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Men and mental health: A serious topic that warrants serious discussion

man sitting beside window looking outside

What does it mean to be a real man?

There’s an expectation, constructed over centuries, of what is expected of men. Stoicism and courage in the face of any suffering. And don’t show emotion, don’t show weakness. Don’t ask for help if you absolutely don’t need it.

So said family physician Dr. Paul Gross in this recent CBC story from Vancouver. He is co-founder of the men’s health group DUDES Club (which stands for “Downtown Urban Knights Defending Equality and Solidarity”).

The DUDES Club asks its members to “leave their armour at the door,” and have honest and open conversations about their mental and physical health.

It’s sound advice, considering the growing challenges we face as a society about mental health and stress.

There is an obvious stigma around mental health. Celebrities, sports icons, major corporations – everyone is speaking out about the need to recognize and address the need for frank and empathetic conversations around this topic. All of it meant to encourage people to get the help they need, and for the rest of us to be more compassionate, accepting and non-judgmental.

And yet, men continue to live with a stigma that is unique to the gender – a societal perception around what it means to be “manly.”

The stigma of being male

We have all heard those outdated stereotypes about what it means to be a “real man” (check out this post by A real man is always in control of his emotions and doesn’t let anything get to him. Willpower alone is all he ever needs to “snap out of it” when something is bothering him. For a real man, depression is a sign of personal weakness and feeling sad or down is just not acceptable.

What utter rubbish

Men are not heartless machines. They are human beings. And yes, human beings are a kind of biological machine – which means we are subject to electro-chemical processes within our bodies over which we have little conscious control. These are the processes that govern our mental health and mental state. A real man is not immune to mental illness and it’s not something he can fight off with “willpower” any more than a woman can.

We blogged last week about SAD – seasonal affective disorder. This is a kind of depression that, again, results from electro-chemical processes. In this case, it’s attributed to reduced production of “happy” chemicals Seratonin and Dopamine due to our reduced exposure to sunlight over the winter months.

As we wrote, there are steps you can take to address SAD symptoms. But with SAD or any form of mental illness, you first have to be self-aware enough and brave enough, to acknowledge that you are struggling and that you need help.

Further to this, a man’s friends and family must recognize and take seriously his struggle.

Mental health impacts physical health

At our Kanata Chiropractic clinic, many of the chronic issues with pain and muscle tension and headaches that we see appear to be directly related to stress and the impact that this is having on mental health – regardless of the gender of the patient.

It all comes back to what we have written before about the body’s “fight or flight” response and the negative effects of persistently high levels of our body’s stress hormones, Adrenaline and Cortisol. Couple this with decreased levels of Seratonin and Dopamine at this time of year and you have a recipe for changes in mood and behaviour that can easily cross the line into full-on depression.

This post comes just as we have said goodbye to another November … and another Movember – that annual awareness campaign in support of men’s health, including their mental health.

A powerful statistic

Movember Canada has some compelling statistics to consider: Somewhere in the world, a man dies by suicide each and every minute. In Canada, 75 per cent of suicides are men.

Now, how many of these men suffered in silence, and didn’t receive the support or treatment that could have made a positive difference, because it was the “manly” thing to do?

When it comes to men and having a positive dialogue around mental health and addressing mental illness, we still have a lot of work to do.

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