As Ron Burgundy from the movie “Anchorman” might say, mental health is kind of a big deal. Of course, what Ron means is that mental health is a HUGE deal, with one in five Canadians experiencing a related problem or illness in any given year. What’s up with that? Here’s the scoop:
What is mental health?
Mental health is all about enjoying life, managing its ups and downs, and having a sense of purpose. It affects how you think, feel and act, and determines how you handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.
Why is men’s mental health important?
Every guy wants to enjoy life, but there’s more to mental health than that. Looking after your mental health is important because it helps you do your job well and have positive relationships with other people, from friends and family to co-workers to the hottie behind the coffee shop’s counter.
What does good mental health look like?
Good mental health may look different from one guy to another, but there are six common factors of wellbeing that are part of it. These include:
- A sense of purpose
- Strong relationships
- Feeling connected to others
- Having a good awareness of self
- Coping with stress
- Enjoying life
What about mental health problems?
All guys feel stressed or burnt out from time to time, butt heads with others, and make poor decisions. Are you adding extra bacon to a quadruple extra bacon pizza? POOR DECISION!
Negative thoughts, feelings and actions are part of mental health. They only become a problem when they start to affect your daily life. If that happens, mental illness may be the cause.
What is mental illness?
Mental illnesses are disturbances in thoughts, feelings, and how you see the world.
Signs and symptoms of mental illness
Just like physical illnesses, mental illnesses can take a wide variety of forms and affect different guys in different ways. While symptoms vary depending on the illness, some of the more common ones include:
- Feeling sad or down
- Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
- Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
- Drastic mood changes of highs and lows
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Significant tiredness, low energy, or problems sleeping
- Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia, or hallucinations
- Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
- Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
- Problems with alcohol or drug use
- Noticeable changes in eating habits
- Sex drive changes
- Excessive anger, hostility, or violence
- Suicidal thinking
- Physical problems, such as stomach pain, back pain, headaches, or other unexplained aches and pains
Types of mental illness, symptoms, and treatment
Anxiety disorders can include several conditions. Phobias are one type of anxiety disorder, where the person has an unreasonable fear of particular objects, animals or situations.
Another is panic disorders, where the person may experience recurring episodes of intense fear combined with physical symptoms such as difficulty breathing.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is another type, where the person cannot stop a specific repeated action or thought.
Most often, the various anxiety disorders are treated with counselling or medication.
Depression & Manic Depression
Depression is not a sign of weakness. It’s a fact that guys get depressed, and it affects millions of men every year.
Together, depression and manic depression are known as mood disorders and affect about 10 percent of the population.
Mood disorders cause people to experience more extreme (and longer-lasting) emotional “highs and lows” than usual.
Signs and symptoms of depression in men include feelings of hopelessness, changes in eating patterns, disturbed sleep, constant fatigue, an inability to have fun, or even thoughts of suicide. People with manic depression can have these same symptoms, plus occasional “highs” that can cause reckless behaviour.
Organic Brain Disorders
Organic brain disorders are the result of a disease or direct injury to the brain.
They affect about 1 percent of people and include Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS dementia complex (caused by the HIV damaging the brain), and brain damage from strokes or accidents.
Treatment for organic brain disorders usually involves rehabilitation programs.
There are many types of personality disorders, each one with its medical name. In general, people with these disorders have a hard time getting along with other people. They have difficulty understanding themselves and others, making them irritable, demanding, hostile, fearful, or manipulative.
The symptoms vary from one type of personality disorder to another. Personality disorders are among the most challenging forms of mental illness to treat. Often, people with these disorders don’t seek help because they can function in their day-to-day lives. They may blame others as the source of dysfunction in their relationships rather than considering that the problem is within themselves. Professional counselling, therapy, and medication are the most effective treatments.
Contrary to what many people believe, schizophrenia isn’t about having a “split personality.” However, it’s a serious mental illness that affects about 1% of Canadians.
The most common symptoms include mixed-up thoughts, delusions, hallucinations, and bizarre behaviour. Some people have just one episode of these symptoms in their lives; others have difficulty functioning daily because their symptoms are so frequent.
