Men and Mental Illness - Men's Health Month*
Mental illness is a difficult challenge for anyone to face. It can affect men and women of any age. However, mental illness can cause different symptoms in men than in women, so some disorders in men may be harder to recognize. Men who are depressed, for example, may seem angry and grouchy rather than sad and withdrawn. It also may be harder for men with depression to get help. Some may see it as a sign of weakness rather than a treatable illness.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder. Common in men, particularly those who have served in combat, it is caused by witnessing a violent or life-threatening event, such as war. Those with PTSD often relive the traumatic event. They are distrustful, always on guard, may have terrifying nightmares, and feel emotionally numb and detached. They may also have panic attacks, job and relationship problems, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Women may feel on edge or anxious as a result of PTSD. But men may get angry and aggressive. They may start abusing drugs or alcohol as a way to cope.
Depression affects many men, and both men and women may feel many of the same symptoms of depression, such as:
- A continually sad or grouchy mood
- Trouble focusing
- A major change in appetite and energy
- Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or worthlessness
- Lack of interest in life
- Suicidal thoughts
But men and women often show different signs of the condition. Men who are depressed may not cry or talk about their feelings. They may not even hint that they're thinking about suicide. Men with depression may try harder to hide their symptoms. As a result, they may get angry and aggressive. They may also be more likely to seek relief through alcohol or drugs.
Eating and body image disorders
Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorders are serious, possibly life-threatening disorders. They are marked by abnormal attitudes toward food and weight. Men with an eating disorder may watch calories obsessively, or they may work out at the gym to excess. Men with body image issues may also become obsessed with their muscles, skin, genitals, nose, or hair.
This mental illness causes swings between depression and mania, a state of extreme euphoria and high energy. This disorder used to be called manic-depression. Other symptoms include:
- Racing thoughts
- Being easily distracted
- Talking too fast or too much
- Not sleeping for days at a time
- Making grandiose plans
- Taking part in high-risk activities, such as multiple shopping sprees
Like women who have the disorder, men may have ongoing problems with work, sex, and relationships. Without treatment, many turn to substance abuse, act out aggressively and in anger, or think about suicide.
Coping with mental health issues
If you are suffering from one or more of these illnesses, treatment will let you lead a full, productive life. These mental illnesses may be difficult and painful, but they are all very treatable. Treatment may include counseling, medicine, or both. You may possibly also be treated with complementary therapies, such as biofeedback.
It's important to know that you have nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. These conditions are illnesses, not weaknesses. The same goes for any addictions you might have.
Many men have had trouble communicating what they're feeling and figuring out how to talk about it.
Here are some important first steps:
- Get medical care. Your healthcare provider is used to dealing with these issues. He or she can help you get the treatment you need. In some cases, you may be able to resolve your problems with therapy rather than medicine.
- Find healthier ways of sharing your feelings. It can be tempting to yell or act out or turn to drugs or alcohol when you are feeling unhappy. But instead of lashing out in anger, try something different. Breathe deeply, count to 10, and give yourself some time to calm down.
- Manage your stress. Stress at work and at home can worsen the symptoms of many mental illnesses. Don't feel guilty about taking time for yourself to do things you enjoy. You may also want to see if deep breathing, meditation, or stretching helps you relax.
- Get regular exercise. Research suggests that daily exercise can help relieve the symptoms of depression. People who exercise regularly in their free time are less likely to have this mood disorder.
- Take care of yourself. You deserve it. Exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and eat healthy meals with lots of fruits and vegetables. Stay away from drugs and alcohol. Being gentle with yourself can put you in a better frame of mind to deal with your mood disorder.
- Tell someone right away if you have thoughts of harming yourself. Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room. Ask a friend or family member to stay with you. Don't stay alone. You can also call the toll-free 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255); TTY: 800-799-4TTY (4889) and talk to a trained counselor.
Remember, don't be afraid to talk with your healthcare provider. You can tell them about constant anxiety, grouchiness, depression, or any other abnormal moods or symptoms you are having. Getting treatment and learning some coping methods can help bring these disorders under control.
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