Disclaimer: This is my opinion based on what I have personally observed from men in society, my readings, observations of men in my life, and other sources. The only true facts are the ones presented by the reputable sources cited in the links throughout and at the end of this post. Because of this, I will be focusing on Black men especially.
Why Mental Health is Important for Men Too
I have been saying I was going to address this for a very long time now and that time has finally come. Let’s start out with stats regarding mental illness among men and the chances they have of seeking help as opposed to handling it themselves. Although there is a stigma regarding seeking mental health assistance, women seek it out at a higher rate than men.
According to the NIMH, although it is not documented that men have a higher number of mental illnesses statistically or seek help, they do have a higher suicide rate according to the CDC. In 2020 alone, men died at least 3.88 times more than women due to suicide completion. The main instrument of death for men (and this has been a known fact since I was getting my Associate’s) are firearms. Women usually make it through their attempts and don’t go that route. When they do, it is extremely rare but women usually complete suicide by poisoning. Firearms, in 2020, accounted for 52.83% of suicides in 2020. In looking at stats, we also can’t count the actual number of attempts as they are usually self-reported.
The issue with stats is that sometimes the way in which they are collected (mind you, I hated stats so I will explain it the dumb way) aren’t always fail proof. Self-reported surveys are not really dependable. There are also margins of error to consider. Example, if a person doesn’t seek help for an illness, how can it be collated in a study? Because of this and my personal observations that there are men in this world that NEED therapy at the least and refuse to get it, we’re going to talk about men in general and then speak on men of color.
Illnesses in Men in General
It is a small joke that men have to be dying to go to the doctor. This is true, however. Many instances of prostate cancer aren’t caught early because many men (I will do my best not to generalize) don’t want anyone near their butt. The same goes for a colonoscopy. When they do this, they are doing a disservice to themselves which sometimes costs them their very lives.
We don’t know why this is. I can give my opinion based on the people I have dealt with but I will refrain here.
Mental Illnesses in Men
I have previously discussed the stigma surrounding mental health in our community (see: Bipolar and Black), especially among people of color. Although white men complete suicide at a higher rate than minorities (keyword: minorities), POC also suffer from mental illnesses, attempt, and complete suicide. When we look at the studies in the links above, we see that African American men were the fourth group to complete suicide. One thing that I constantly tell people is that Alaskan and Indigenous people have the highest suicide rate (see CDC Suicide Statistics in Men ). Alaska is dark most of the year (we need light). Indigenous people are treated poorly, and they have the highest rates of alcoholism (I wrote a paper on this for my alcoholism class and a sociology course) which can lead to higher rates of abuse and suicide (that’s another post).
But let’s talk about how men handle mental illness.
Many men ignore the signs which are listed at the NIMH as:
Men and women can develop most of the same mental disorders and conditions but may experience different symptoms. Some symptoms include:
- Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness
- Noticeable changes in mood, energy level, or appetite
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Difficulty concentrating, feeling restless, or on edge
- Increased worry or feeling stressed
- Misuse of alcohol and/or drugs
- Sadness or hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts
- Feeling flat or having trouble feeling positive emotions
- Engaging in high-risk activities
- Aches, headaches, digestive problems without a clear cause
- Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior
- Thoughts or behaviors that interfere with work, family, or social life
- Unusual thinking or behaviors that concern other people
Many try to drown it out with work, jokes, sex, drugs, drinking, ect. Our brain is the most important organ we have in our body. If a man hurts himself physically, you can bet he will be in the doctor’s office but, if he has something like a pain in the chest, heart, stomach, the odds are he will not seek help until he sees some blood or can’t walk. If I’m wrong, let me know. If a man goes for a physical, they usually have to be compelled in some sort of way such as for benefits for a job or a requirement of your job (such as military).
The Impact of Ignoring Mental Health
We often talk about bag ladies as Eryka Badu sang about but there are many men carrying a lot of baggage as well. They put this baggage on their mates and a cycle begins. The woman might seek mental help, but the man doesn’t. The man then transfers his baggage onto the woman who tries to heal this man while draining herself. I have been the “healer” of men to my own detriment, and I will never do it again. Because the woman is more likely to seek mental help, she is leaned upon to be that backbone.
People want the woman to uplift a man when he is down but why can’t the man do this as well? Just as therapy is available to women, it is available to men. I have heard men say that they don’t need anyone telling them what to do, don’t want anyone to know their business, aren’t weak so why do they need a therapist? Well, if you ask me, running away from the problem and doing things to just numb the pain temporarily makes you a weak-minded person. I said it and I mean it. It’s better to face your issues head on.
Finding things to numb or cope with trauma or stressors doesn’t reach the root of the problem. It just numbs the pain until the symptoms come around again. It is a choice to ignore what is going on right in front of your face. Many men choose to do this for the reasons stated above but who else does this impact?
If there are children involved, the children are often a casualty of this abandonment of mental health awareness as well. The way that the parents handle mental health goes down to the children. In my previous posts, I have talked about how I knew I had a problem, especially seeing and hearing the things I heard (see The Story of My Mental Illness) and how I was told to handle them. I was told to pray (typical in religious families) or I was just ignored even in my adulthood.
Another Celebrity Suicide
While I was writing this blog, I was told of the death of DJ Twitch. And this is another sad story. As with many men that take their own lives, he did it by firearm. Firearm and hanging are the main ways in which men take their lives. Not too long ago, a female anchor took her own life by firearm as well. It gave me pause because women usually take pills. In both of these instances, I cannot say that they woke up and said “I’m going to off myself today.” Nine times out of ten, there are little things that turn into big things that build up.