Antipsychotic medications are the main treatment for schizophrenia, including counselling programs that help people manage the symptoms.
What causes mental illness?
Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:
- Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
- Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
- A family history of mental health problems
The state of men’s mental health and mental illness in Canada
We’re not going to sugarcoat things. From governments and researchers to doctors and guys themselves, men’s mental health facts clearly show that we all need to do more to improve men’s mental health in Canada. After all:
- Among Canadians of all ages, four of every five suicides are male, with more than 50 Canadian men dying by suicide each week.
- Approximately one million men suffer from major depression in Canada each year.
- Many guys are hesitant to get help because they feel like they need to be seen as strong and can “tough it out.” This common misconception can lead to a denial of depression in men. The fact is, we need to raise awareness around mental illness in men and help reduce the stigma attached to it.
Men tend to not use available mental health services, with stats indicating that only around 30% of people who use mental health services are men.
For most of us, mental illness isn’t something we want to admit about ourselves readily. According to a recent study, men are less likely to seek help for mental health difficulties compared to women. Poor identification of depression and do-nothing or leave-them-alone attitude towards seeking help are associated with being male. The Canadian Mental Health Association says that men’s mental health is called a silent crisis because many men simply don’t believe they are susceptible to depression.
Mental health and COVID-19
From fuelling worries about jobs and finances to loved ones and infection, the COVID-19 pandemic sure hasn’t improved mental health in this country. Far from it, according to the findings of recent national surveys conducted by Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
- 25.5% of respondents said they feel more anxious.
- 24% said they were drinking more alcohol than usual.
- 20% reported feeling more depressed.
- 23% said they were experiencing loneliness at least three days every week.
According to the Government of Canada, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many changes in our lives. Men might feel like they’re no longer in control of things. It’s normal to feel sad, stressed, confused, scared or worried in a crisis. People react in different ways. Some common feelings include:
- A sense of being socially excluded or judged
- Concern about their children’s education and well-being
- Fear of getting sick with COVID-19 or of making others sick
- Worry about losing their job, not being able to work, or finances
- Fear of being apart from loved ones due to isolation or physical distancing
- Helplessness, boredom, loneliness, and depression due to isolation or physical distancing
What can you do about mental health problems?
Talk to a doctor if you think you or someone you know shows symptoms of mental illness. If necessary, he or she can refer you to a specialist resource such as a psychiatrist, a mental health clinic at a hospital or a community health centre. The treatment will depend on the specifics of the mental illness.
We are lucky to have several mental health support services in Canada, so there is no need to “man up” and suffer alone. Being in a good headspace is the manliest thing you can do! Remember, some good people are qualified to help you and will never judge you.
Small changes can have a big impact on your mental health!
We always share with guys that small changes can have a big impact on their mental health. Making big changes can be overwhelming and don’t feel very do-able, so why not try one small thing one day at a time?
Start small, and pick one small thing to do each day to start. Here are some ideas to help you reduce stress and improve your mental health.
Think meditation is just for hippies? Do you worry that you need to light some incense while sitting with your legs (painfully) crossed? You don’t have to do any of that. All you really need to do is nothing.
- Find a quiet place to sit
- Sit comfortably and inhale and exhale slowly and deeply through your nose
- Your belly, not your chest, should rise
- Do this for five minutes to start
- Feel your stress and tension melt away
If you feel like you need more guidance than that, check out one of the many guided meditation apps available, like Calm and Ten Percent Happier. For some guys, meditation apps are the easiest way to learn how to meditate.
Connect with friends
Friendships help you live longer, even more so than having close relationships with adult children and other family members. Living longer can be the single most significant benefit of bromances, but there are many other benefits, too.
Here are some reasons why your friends are good for your health. Having healthy friendships can:
- Reduce stress, anxiety, and depression
- Improve your mood
- Stave off heart disease, stroke and Alzheimers
- Motivate you to be more active
- Help you to live longer
Are you wondering how to start new friendships with other guys? Thankfully, starting a new bromance is easier than you might think. Check out this post on Bromancing 101.
