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More than 76% of all suicide deaths in the U.S. today are male. And of them, 84% did not have a diagnosed mental health condition.
Yet this does not mean that men aren’t living with mental health issues. In fact, each year:
So why are so many men suffering in silence?
“Stigma plays a role in many individuals not seeking treatment even if they realize that they are struggling with mental illness,” explains Dr. Rachel Leonard, clinical supervisor at Rogers Behavioral Health.
“This can especially impact men, who may hold beliefs about masculinity and gender roles that indicate that they should not express vulnerability or show certain emotions. They may view their struggles as a sign of weakness instead of a common, yet serious issue that can be successfully treated.”
As Aaron, a former patient at Rogers, explains, “Being a male who has dealt with an eating disorder, I was hesitant to disclose details of my struggles because of the widespread stigma and perceived femininity of the disease. Opening up about my personal battles was certainly not an easy task. I felt doing so would risk others viewing me in a different, unfavorable light.”
“Research demonstrates that peoples’ attitudes improve when they have direct contact with others with mental illness,” says Dr. Leonard. “Increasing dialogue about our own experiences with mental illness or mental health treatment can be helpful to normalize these experiences.”
She adds that men are often less likely than women to discuss their struggles with mental illness or their experiences seeking treatment with friends, family members, and coworkers, which can contribute to mental illness being viewed as more uncommon than it actually is.
Changing future conversations by changing perception
A tide seems to be changing as more and more men in the public spotlight are coming forward with their own experiences with mental health.
A tide that may be redefining what it means to be a healthy, strong, powerful man.
Whereas it may have once been inconceivable to imagine John Wayne or Steve McQueen address their mental health, today’s headlines include men from nearly every walk of life including The Rock, Larry Sanders, Prince Harry, Ryan Reynolds, and Kanye West.
“I’m very encouraged to see increasing awareness of mental illness among men and more open dialogue about this, especially among individuals who may be viewed as masculine role models,” says Dr. Leonard.
“I especially appreciate the conversations men are having regarding their own experiences in treatment, and I’m hopeful they inspire others to seek help and to talk more openly about their feelings and struggles.”
As Aaron attests to, “Addressing my issues openly has been a positive thing for me, and the reaction I received was overwhelmingly encouraging. Now I believe that opening up about struggles is more an act of courage, rather than weakness.”
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