Some of the happiest, funniest, strongest people are out here fighting for their lives every day. I spoke about these people in We Walk Among You. Some seek help, others don’t. Those that don’t have a higher chance of contemplating and attempting suicide. I talked about Robin Williams years ago in Let’s REALLY Talk About Suicide. People didn’t recognize what was behind the smile, the humor, and the money. He was hurting and he was sick but he didn’t say anything to the public at least (which was his right).
When celebrities complete suicide (some of us say “complete” instead of “commit” because the word “commit” implies that a crime against someone else has been committed and villainizes the person), everyone gets on their soapboxes and starts to talk about how we don’t know what is going on behind smiles. We don’t. We sure don’t but that doesn’t stop many of us from being mean to people that might already be going through something, and you want to pile on. It doesn’t stop us from perpetuating the stigma that someone is “crazy” for seeing a professional for mental health help. It doesn’t stop people from just being evil because someone is different, looks different, or doesn’t fit into the mold that you made for the world to fit in.
It doesn’t stop us from thinking that people that seek help are weak. I was told by an ex (thank God) that he wouldn’t have dated me had he known that I had bipolar disorder. Funny coming from a man that smokes weed three times a day to self-medicate but doesn’t even know why he has to do it. And I know his story, he has been through trauma.
A lot of men have been through trauma but choose to ignore it. It’s more manly to fuck, smoke, drink, and drug your way through the issue but never touch on WHY you need those things and what you are trying to cope WITH.
What You Can Do
Please don’t let anyone transfer their trauma onto you. If they want to talk, listen, be that safe space. If they cry, let them. Crying is a human emotion. I have had many men cry around me because, instead of claiming I am a safe space, I AM that safe space. I don’t use what they say against them in the future, but I also don’t allow them to use me as their therapist. I have a degree, but I am not a licensed therapist. I am a mental patient myself as well as an advocate.
When things get too much, refer them to a therapist. You are not their therapist. You can’t drain yourself and risk your own mental health for the sake of being “supportive”. There are a lot of ways to be supportive but risking yourself for someone else (a man) is not it. I spoke about this in Dating a Person with a Diagnosed Mental Illness, Could You Do It? Should You Do It? There is only but so much we can do for others. I’m not saying to just let them go and let them wallow but I AM saying that you need to put yourself first. If the tools are given to them to rectify whatever is hurting them, show them and let it go. I’m not saying to stay or go but be smart because the person that will lose out in the end is the one that is doing all the work on behalf of someone that doesn’t want to be helped.
I have had men use their mental illness against me. I have had men threaten suicide so that I would come see them. Do not let them weaponize their issues against you. It happens. Two men I dated did this to me because they knew how much I cared for them and that I knew what suicidal ideation was like.
Be honest with yourself. You are human. You have a right to your feelings. What you were told by old school men does not stand true today. You have the right to cry, you have the right to feel, you have the right to look at your trauma, learn from it, and cope with it. You are not a child that needs someone to make you see someone. Self-medicating is not forever. It is a temporary fix that helps no one in the end.
Just talking to someone that you trust can be a good thing but talking to a therapist that you can be open, honest, and vulnerable with without it being thrown back at you or shared is the best option. It might be hard in the beginning and you might hate it but, once you find your match, it will be like talking to an old friend.
I have been seeing my current therapists for 13 years. They know me like the back of their hand. They are honest with me and we really get down to why I am the way I am. Learning yourself is freeing yourself. Seeing a therapist does not always come with having to take meds (I know a lot of people don’t like to take prescription meds unless it’s weed) so sometimes just talking things out frees you of whatever is holding you down and causing you stress.
Remember, some people don’t have to see a therapist or take medications for the rest of their lives as they have acute conditions. Loss of a loved one and other life changes can require a recharge in the form of talking to a professional just to learn mechanisms in which to cope. This doesn’t have to be forever unless you have certain conditions. In You Called a Therapist …Now What? I speak about how the process can be frustrating. First you have to find your match, then you have to go back to a trauma you might have wanted to forget, point it out, learn your triggers, and learn how to cope with said triggers.
I always give the example of my father who refuses to go to the VA for the trauma that he went through as a Vietnam Vet. I have talked to many men who have seen combat and they have told me that they don’t want to go back to that. They don’t want to talk about it or think about it.
There are alternatives but you need to speak to a therapist to find out said alternatives. There are many types of therapy. Art, music, talk, etc. Everything doesn’t have to be you sitting on a couch spilling your guts to a person and a therapist can teach you that.
Therapy isn’t supposed to hurt you, it’s supposed to help you. You are not weak for wanting or needing it. You are a human being. So let’s stop the stigma where it is. Let’s not pass the stigmas down to our children. Let’s make it so that if our child comes to us and says they need to talk to someone that we encourage them to get their feelings out. If they don’t feel comfortable telling us, get them to someone that they will talk to. Children are completing suicide at a high rate and it’s getting worse. In order to be an example to the next generation, we have got to do better.
In the End …
I could really go on about this but I suggest that everyone look inside themselves. If you don’t have mental health issues but have friends that might, please check on them. I check on friends randomly via text or phone call. Sending cards or little gifts showing that you are thinking about them is also nice. Let them know that you are thinking about them and that you care.
When I attempted suicide, I felt that no one cared and that I meant nothing to this world. The second time I went to the psych ward, I learned that I was totally wrong. Doing things for others and being shown and told that I mean something to this world has kept me here even though this world depresses me on a daily basis.
A small act of kindness can mean the world to a person who feels that the world is not for them anymore. Let’s try to do better. Let’s try to do better before it’s too late and we’re saying the same thing over and over “S/he was always smiling. You never know what is going on behind those smiles.”
Thank you for reading!