When it comes to exercise, you can start small. Like go for a walk around your neighbourhood, or go play with your kids outside. Keep it simple! You can build up to bigger workouts by simply getting more active and moving your body.
When you’re ready for something more, you can slowly increase the intensity. Did you know that chemicals called “endorphins” influence our feeling of well-being? It’s 100% natural and produced in the brain when you participate in sports or relaxation activities. This powerful neurotransmitter relieves pain, reduces stress, and strengthens the immune system. Did you know that you only need 10-minutes of intense exercise to release endorphins?
Stimulating the production of endorphins is, therefore, one of the keys to being happy and healthy. The good news is that intensive sports are not needed to release them. Meditation, acupuncture, massage, deep breathing, and even spicy foods can release this happiness substance in your body. You heard that right, you can eat and breathe your way to health and happiness, woot!
Get a pet
Man’s best friend helps with much more than adorable YouTube videos. Research suggests that compared to people who don’t have dogs, dog owners’ heart rate and blood pressure are steadier and moderates more quickly during times of stress. This calming effect reduces the adverse effects of stress on your mind and body.
Owning a dog is also associated with lower cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure, likely because of dogs’ calming effect, and because dog owners tend to get more exercise.
Pets provide a sense of calm that can help you handle stress. In one study, cat owners who performed a stressful task showed less stress in the company of their pets than in the company of friends.
Experts also point out that the loving connections between cats and their owners can help owners cope with stress by reducing feelings of loneliness, providing a sense of purpose, and taking their minds off their troubles.
On the other hand, does your cat seem to ignore you? According to researchers at the University of Tokyo, cats know that we’re talking to them, but they simply don’t care.
Take a deep breath
By lowering stress, deep breathing can improve your quality and quantity of sleep, help keep your weight in check, reduce the risk of a heart attack – the list of benefits goes on and on. Can deep breathing lower your blood pressure? It can! Is deep breathing good for anxiety? You bet it is! It’s truly amazing what deep breathing can do for you.
Here’s how to fit five deep breaths into one minute:
- Find a place to sit (standing works too)
- Close your eyes and focus on your breathing
- Say “one” as you inhale
- Say “two” as you exhale
- Keeping counting, and inhaling and exhaling, until you get to 10
Reboot your relationship
As men, we usually live up to our stereotypes when it comes to relationships. But as thick-headed as we can sometimes be, we know those petty fights with our girlfriends/wives/partners aren’t really about the dirty dishes or whose turn it is to take out the garbage.
Researcher John Gottman – pretty much the guru of solving relationship problems – has figured out the key ingredients to a sex-filled relationship where both partners are happy.
Gottman says that couples in positive (i.e. amazing sex) relationships invest an extra five hours in each other each week, and the ways they do it aren’t that hard to figure out.
These are his six relationship tips:
- Give your significant other a kiss and a compliment before you leave the house
- Give each other 20-minutes to talk about work at the end of each day
- Admire and appreciate by doing little things like foot rubs and house cleaning
- Hugs, kisses and couch snuggles will improve both of your moods
- Have a weekly date night
- Spend some time apart
Spend quality time with your kids
Being a dad is pretty damn cool. All the effort that goes into being a dad is worth it because, despite how stressful it can be, being a parent can also make us happy.
Here are some easy tips for being a great dad:
- Spend at least 10-minutes of one-on-one with each child every day
- When your child hugs you, don’t let go until they do
- Find things they are doing right to compliment them on
- Be the father you wish you had
- Spend time reading with younger kids
If all of this sounds overwhelming, try to remember that even small changes can make a big difference. Start small and do one thing each day, like taking 5 minutes to sit and focus on your breathing. Be easy on yourself!
If you’re worried that your depression and anxiety are not going away, it’s a good idea to reach out to a healthcare professional. Check out this list of resources for mental health, mental illness, and related services in Canada. It’s easy for some men to see asking for help as a sign of weakness, but that’s simply not true. It takes a strong man to understand that your mental health is important for you and everyone around you.