Helping Men Make Mental Health a Priority

June 17, 2022

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Mental health is a concern many Americans, regardless of age, gender, or economic status. For men, it’s a particular challenge. Not only do men tend to share and talk about their feelings less, they’re also less likely to see help and judge anxiety or depression as a sign of weakness.

As you might expect, the pandemic hasn’t helped. “Since early 2020, more than 30% of Americans have reported symptoms of  anxiety and/or depressive disorder,” says Martin Wesolowski, DO, MBA, Martin’s Point Health Plan Medical Director. In Maine, more than 28% of adults reported these symptoms, according to data collected in fall 2021.

Men are feeling the press of these issues in the most extreme way. In the U.S., men between 25 and 54 years of age make up the largest number of deaths by suicide, reports the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Maine (NAMI). Mental struggles are also linked to the increase in deaths related to alcohol and drugs, and one-quarter of adults with mental health disorders also struggle with substance abuse.

How can men make the shift to prioritizing mental health and addressing it head on?

1 | Reframing. Acknowledge that mental health is part of overall health—and it affects every single person. As humans, we have good times and challenging times. To stay balanced, it’s important to figure out the strategies and tools that work for you to get through these periods. It’s all part of taking care of your head—just like you brush, floss, and see a dentist for your teeth and exercise and watch your blood pressure for your heart.

Man and dog watching sunrise on top of hill

2 | Take your mental health “pulse.” A great place to start is to get a quick snapshot of your current mental health and begin to pinpoint areas you might focus on. ManTherapy.org has a great one that’s effective and loaded with humor.

3 | Explore proven strategies to improve your mental health. There’s a lot you can do to reduce anxiety and master depression—and there are amazing professionals and medications that can help address more serious mental health issues.

  • Connect with others. Helping others—from small things like letting another car go first to bigger ones like coaching youth baseball—helps you. Everyone needs to feel value and supported. Expand your network by joining a bowling league or taking a fly fishing class. Or reach out to old friends more often. Try marking your calendar to talk or have lunch every other week.

Man enjoying a book while in a hammock next to water

  • Take a nature bath. It’s as simple as getting out the door and into some green space (oceans, rivers, and lakes count, too). Studies show time in the natural environment plays a powerful role in lowering anxiety and stress and increasing good feelings about ourselves. Two hours a week is a great number to shoot for—but even 10 minutes most days makes a difference. And luckily, in Maine and New Hampshire, nature is in easy reach.

Male friends laughing together

  • Smile and laugh more. A good chuckle has the power to both diminish stress hormone levels and release endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemicals. Keep a notebook by your bed and jot down funny moments of your day before your turn in. Follow a comedian you love like Bob Marley or Jim Gaffigan on Instagram. Read a humorous book like Bill Bryon’s A Walk in the Woods. Keep in touch with that friend who always has new joke or funny story.
  • Take care of yourself. You know the drill—and it’s not only important for your body. Eating right, getting enough sleep, and exercising are as important for your mind as they are for your physical health. Ease up on the buffalo wings and burgers. Choose bedtime over one more Netflix show. Re-commit to the gym or a routine of 30-minute bike rides or walks five days a week.
  • Talk to your doctor. Your primary care doctor is a great place to confidently share that you’re having trouble with anger, worry, or sleeplessness—and get advice on helpful next steps like talking to a therapist or considering medication. “Some of the best patient conversations I’ve had are with men who are sharing their stressors for the first time,” says Dr. Wesolowski. “Primary care providers are ready and able to hear and help with challenges at work, difficulty in relationships, loss of loved ones, or big changes like retirement. We’re here for our patients.”

Seek more tips from trusted resources like the NAMI and Mental Health America. Know there’s always someone to help in a crisis: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255; Maine Crisis Hotline: 888-568-1112; N.H. Rapid Response Access Point: 833-710-6477