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It’s Time We Talked About Men’s Mental Health

The lack of conversation about men’s mental health leaves less opportunity to seek genuine support systems for those who need it.
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While the Philippines has recently been more open to conversations about mental health in general, hardly any attention has been paid to men’s mental health, in particular. In 2016, reported cases of suicide in the Philippines were at 2,413. Of that number, more than 2,000 cases were male. The heavily lopsided statistic shines much needed light on the importance of talking about men’s mental health, and why we should open up about it now.

What is Mental Health?

Mental health is the state of a person’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being that affects how a person thinks, feels, and acts. A mental health concern only becomes a mental illness if its ongoing symptoms cause stress and affect a person’s ability to function.

Mental illness is not only about depression, suicide, or anxiety. The Mayo Clinic defines mental illness as a range of mental health conditions that affect a person’s mood, thinking, and behavior. These include anxiety disorders, addictive behaviors, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and depression, among others.

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Mental illnesses are caused by both genetic and environmental factors, but the risk of developing such also depends on a range of factors. These factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Alcoholism
  • Drug addiction
  • Having a blood relative with a mental illness
  • Having few friends or few healthy relationships
  • Having ongoing chronic medical conditions such as diabetes
  • Stressful life situations such as financial problems and relationship problems
  • Traumatic experiences such as being kidnapped, being assaulted, or taking part in military combat

Men Who Open Up About Mental Health Are Sometimes Mistakenly Viewed as "Not Manly"

The stigma around mental health is a lingering demon that may prevent people from seeking help. Some people don’t even believe some mental illnesses exist, claiming these are just made up by attention seekers who allegedly suffer from them.

Apart from the social stigma cast around depression and other forms of mental illnesses, the social mores of what a man should be may be aggravating the stigma. A man talking about his mental health may be beyond the concept of what society traditionally sees as “manly.” It could be perceived as being too dramatic, emotional, or feminine, which leads to the lack of more open conversation about men’s mental health. And because of the lack of conversation about men’s mental health, there is less opportunity to seek genuine support systems for those who need it.

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Many times, people mistake mental health issues for laziness, sadness, or simply exhaustion. People’s conception of things will always be based on their own experiences, which is why it is difficult to paint a picture of mental illnesses to those who haven't experience it.

Protective Factors in Men’s Mental Health

When it comes to men’s mental health, the same protective factors that work for women also work well for men. These are strong, genuine relationships and a healthy lifestyle.

Genuine relationships are those you have with people who are part of your support group when you are depressed. They could be your partner, your family, your best friends. These are people whom you can open up to, and their job is to listen well. This support group does not need give unsolicited advice about how to solve mental health issues; a listening ear is often enough.

A healthy lifestyle also alleviates some effects of mental illnesses. Studies show that poor physical health can lead to mental health problems. Lifestyle factors that can negatively influence mental health include poor diet or nutrition, smoking, and lack of exercise. Research shows that exercise helps the body release more happy hormones or endorphins. On the other hand, the nicotine in tobacco inhibits the brain’s ability to produce dopamine, a chemical released in the body associated with positive feelings.

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Social Disconnection Increases the Risk of Men’s Mental Health Issues

People who are most at risk of developing mental health issues are those who have the tendency to disconnect from society or shun social interactions. In an interview with Rappler, Dr. Constantine Chua of the Philippine General Hospital Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine described the situation as worsening the longer it happens.

“If that happens for a long time then the mental health tends to be not so good, leading to different kinds of mental health conditions, which, of course, would predispose to suicide,” said Chua.

How to Address Men’s Mental Health

There is no panacea to curing mental illness, but there are effective ways we can address it. If you think you are suffering from mental illness, the following steps will help you minimize the stress, boost your self-esteem, and keep the symptoms under control.

1| Heed the warning signs.

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There will always be warning signs and you have to pay attention to them. Some of the warning signs of mental illness include the following: 

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  • Sleep or appetite changes - You experience significant change in sleep and appetite.
  • Decline in personal care - You experience a decline in hygiene.
  • Apathy - You have no desire to participate in any activity; you lose your initiative at work.
  • Drop in ability to function - Whether at school or at work, you find that your performance is dropping. 
  • Withdrawal - You experience recent withdrawal from people or activities. You quit memberships in sports, teams, clubs, or other social circles you once enjoyed.
  • Mood changes - You experience significant and rapid shifts in mood, especially depressed feelings.
  • Sense of disconnection - You feel a sense of disconnection of yourself from your environment.
  • Nervousness - You have a constant feeling of nervousness or anxiety that you cannot understand; you become suspicious of other people.
  • Loss of focus - You find it difficult to concentrate. You also find memory and logic problems unusually difficult to handle.

2| Take good care of your body.

Get ample sleep, eat a healthy diet, and exercise regularly. These things can improve your physical health and mental health.

3| Seek medical care.

In the Philippines, friends may advise you to just “pray for clarity” or “go to church more often,” which is well-meaning but often inaccurate advice that may exacerbate real mental problems.

Do not be embarrassed or do not hesitate to approach a medical professional. They are very discreet and can provide the correct care and medication that you need. 

Talk to a professional, especially if you know you are not feeling okay. You can talk to a psychologist (who may conduct psychological testing, and focus on psychotherapy and the treatment of emotional suffering) who can also refer you to a psychiatrist (a trained medical doctor who can prescribe medication; he or she usually focuses on medication management as a form of treatment). Psychologists and psychiatrists often work closely together. 

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Mental illness is a serious medical issue that may demand a professional solution especially if your body is exeriencing a chemical imbalance that affects your mental health. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of mental illness, it is advisable to seek medical help. If your doctor prescribes maintenance medication, always take it regularly even if you think you are already feeling better. 

4| Promote mental health awareness.

One of the reasons why men are vulnerable to depression and suicide is because very few people are talking about it, leaving those who are suffering in the dark about who to talk to. No one can listen if no one is aware of certain situations, which is why it is very important to raise awareness.

5| Treat people with mental health issues normally.

If you know someone who is suffering from mental health issues, do not tread on eggshells and treat them any differently. You should genuinely be there for them by asking them how are they, really. Lend an ear and listen intently. These people could be hidden behind strong personalities like the joker in the office, the life of the party, or the bubbly person in the next cubicle. They are not helpless, but when they tell you what they are feeling and you lend an ear, the most important thing is to let them feel that they are not alone.

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6| Take mental health breaks every so often. 

Don't hesitate to use your leaves to care for your mental health. Take a vacation day just to relax and stay home or enjoy the city. Vacation days don’t always have to be used for travel, which most of the time can be very stressful with no time to relax at all.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
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