1. When we talk about mental health we tend to focus more on women.
When I first decided to write this post to coincide with Movember, I began googling statistics on men and mental illness. Here's what I found: not a lot and certainly not enough. And that is a problem. While women still experience mental illnesses at higher rates then men, the gap between the sexes is smaller than one might guess.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, the StatsCan Canadian Community Health Survey on mental health and well-being "found that 10% of men experienced symptoms of the surveyed mental health disorders and substance dependencies, compared to 11% of women."
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that one in four people will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Illnesses associated with mental health challenges are now the number one category of disability worldwide. And in Canada, by the age of 40 almost 50% of us will have experienced a mental illness.
2. Men often don't recognize when they have depression.
Many of us - men and women - associate sadness with depression. Men will often display symptoms that differ from women such as anger, hostility and aggression. And many still don't understand that mental illnesses also manifest themselves physically. Classic physical symptoms of a mood disorder are back pain, migraines and digestive issues. Because we don't associate these things with depression, men often go undiagnosed. And that is dangerous.
In the words of broadcaster and mental health advocate Michael Landsberg, "Sick not Weak." Mental illness are real illnesses and they cut across culture, socioeconomic status and gender. To have an illness - any illness - is not a moral failure. We have to keep telling ourselves this. And we have to begin believing it. Lives depend on it.
If you think that you may have a mental illness, please ask for help. Visit your doctor, go to a clinic, tell a loved one. One thing that I have learned from sharing my own experiences with mental illness is this: it is extremely rare that the person you tell has not had some experience with depression or anxiety - if not them then it's a friend, colleague or family member.
What if you think a friend or loved one is struggling? Start a conversation. It's as simple as saying this, "You aren't quite yourself lately. Is there anything that you want to talk about? I care about you." And if you think that someone is considering suicide, ask them. I promise that your question is an important one and could save a life. Don't be scared to ask.
Here are some resources to get help and to learn more about mental illness:
Suicide Prevention Canada
Heads Up Guys
Mental Health Commission of Canada
In the words of former American President Bill Clinton, "Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all."
The strongest people in the world are the ones who recognize when they need help and ask for it. It's time that we redefine the word strength.
P.S. Here are a list of common symptoms of depression. Please note that not everyone experiences all of these - human beings are all unique and symptoms will differ among us. If you think you may have a mental illness, please visit a health care professional for a professional diagnosis.
- Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness
- Feeling anxious, restless, or “on the edge”
- Loss of interest in work, family, or once-pleasurable activities
- Problems with sexual desire and performance
- Feeling sad, "empty," flat, or hopeless
- Not being able to concentrate or remember details
- Feeling very tired, not being able to sleep, or sleeping too much
- Overeating or not wanting to eat at all
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
- Physical aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
- Inability to meet the responsibilities of work, caring for family, or other important activities
- Engaging in high-risk activities
- A need for alcohol or drugs
- Withdrawing from family and friends or becoming isolated