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Answering Top Men’s Mental Health Questions

Last updated: June 18, 2024

Men are from Mars; women are from Venus. Yes, it’s a trope. It also holds a lot of truth.

When it comes to approaching mental health, men’s perceptions, symptoms, and needs often differ from those of women. To help men get the care they need and prevent negative outcomes, it pays to understand those differences.

To get answers to top men’s mental health questions, we checked in with a pair of experts. Jeff Steffen is a Mental Health Therapist with ThedaCare Behavioral Health. Sarah Bassing-Sutton serves as Community Suicide Prevention Coordinator for N.E.W. Mental Health Connection.

N.E.W. Mental Health leads a coalition of diverse stakeholders to champion mental health for people in the the Fox Valley. It aims to address barriers, challenge systems, create solutions, and prioritize care and support.

1. How do men’s mental health symptoms differ from women’s?

Men are less likely than women to say they feel depressed or anxious. Instead, they’re more apt to display other kinds of emotions.  

“A man may be irritable. They may be angry,” Bassing-Sutton says.

“Generally, it’s more socially acceptable for a guy to be irritable and ornery than to say, ‘Hey, I’m overwhelmed by what’s going on,’” Steffen says.

Other common symptoms include:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Physical pains such as headache or stomachache
  • Disinterest in activities the person previously enjoyed
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Indecision
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Diet changes — either lack of appetite or excessive eating

2. What situations or life circumstances increase the odds of mental health issues?

Any kind of life change — positive or negative — can bring about a mental health struggle. Retirement is one example. Men may question their identity when they can no longer define themselves as a breadwinner, Bassing-Sutton says.

Other common hardships include financial struggles, relationship challenges, loss of a loved one, and loneliness and isolation.

3. Are men less likely to seek mental health help?

That’s the longstanding perception, Steffen says. He also stresses that each individual is unique. In his practice, Steffen is seeing some progress on the willingness to seek care, especially among older and younger men.

“On my caseload, I’m starting to see more men in their late 60s and 70s, as well as guys in their 20s,” he says.

In that older age range, Steffen says men may reach a point where they’re tired of feeling miserable and realize they have nothing to lose in trying therapy. For younger men, he’s seeing a positive shift in attitudes about seeking mental health help.

It’s the in the middle age range that Steffen sees continued resistance.

“That stereotype does hold true. Guys in that age range don’t tend to come in,” he says. “There’s a lot of stigma attached.”

When men do seek mental health help, they often prefer a more solutions-oriented approach, Bassing-Sutton says. For that reason, a care model such as an Employee Assistance Program that offers a solutions-focused style and limited number of sessions can work well.

4. What barriers get in the way of men seeking help?

The aforementioned stigma can get in the way. Men may worry about what their peers or co-workers would say.

“They may think, ‘I’m not a strong, self-sufficient man if I need help, especially for something going on in my head,’” Bassing-Sutton says.

Beyond that, sometimes it’s simply hard to prioritize mental health care among life’s many responsibilities. Men may have to balance a full-time job, possible overtime requirements, and family obligations.

“Trying to fit in one more thing can be difficult,” Steffen says.

5. What’s the risk of men failing to get the help they need?

Men die by suicide at a rate four times that of women. Though women are likelier than men to attempt suicide, men tend to choose a more lethal means and die at much higher rates.

Bassing-Sutton says suicide rates in males start to climb around age 25. They peak in middle age, but there’s also a high incidence among older men.

Even at that, “it’s hard to find rhyme or reason or a consistent pattern to suicide,” Bassing-Sutton says.

There are other health risks as well. Unmanaged stress can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity, and diabetes.

“If you’re not dealing with stress, it’s going to get dealt with one way or another,” Steffen says. “Your body will fight back eventually if you don’t figure out coping skills.”

6. How can you help someone you care about?

“On an individual basis, it really is the conversations we have with men and encouraging them to talk about it, whatever it is,” Bassing-Sutton says. “On a larger scale, it’s knowing that boys and men aren’t going to reach out, so we have to reach in.”

Steffen has seen success with a couple of strategies.

“Sometimes what it takes for a guy to come in is for a loved one to say, ‘Hey, you’re really struggling. If you don’t want to do this for yourself, that’s fine. But could you do it for me?’” he says.

Men may be reluctant to get help for themselves, but wanting to do better for a child or partner could motivate them, he says.

Other good conversation starters include:

  • Are you OK?
  • How can I support you?
  • What do you need right now?
  • Hey, I think therapy might really help you. Can I go in with you?

Likewise, Bassing-Sutton advocates for having “courageous conversations.”

“When you see someone who looks like they’re not doing well, make it your responsibility to ask,” she says. “It’s your business as a human being to check on another human being to see if they’re OK.”

And when men do come in for therapy, Steffen says he reassures them he’ll never judge them or think less of them for what they might say.

“It’s the opposite,” he says. “If you’re at a point to disclose something that makes you vulnerable … that takes a lot of courage to come at that.”

Help is within reach.

Explore ThedaCare Behavioral Health treatment options

For mental health emergencies, call 911 or visit the nearest emergency department.

Tags: anxiety depression Men’s mental health stigma substance use suicide

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