inFOCUS: The state of men’s mental health, why fewer men seek medical attention than women

inFOCUS

WASHINGTON (WDVM) — Studies from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found the prevalence of mental illnesses in men is often lower than women, and men are also less likely to receive treatment for a mental health condition.

For many men, seeking treatment for mental health conditions could be seen as a sign of weakness due to gender stereotypes and stigmas. WDVM spoke to Dr. John Palmieri, senior medical advisor, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to learn more.

“We know that in general, there are challenges with people with behavioral health conditions needing access to care…But then I think there are also other challenges that are more specific to men which have to do more with some of the stigma and shaming issues, reluctance to admit they might be experiencing a mental health concern, embarrassment,” said Palmieri.

This feeling of weakness leads many men to self-treat or self-soothe, sometimes turning to alternative options which could worsen how they’re feeling, explained Kathy Harkey, executive director, National Alliance on Mental Illness of Virginia (NAMI).

“Men have also been known, and they do, turn to other coping mechanisms if they have a mental illness. They might turn to alcohol or drugs. I mean it’s easier to say ‘I’m an alcoholic’ than it is to say “I have a mental illness,” said Harkey.

Eventually, if men don’t talk to someone or seek treatment on their own, they reach a breaking point, referred to as “stage four”, by Mental Health America (MHA).

“In that final stage, you might be getting treatment in jail or in a hospital. We want to treat folks far far far before they get to that point,” stated Jillian Hughes, MHA communications director.

Men might face other consequences if they don’t act early, such as “significant disability, loss of income, loss of employment, challenges in relationships, substance use,” explained Palmieri.

Every year, far more men than women commit suicide, and the cause directly correlates to mental illness.

“90% of all individuals who die by suicide have a treatable mental illness and the highest rate of suicide is in middle-aged white men,” stated Harkey.

Doctors emphasize all forms of help are available to men, that aren’t just medication or therapy.

“Oftentimes people are reluctant to seek treatment because that they’re going to be rushed into having to take medication or some other treatment that maybe they’re not completely sold on or maybe they don’t feel like it’s necessary. And really the point of accessing care is really to just engage in a conversation that’s very centered with your provider about what’s going on, what the options are, and what could be most helpful,” said Palmieri.

Men are also found to be more comfortable speaking to others in a peer or group setting.

“We’ve also seen in research that men are more likely to accept help when there is a chance for reciprocity, meaning that they can accept help from someone when they feel like they are also giving help to someone else,” stated Hughes.

For men struggling with mental health conditions, there are always resources and people to help.

Below are resources from nationally recognized organizations:

The 2021 State of Mental Health in America can be accessed here.

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