friend in need with a simple, “I noticed you’ve seemed kind of down lately. Just want you to know I’m always available to talk if you need it.”
Mental health can be hard to think about. And identifying that you’re finding it difficult or that you might need help isn’t always easy — particularly for men.
However, it’s best to speak out. Whether you open up to a friend or family member or consult your doctor, there’s help out there, and ways to help manage your mental health yourself, too.
Adam England is a freelance writer and journalist. His work has appeared in publications including The Guardian, Euronews, and VICE UK. He focuses on health, culture, and lifestyle. When he’s not writing, he’s probably listening to music.