Men's Emotional Health
Men are often much better at looking after their physical well-being than their emotional well-being.
That matters, because emotional health is important for its own sake and is also closely linked to your physical health.
Some people think that being emotionally healthy simply means feeling positive. But:
- It just isn't possible to feel good all the time, because feelings such as anxiety, sadness and anger are all very natural and healthy responses to often unavoidable life-events
- If you try to force yourself to feel good, the negative feelings tend to go "underground" and then re-surface when you least expect them to.
- If you believe you should be feeling happy all the time, then when those "negative" feelings do re-surface, you may start to feel bad about feeling bad, feel worse about that, and spiral down into a cycle of self-blame and depression.
Emotional health, then, is not about feeling good all the time. Rather, it's about respecting your emotions — all of them — and accepting that they're all part of a healthy and colourful existence.
Many men find this difficult, largely because they've been brought up to believe that they should control their feelings — particularly feelings like sadness, fear and vulnerability — and be tough and unemotional at all times. Because feelings won't go away, however, men can end up experiencing a wide range of emotional problems, including those listed above.
By contrast, if men can develop a more amiable relationship with their emotions, then they're likely to feel:
- a greater sense of self-acceptance and self-worth
- calmer and less concerned about how they'll respond in different situations
- more satisfied with their life and relationships
- more in control of their behaviour
- more alive and invigorated — more able to live life to the full
- healthier — studies have shown that men who are willing to express their feelings have stronger immune systems and are less susceptible to disease.
Men and anxiety
Anxiety is a very common health condition. For men, anxiety is even more common than depression – 1 in 5 men will experience anxiety at some point. Like depression, anxiety can be a serious condition, but you don't need to let it control you.
How is anxiety different to just feeling stressed or worried?
Anxious feelings are a normal reaction to a high-pressure situation – for example, meeting work deadlines, sitting exams or speaking in public. However, for some men these anxious feelings happen for no apparent reason or continue long after the stressful event has passed. These anxious feelings can seem uncontrollable and can interfere with a person's ability to cope with daily life.
There are some general signs and symptoms of anxiety. Depending on the symptoms you're having, you may be experiencing one of a number of types of anxiety.
Like depression, it's not easy to say exactly what causes anxiety because it's different for each person. However, there are some known risk factors. The good news is that there are actions you can take to combat anxiety.
The symptoms of anxiety are sometimes not all that obvious as they often develop gradually and, given that we all experience some anxiety at some points in time, it can be hard to know how much is too much.
Some common symptoms include:
- hot and cold flushes
- racing heart
- tightening of the chest
- snowballing worries
- obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviour.
These are just some of a number of symptoms that may be experienced. If you are familiar with any of these symptoms, check the more extensive list of symptoms common to the different types of anxiety disorders below. They are not designed to provide a diagnosis – for that you need to see a doctor – but they can be used as a guide.
Generalised anxiety disorder
Signs and symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder can include the following, which occur for 6 months or more, and on most days:
- feeling very worried
- finding it hard to stop worrying
- your anxiety has made it difficult for you to do everyday activities (e.g. work, study, seeing friends and family)?
- feeling restless or on edge
- feeling easily tired
- having difficulty concentrating
- feeling irritable
- experiencing some muscle pain (e.g. sore jaw or back)
- having trouble sleeping (e.g. difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless sleep)?
Phobias (specific and social)
Have you felt very nervous when faced with a specific object or situation? For example:
- flying on an aeroplane
- going near an animal
- receiving an injection
- going to a social event?
Have you avoided a situation because of your phobia? For example, have you:
- changed work patterns?
- not attended social events?
- avoided health check-ups?
- found it hard to go about your daily life (e.g. working, studying or seeing friends and family) because you are trying to avoid such situations?
Within a 10 minute period have you felt 4 or more of the following:
- increased heart rate
- short of breath
- nauseous or pain in the stomach
- dizzy, lightheaded or faint
- numb or tingly
- derealisation (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (feeling detached from yourself or your surroundings)
- hot or cold flushes
- fear of dying
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may develop after a person is exposed to one or more traumatic events, such as sexual assault, fighting in a war, sustaining a serious injury, or the threat of death in which they experience intense fear, horror, or powerlessness. The diagnosis may be given when a group of symptoms, such as disturbing recurring flashbacks, avoidance or numbing of memories of the event, and hyperarousal continue for more than a month after the traumatic event
Most people having experienced a traumatizing event will not develop PTSD. Children are less likely to experience PTSD after trauma than adults, especially if they are under ten years of age. War veterans or men who have left the armed forces after experiencing combat or attack are commonly at risk to PTSD.
Symptoms and indicators of PTSD can include:
- experiencing or seeing something that involved death, injury, torture or abuse and felt very scared or helpless
- having upsetting memories or dreams of the event for at least 1 month
- finding it hard to go about your daily life (e.g. work, study, getting along with family and friends)
- being less interested in doing things you used to enjoy
- having trouble feeling intensely positive emotions (e.g. love or excitement)
- thinking less about the future (e.g. about career or family goals)?
- having difficulties sleeping (e.g. had bad dreams, or found it hard to fall or stay asleep)
- feeling easily angered or irritated
- trouble concentrating
- feeling constantly on guard or being over aware of your surroundings
- being easily startled
If you have experienced ANY of the symptoms above or feel like you have, then contact your GP and make an appointment to discuss and seek treatment for these symptoms. If you feel that your GP is not paying attention to what you are saying, or seems dismissive of your concerns, then seek a second opinion - but DO make sure that you feel your concerns are being dealt with ina proper manner.
