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Let's Take Off the Mask

Updated: Mar 17, 2020

by Joshua Crowley, Pharm D.

Mental illness is one of the most undiagnosed, misunderstood, and mistreated disease processes that we have in our society today. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that 18.1% of people in the United States are affected with anxiety every year.

For just a second, think of 10 people that you know and consider friends. Statistically, nearly two of those friends have suffered in the last year with some form of anxiety. You may easily be able to think of the two people out of ten you know that have anxiety, but in a lot of cases, you may not be able to identify them. If you are not able to easily identify the person in your group of people, there may be a reason. One less likely reason is that you have a completely well-adjusted group of people you thought about. The other more likely reason is that someone is trying to hide the fact that they have anxiety.

One group of people who are really good at trying to hide their anxiety are men. While working with men in a support group for anxiety and depression at Mindsight Somerset, several themes have come to the group sessions including why men don't talk about their problems and ways they "deal" with problems instead of talking about them. These are roadblocks for outsider to see that a loved one is dealing with a mental illness.

With anxiety and most other mental illnesses, men have a difficult time expressing their struggles. Reasons may include:

  1. I'm going to look vulnerable.

  2. I feel like no one would understand me.

What's the real concern that these men face?

The main concern for most men is that it will make them look like less of a man. They have been told throughout their lives they need to “man up” and “deal” with their issues. “Dealing” with mental illness is not something that anyone should go through alone. A strong support system of people who can help you talk through the tough times and psychotherapy are two ways that will help improve the overall outcome for the person.

Along with looking less manly to those people around them, most men feel like they are alone in their problems or no one would understand them. Guys, if you take nothing from this article other than this statement, you are not alone! You may feel alone because the men around you or the father figures in your life never discussed their problems with you, but the truth of the matter is that you are not alone.

The way society and men have viewed mental illness and the way men have hidden their feelings has created the perfect storm for people not to seek the treatment they need. Let’s take a look at the group of ten people that you thought about earlier and think could one of them be hiding a mental illness because they are scared to talk about it or feel alone. Could you be the person to help them change their life?

While barriers to opening up are a huge issue with men, the way in which they handle their anxiety can prevent people from seeing the true issue at hand. If a man is anxious or has depression, they may not have your usual outward manifestations as others. The common theme among men in the group setting is that they utilize some form of control to combat their mental illness.

Now this may seem counter-intuitive for some people, but it makes perfect sense to those in the middle of their internal storm. Now imagine that you are in the middle of a tornado and feel like you are going to be swept away. With noise of the storm, the wind pushing against you, and the impending doom looming over your head, what is the first thought you are going to have? Most people think "hold on to something."

Anxiety is not much different than being inside a tornado and you just try to hold onto something normal or control one aspect while everything else is falling apart. A man with mental illness may look things that they can control in their life to help them feel normal. Things can be as simple as having a routine they do every day to the more severe of trying to control others. A person with anxiety and depression often feels like they have no control over their own life and will seek out something that they can control.

The exertion of control can be severely detrimental to not only the person but the people around them. Now think back to the ten people you selected earlier. Who in that group tries to control things in their life? Could it be they are holding on because they feel like they are in a tornado?

While not all men hide their mental illness or use control to help cope with their issues, a good majority of them do. Hiding these issues will not have positive outcomes for their overall health nor their relationships. So how can you help break the cycle of silence on mental health in men? If you are a man dealing with these types of issues, say something and support others. If you have a friend who you feel may be dealing with mental illness alone, ask them if they would like to talk or talk to them about your own struggles. We must open up about mental health in men. Together through communication, we can create a better and brighter future for the communities we live in and future generations.

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