November has been enthusiastically embraced by men and women as ‘Movember’ – the moustache month. But what does the moustache mean? It is the symbol of support and awareness for men’s health, including: prostate cancer, testicular cancer, colorectal cancer, and mental health.
Traditionally, the motto that men follow when it comes to their health challenges is to ‘walk it off’ or ‘tough it out’, but men’s health data shows that we need to change this motto to ‘talk about it’. This is especially true when it comes to men’s mental health.
Dr. Peter Voros, Psychologist and Director of Adult and Forensic Mental Health at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (TBRHSC), supports this shift from silence to open conversation when it comes to men’s mental health. “Literature and popular media are labeling men’s health as a ‘silent crisis’. This is the idea that the mental health difficulties men experience often go undetected and untreated.”
It is estimated that 20 percent of Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime and one of the more common mental health issues that affects both men and women is depression. It is not uncommon for people to feel sad, but Major Depression is a serious illness. When a person’s low mood causes trouble with daily life and they lose interest in most things in their life, the consequences can be devastating.
“What’s important to me is remembering that although depression affects half the number of men as it does women, men are three times more likely to commit suicide. This speaks to the need to educate people about men’s mental health. We need to change the stigma related to men talking about their emotional difficulties,” says Voros.
One of the biggest problems with men’s mental health is that issues can be silenced by the different ways in which depression may manifest itself in men in comparison to women. Voros explains that the biggest difference is in how most men deal with depression. “With men, depression symptoms, like feeling sad, are often masked by physical and behavioural symptoms such as aggression or substance use. This can make it difficult for family and friends to recognize that the man is depressed. It also makes it hard for a man to see the depression within himself.”
With an estimated 11 percent of Canadian men experiencing a major depressive episode in his lifetime, it’s time to open up and start a dialogue about men’s mental health.
Know the risk factors for depression
“There aren’t simple risk factors for depression. Depression is caused by a complex combination of biologic factors (your genetics), environmental factors (stress and loss) and what you have learned about how to cope,” explains Voros. More risk factors include: a previous episode of depression, drug/alcohol use, serious medical illness, isolation or loneliness, unemployment, poverty, homelessness, stress, lack of physical activity, family history of depression, and conflict.
Voros emphasizes the importance of the interplay between genetics and one’s environment. “From the long list of risk factors you can tell that many of them are common experiences among all of us. This shows the importance of the complex combination of your biology, things going on in your life, and how you have learned to cope. It is this combination that sets one’s risk for becoming depressed.”
Symptoms of depression in men
Some symptoms of depression in men include:
Take action. Get professional help.
When it comes to starting the conversation with men about potential mental health difficulties, Voros recommends looking for the symptoms first. “We have to encourage men, and the people around them, to have conversations about what they’re experiencing and recognize that it could be related to depression. If you see changes, like he is withdrawn and not enjoying things he normally enjoys, it could be a sign of depression. Generally speaking, the more symptoms of depression that he shows, the more likely that he is experiencing depression. If symptoms persist for a number of weeks you should encourage him to talk to his healthcare provider – doctor or nurse practitioner. They can help to figure out what kind of help is best for him. That being said, if someone is suicidal or having serious thoughts of suicide, don’t wait, you should seek help immediately.”
When it comes to starting the conversation, Voros says not to ask ‘Are you depressed?’ because a typical guy will just respond with ‘I’m fine’. Rather, you should start a conversation that lets them know you care and also helps them notice the symptoms they are experiencing. For example: ‘I’ve noticed that you aren’t sleeping or going golfing anymore. How are you doing?’
Let’s end the silence about men’s mental health and start the conversation. Men may feel awkward talking about their feelings and emotions, but it’s just as important as a woman talking about hers. When asked what advice he has for men to help promote awareness about their mental health, Voros said, “Talk to someone. There is help. It’s ok to have mental health difficulties. In fact, it’s pretty common. It’s not ‘unmanly’ to admit to needing help, talk about it!”