“Why Don’t you Just Man Up?”: Men’s Mental Health

“Growing up, you figure out really quickly how a boy is supposed to act. You learn what it takes to “be a man.” It’s like a playbook: Be strong. Don’t talk about your feelings. Get through it on your own. … These values about men and toughness are so ordinary that they’re everywhere … and invisible at the same time, surrounding us like air or water.”

NBA player Kevin Love’s words from an essay on his struggles with anxiety attacks and mental health resonate with many. From athletes and actors to members of Britain’s Royal Family, men’s mental health is emerging into the global conversation. Professional athletic organizations such as the NFL have also recognized that the mental health of players is just as important as physical health. Despite these efforts, men continue to struggle with their mental health. Compared to women, men seek out treatment for conditions such as depression and anxiety at lower rates, with men committing suicide at four times the rate of women.

What stops men from getting treatment?

Pressure: Men are under pressure to appear strong and stoic, no matter how badly they’re hurting. The fear of being perceived as “weak” or “damaged” keeps many from letting loved ones know that they need help. Unwilling to disclose their emotional turmoil or denying that their main problem is psychological, some men will instead identify and seek treatment for the physical, less stigmatized symptoms that can accompany depression such as otherwise-unexplained back pain or headaches. Unfortunately treating only these physical symptoms keeps underlying depression from being diagnosed and treated.

Different symptoms: Depression can present differently in men than it does in women. The hallmark symptoms of depression can include:

  • Fatigue or decreased energy
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Insomnia
  • Changes in weight from decreased or increased appetite
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Loss of interest in activities

While men can (and do) experience these, they can also experience symptoms that are more difficult to recognize and diagnose as depression. These include:

  • increased irritability
  • working too much
  • increased substance abuse through drugs or alcohol
  • risk taking

Because these symptoms are culturally associated with "normal" masculine traits and can be seen as positive, men who are struggling in silence are often overlooked or even praised for their "work hard, play hard" mentality.

Stigma: Although the stigma surrounding mental illness affects everyone, mental health is often seen as a “women’s issue” and is more often depicted in popular media as something that women have trouble with. This popular perception unfortunately feeds back into the pressure to avoid being seen as weak, and to “man up” rather than discuss problems. In minority populations with increased risk factors for mental illness, this stigma can be even greater and compounds the difficulty in accessing treatment.

As with any mental illness, it’s important to check in with yourself and with those around you, especially if you know that someone has undergone recent life changes or has struggled with mental health in the past. There are risk factors that can increase a person’s likelihood to develop depression which make it even more important to be on the lookout for signs that someone may need help. 

If you're having difficulty with your mental health or know someone that might be, reach out and seek treatment from a medical professional. 

Please be advised that the information presented here is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. All readers are encouraged to discuss any issues or concerns they may have with their behavioral health providers. If the situation is potentially life-threatening, call 911 to get immediate assistance.