Men and depression
Are you tired and irritable all the time? Have you lost interest in your work, family, friends or hobbies? Are you having trouble sleeping and feeling angry or aggressive, sad, or worthless? Have you been feeling like this over a number of weeks or even for months?
If so, you may have depression.
What is depression?
Everyone feels sad or irritable sometimes, or has trouble sleeping occasionally. But these feelings and troubles usually pass after a couple of days. When a man has depression, he has trouble with daily life and loses interest in anything for weeks, sometimes months at a time.
Both men and women get depression. But men can experience it differently than women. Men may be more likely to feel very tired and irritable, and lose interest in their work, family, friends or hobbies. They may be more likely to have difficulty sleeping than women who have depression. And although women with depression are more likely to attempt suicide, men are more likely to die from suicide.
Many men don’t recognize, acknowledge, or seek help for their depression. They may be reluctant to talk about how they are feeling. But depression is a real and treatable illness. It can affect any man at any age. With the right treatment, most men with depression can get better and regain their interest in work, family, and hobbies.
What are the different forms of depression?
The most common types of depression are:
- Major depression—severe symptoms that interfere with a man's ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy most aspects of life. An episode of major depression may occur only once in a person's lifetime. But more often, a person could have several episodes during their lifetime.
- Dysthymic disorder, or dysthymia—depressive symptoms that last a long time (2 years or longer) but are less severe than those of major depression.
- Minor depression—similar to major depression and dysthymia, but symptoms are less severe and may not last as long.
What are the signs and symptoms of depression in men?
Different people have different symptoms. Some symptoms of depression include:
- Feeling sad or "empty"
- Feeling hopeless, irritable, anxious, or angry
- Loss of interest in work, family, or once-pleasurable activities, including sex
- Feeling very tired
- Not being able to concentrate or remember details
- Not being able to sleep, or sleeping too much
- Overeating, or not wanting to eat at all
- Thoughts of suicide or even attempts of suicide
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
- Inability to meet the responsibilities of work, caring for family, or other important activities.
What causes depression in men?
Several factors may contribute to depression in men.
- Genes—men with a family history of depression may be more likely to develop it than those whose family members do not have the illness.
- Brain chemistry and hormones—the brains of people with depression look different on scans than those of people without the illness. Also, the hormones that control emotions and mood can affect brain chemistry.
- Stress—loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship or any stressful situation may trigger depression in some men.
Most of the time, it is likely a combination of these factors.
How is depression treated?
The first step to getting the right treatment is to visit a doctor or mental health professional. He or she can do an exam or lab tests to rule out other conditions that may have the same symptoms as depression. He or she can also tell if certain medications you are taking may be affecting your mood.
The doctor needs to get a complete history of symptoms. Tell the doctor when the symptoms started, how long they have lasted, how bad they are, whether they have occurred before, and if so, how they were treated. Tell the doctor if there is a history of depression in your family.
Medications called antidepressants can work well to treat depression. But they can take several weeks to work. Antidepressants can have side effects including:
- Nausea, feeling sick to your stomach
- Difficulty sleeping and nervousness
- Agitation or restlessness
- Sexual problems.
Most side effects lessen over time. Talk to your doctor about any side effects you may have.
It's important to know that although antidepressants can be safe and effective for many people, they may present serious risks to some, especially children, teens, and young adults. A "black box"—the most serious type of warning that a prescription drug can have—has been added to the labels of antidepressant medications. These labels warn people that antidepressants may cause some people to have suicidal thoughts or make suicide attempts, especially those who become agitated when they first start taking the medication and before it begins to work. Anyone taking antidepressants should be monitored closely, especially when they first start taking them.
For most people, though, the risks of untreated depression far outweigh those of antidepressant medications when they are used under a doctor's supervision. Careful monitoring by a professional will also minimize any potential risks.
Several types of therapy can help treat depression. Some therapies are just as effective as medications for certain types of depression. Therapy helps by teaching new ways of thinking and behaving, and changing habits that may be contributing to the depression. Therapy can also help men understand and work through difficult situations or relationships that may be causing their depression or making it worse
How can I help a loved one who is depressed?
If you know someone who has depression, first help him find a doctor or mental health professional and make an appointment.
- Offer him support, understanding, patience, and encouragement.
- Talk to him, and listen carefully.
- Never ignore comments about suicide, and report them to his therapist or doctor.
- Invite him out for walks, outings and other activities. If he says no, keep trying, but don't push him to take on too much too soon.
- Encourage him to report any concerns about medications to his health care provider.
- Ensure that he gets to his doctor's appointments.
- Remind him that with time and treatment, the depression will lift.
How can I help myself if I am depressed?
As you continue treatment, gradually you will start to feel better. Remember that if you are taking an antidepressant, it may take several weeks for it to start working. Try to do things that you used to enjoy before you had depression. Go easy on yourself. Other things that may help include:
- See your GP or a health professional as soon as possible. Research shows that getting treatment sooner rather than later can relieve symptoms quicker and reduce the length of time treatment is needed.
- Break up large tasks into small ones, and do what you can as you can. Don't try to do too many things at once.
- Spend time with other people and talk to a friend or relative about your feelings.
- Do not make important decisions until you feel better. Discuss decisions with others who know you well.
Where can I go for help?
If you are unsure where to go for help, ask your family doctor. You can also check the phone book for mental health or support organisations such as MIND or The Samaritans. Hospital doctors can help in an emergency.
What if I or someone I know is in crisis?
Men with severe depression can be at risk for suicide. If you or someone you know is in crisis, get help quickly.
ASKING FOR HELP IS NOT A SIGN OF WEAKNESS – IT IS A SIGN OF STRENGTH