‘It’s ok, not to be ok.’ Push to break stigma surrounding men’s mental health
CHICAGO – Men’s Health Month is a national observance during the month of June that aims to raise awareness about all aspects of men’s health care.
While most of the focus is on men’s physical health, a push is underway to get men to start talking about and supporting their mental health.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), men are reluctant to reach out for mental health support or seek treatment due to an anticipated stigma.
WGN News Now spoke to Mike Bushman, a spokesperson for the Illinois chapter of AFSP about what can be done to break the stigma surrounding men’s mental health.
Bushman, who has struggled with depression himself, said work, family, and other stressors impact one’s mental health.
“We often don’t think that our bodies and our minds are inextricably linked. When we’re mentally unwell, it affects our body. When our body’s not doing well, it affects our mental health. And mental health is a risk factor for suicide loss.” He said. “So, at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention we care deeply about saving lives and unfortunately men tend to die by suicide far more often than women do. Not that there aren’t issues that affect everybody, but we don’t often spend time talking about men’s mental health.”
In 2020, men died by suicide nearly four times more than women. The AFSP adds nine in ten of the individuals who died by suicide were living with a diagnosable mental health condition according to the AFSP.
Bushman said men are less likely to share their struggles and have fewer friends and social connections than women as they get older. “We lose some of that community support and we think we should be strong and powerful, and able to handle everything but the question I always ask men, and I ask young adults this too, is do you know when your brain chemistry is off?” said Bushman. “Do you know how to fix it? And the reality is there’s a lot of things that can be done, some of which we can do for ourselves. Almost none of us know that.”
The AFSP has a talk saves lives program that introduces people to self-care techniques and warning signs when someone is struggling.
Bush pointed out that rage and irritability are the predominant warning signs of depression in men compared to sadness and withdrawal in women.
He said professional athletes are also helping to break the stigma of men’s mental health by talking openly about it. “DeMar DeRozan (Chicago Bulls) for example, has talked openly about his work with mental health. Daniel Carcillo, a former Chicago Blackhawk, there are law enforcement officers, fire professionals, people from all of the toughest and hardest walks of life.” said Bushman. “And it doesn’t have to be a tough walk of life. Life is tough on its own, and it can affect all of us.”
Bushman added there’s a culture in a lot of countries, including the U.S., where men are encouraged not to show their emotions, when in reality they need emotional support.
He recommended men see a psychologist, read a book on the subject, or check out a men’s mental health or self-care podcast if they are they feel themselves struggling.
Bushman also advised men to be mindful of their brain chemistry and be sure to eat a balanced diet, sleep well, exercise, and to be aware of their thought patterns.
He said men should learn impulse controls such as deep breathing techniques, meditation, yoga or even hiking.
Men also need to learn that transitional moments like a job change, job loss, financial insecurity, relationship insecurity or divorce can impact their mental health said Bushman. “Men need to realize that those things aren’t necessarily the things you need to handle on your own and there are people who know what techniques are more likely to work for you than you just guessing your way through it.”
Bushman added it’s important for men need to know it’s okay to not be okay sometimes.
There are several resources readily available to help men build and nurture their mental health.
If men are uncomfortable talking to someone they know, Bushman suggested calling the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. He said you don’t have to be in crisis to call the line and can call if you feel you’re struggling.
If you’d rather not talk at all, there’s a text line that you simply text TALK to 741741; plus Bushman recommeds The Trevor Project as a great resource for men in the LGBTQ community.
You can hear more of Bushman’s advice in the video above.
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