Mental illness is a difficult challenge for anyone to face. It can affect men and women of any age. But because mental illness can cause different symptoms in men than in women, some disorders in men may be harder to recognize. Men who are depressed, for example, may appear angry and irritable rather than sad and withdrawn. It also may be more difficult for men suffering from depression to seek help. Some may see it as a sign of weakness rather than a treatable illness.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder caused by witnessing a violent or life-threatening event, such as war. It is common in men, particularly those who have served in combat. Those with PTSD often relive the traumatic experience. They are distrustful and continually on guard, have terrifying nightmares, and feel emotionally numb and detached. They may also have panic attacks, job and relationship problems, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Although women may feel on edge or anxious as a result of PTSD, men may become angry and aggressive and may begin abusing drugs or alcohol as a way to cope.
Depression affects many men, although it’s more commonly associated with women. Men and women may feel many of the same symptoms, such as a continually sad or irritable mood; trouble concentrating; a striking change in appetite and energy; feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or worthlessness; lack of interest in life; and/or suicidal thoughts. But they often show different signs of the condition. Men who are depressed may not cry or talk about their feelings, or even hint that they’re thinking about suicide. Men with depression may try harder to hide their symptoms and, as a result, may become angry and aggressive. They may also be more prone to seek relief through alcohol or drugs.
Eating and body image disorders
Although eating disorders are more common in women, they can affect men as well. Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening disorders marked by abnormal attitudes toward food and weight. Men with an eating disorder may watch calories obsessively or work out at the gym to excess. Men with body image issues may also become obsessed with their muscles, skin, genitals, and nose, or hair— areas of the body that aren’t typically the focus of women with body image issues.
Formerly known as manic-depression, this mental illness causes swings between depression and mania, a state of extreme euphoria and high energy. Other symptoms include racing thoughts, distractibility, talking too fast or too much, forgoing sleep for days at a time, making grandiose plans, or engaging in high-risk activities, such as multiple shopping sprees. Like women who have the disorder, men may experience ongoing problems with work, sex, and relationships. Without treatment, many turn to substance abuse, act out aggressively and in anger, and/or consider suicide.
Coping with mental health issues
If you are suffering from one or more of these illnesses, treatment will allow you to lead a full, productive life. However difficult and painful they are, these mental illnesses are all eminently treatable. Treatment may include counseling, medicine, or both, possibly along with complementary therapies, such as biofeedback.
It’s important to know that you have nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about: These conditions are illnesses, not weaknesses. The same goes for any addictions you might have.
Many men have had difficulty communicating what they’re feeling and figuring out how to talk about it. Here are some important first steps:
- Seek medical attention. Your healthcare provider is used to dealing with these issues. He or she can help you get the treatment you need. In some cases, you may be able to resolve your problems with therapy rather than medicine.
- Find healthier ways of sharing your feelings. It can be tempting to yell or act out or turn to drugs or alcohol when you are feeling unhappy. But instead of lashing out in anger, breathe deeply, count to 10, and allow yourself some time to calm down.
- Manage your stress. Stress at work and at home can worsen the symptoms of many mental illnesses. Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself to do things you enjoy. You may also want to see if deep breathing, meditation, or stretching help you relax.
- Get regular exercise. Research suggests that daily exercise can help relieve the symptoms of depression, and that people who exercise regularly in their leisure time are less likely to suffer from this mood disorder.
- Take care of yourself. You deserve it. Besides exercising regularly, get plenty of sleep and eat nutritious meals with lots of fruits and vegetables. Avoid drugs and alcohol abuse. Being gentle with yourself can put you into a better frame of mind to deal with your mood disorder.
Remember, you don’t need to be afraid to talk to your healthcare provider about continual anxiety, irritability, depression, or any other unusual moods or symptoms you are experiencing. Getting treatment and learning some coping mechanisms can help bring these disorders under control.
Online Medical Reviewer: Nelson, Gail A., MS, APRN, BC