The Silent Epidemic
Updated: May 26, 2021
by Sawyer Welborn
While sickly viruses and mass shootings often take the front page of news feeds, there is a topic that is often not addressed and has the same potential damaging impact to society – men’s mental health.
I was born into and raised by a very conservative and Catholic family. I was brought up on the ideals that certain things were expected of me just because I was a man.
Crying or expressing any sort of emotion was weak. Showing that you were under stress was weak. Getting anxious in any situation was weak. Simply put, I grew up thinking that my own mental health was not important because of my gender.
There have been numerous viral social movements advocating the importance of mental health both as a whole, and for specific demographics such as women and minority groups. The same cannot be said for men’s mental health.
The highest suicide rates in the United States are found in white men over the age of 85. Combine that with the fact that in 2010 there were over 38,000 Americans that died by suicide, and almost 80% of them were men, according to a study conducted by Mental Health America.
This study also concluded that due to societal norms, a reluctance to talk, and the commonality of downplaying symptoms of distress, that men are far less likely to reach out for the help that they need.
Alora Cleere, an LSU graduate school student who works as a mental health counselor, said to me, “There’s a stigma of people expecting men to just get over anything that bothers them. They also don’t get to voice their opinions due to the possibility of being seen as non-masculine, and they just don’t have a real outlet when it comes to their mental health.”
I experienced this firsthand growing up. My father is a man of few words. He’s a mechanic whose hands have seemingly permanent oil stains and numerous scars. Of course, I have heard him laugh occasionally, but not once have I seen him cry. Instead of tears and emotion, I would only see agitation and anger.
Men that are depressed may come off to others as aggressive or angry, but most people don’t think to look at this as red flag symptoms of depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
I have never attended therapy of any kind, but I would be lying if I said the thought never crossed my mind. To get insight on the motivation behind therapy and how it works, I talked to a friend of mine who had been through it.
“Most of the reason that I went to therapy was due to coping with racism and my own sense of identity,” said Kalil Armstrong, a software engineer who lives in Texas. “My only coping mechanism was significant substance abuse in the form of medication I was prescribed.”
Armstrong is one of few men who took matters into his own hands and made the decision that many men can’t – to ask for help.
“I feel like therapy is a very personal experience,” Armstrong said to me. “I personally felt like therapy was very effective at helping me identify what was hurting me. I know that part of my past suffering dealt with a lot of the problems that come from isolation.”
Isolation has always been a negative influence on mental health, and with the current Covid-19 pandemic and the quarantine situation that many have had to endure, it is no shock that four out of 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder due to the pandemic, according to a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“I feel like anybody that has been shut in or isolated for even just several months, it is going to completely deplete your mental energy,” Cleere said on the topic of isolation. “You get anxious, and you feel completely out of control of your situation. I think it’s the lack of control that is the big driving factor for a lot of people when their mental health takes a turn.”
This reluctance for men to speak out in fear of being judged due to societal norms is nothing new and is something that has been instilled in males for generations. Only recently can you see change start to occur.
“Mental health has become a much more approachable topic of conversation, and a lot of it has to do with social media,” Cleere said to me. “With younger generations I feel that it’s just more acceptable to be talking about your feelings, and the future is in the youth.”
For many, the first step to addressing their mental health problems is acknowledging that you can’t do it on your own. Because of this, some people turn to therapy.
It is estimated that only 11.2% of men in 2019 sought mental health treatment at some point in the year, according to a study done by John Elflein, a research expert on mental health.
Societal norms and stereotyping should not dictate how people carry or feel about themselves, especially when it comes to the topic of mental health.
Depression and anxiety do not care about your race, wealth, or your social hierarchy. Mental health affects everyone differently and without remorse.
Most of the information about men’s mental health comes in the form of statistics, and I for one don’t want to be just another statistic. It’s okay to not be okay, but it’s not okay to not admit you need help, much like myself.