Breaking the Stigma Surrounding Men’s Mental Health

“Men don’t cry. They don’t complain. They’re stoic.” These are all antiquated statements, and they are also completely false. Yet, a stigma surrounding men’s mental health remains in today’s society, which is a great disservice to the male population.

Dr. Hamzeh Badwan, Family Medicine Provider at Riverside Healthcare’s Watseka campus, shares insightful information about why this stigma persists, how men can start to change it, and what types of mental health therapies are available.

Men Suffer, Too

Hamzeh Badwan, MD

Per Dr. Badwan, men are stoic by nature. They feel if they complain about something, it’s a sign of weakness. That is just not true. In fact, men are just as at risk as women and adolescents for things like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, and insomnia. Statistics reveal that six million American men are affected by depression each year. Only 20% of that population will actually seek treatment. Simply raising awareness about these facts is a good first step in reducing the stigma.

“With the human body, if the brain isn’t working correctly, the whole body is not going to work correctly. Thank God we have doctors who will treat you to make your life a lot better,” he assures. “This really is a quality of life issue. Usually, men don’t go to the doctor until their limbs are falling off.”

Physical Manifestations of Mental Health Concerns

As Dr. Badwan mentioned, physical symptoms can manifest from mental unrest. He notes symptoms such as fatigue, headache, digestive problems (IBS, diarrhea, constipation). Men may also lash out more, withdraw from others, or a combination of both.

“They might engage in a lot of escaping behavior, where they will seclude themselves from their family and loved ones in order to not have anyone bear their pain,” explains Dr. Badwan. “A lot of men think if they complain about something, other people will feel bogged down by that. The truth of the matter is, it’s the opposite. You have friends and family to support you in times of need.”

Sometimes, men aren’t even aware that certain symptoms might indicate a mental health concern. They may wrestle with insomnia or have difficulty concentrating. That’s why it’s so important to reach out if those issues aren’t quickly resolved.

Medication Isn’t Always Necessary

Many men are averse to taking medication, and they may assume that if they come forward with a mental health concern drugs are the only option. In fact, there are many non-medicative, conservative treatment options that can be highly effective.

“We could do cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, sports or weight lifting, meditation. There are plenty of conservative management approaches that do not require medications. A lot of guys have the attitude of, ‘I don’t want to be on meds.’ That’s okay. We can try some other treatment options first,” shares Dr. Badwan. “If that approach fails, then we can go ahead and try some medication to get them back where they need to be.”

Real Men Reach Out for Help

A great place to start for any man who is dealing with mental health concerns is to visit with their primary care provider. They may not feel comfortable talking to a friend, spouse, or family member, but a physician is a professional who provides an unbiased perspective. Another benefit is that a doctor may uncover an underlying issue that could be contributing to one’s mental health struggles.

However, Dr. Badwan urges men to find a primary care provider who they truly trust. Otherwise, they may not feel like they can be fully open and honest about their mental health worries. It also takes being honest with oneself and reaching out for help when mental health becomes overwhelming.

“A real man will actually be in touch with his feelings and not deny anything. They will not bury anything. That’s childlike behavior,” he notes. “As a man, as a woman, we need to feel free to vocalize and articulate what’s on the inside. That is maturity and growth.”

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