Historically, men’s mental health hasn’t been a common topic of conversation in rural America.
In the past, studies showed that depression and anxiety were much less common in men than women. However, there is a growing body of evidence that mental illness is more likely to be underreported and untreated in men.
This is evidenced by multiple grim statistics. Men are four times more likely than women to commit suicide, and suicides among men have been on the rise since 2000. It is currently the seventh leading cause of death among males and affects men in rural areas like Delta County at even higher rates. Veterans, gay men and men over 85 years old are some of the highest risk groups. Men are also three times more likely to suffer from substance abuse. This is likely a contributing factor to the higher suicide rate in men as alcohol intoxication is associated with 22% of all suicide deaths in the US.
Men’s mental health issues are more likely to be overlooked for a variety of reasons.
First, men are much less likely than women to access primary care or seek treatment for depression, substance abuse or stressful life events. There’s also often a failure to recognize symptoms of depression in men. Most people associate depression with feeling sad or more emotional. While men and women can experience depression in the same way, symptoms in men are more likely to be characterized by irritability, loss of interest in activities, short temper, poor concentration, poor sleep or excess worry. Men are also more likely to ignore or minimize symptoms. Many assume that the problem will go away on its own, and there is a greater tendency to downplay feelings and “tough it out.”
Traditional stereotypes of men often focus on self-reliance and discourage men from discussing personal problems. There’s a tendency to glorify the hero or lone cowboy who doesn’t complain. But these gender stereotypes often result our society overlooking symptoms of depression. A World Health Organization report found that even when presenting with the exact same symptoms, women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression and less likely than men to be diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder. The increasing rates of suicide and substance abuse make it critical that we change stereotypes and minimize the stigma surrounding mental illness.
With the current COVID-19 pandemic, the threat of illness, increased social isolation and economic stress place both men and women at greater risk for depression and anxiety. It is important as healthcare providers, family members or friends that we look out for everyone around us. To decrease rates of suicide and substance abuse, it is especially important to recognize symptoms of depression and stress to boys and men that reaching out for help isn’t a sign of weakness.
While there is a shortage of mental health services in rural areas and small towns, it has never been easier than now to access safe, confidential behavioral health in our community. Recognizing that mental health is an important part of the overall health of our community, Delta County Memorial Hospital (DCMH) has added behavioral health services and providers to all of its primary care clinics. DCMH clinics can also help with accessing other behavioral health services in our community such as the Center for Mental Health and local counselors.
If you or someone close to you needs help, contact your DCMH primary care provider for an appointment or visit deltahospital.org.
Ryan Marlin, M.D. is a board certified Family Medicine physician at the Delta County Memorial Hospital West Elk Clinic Hotchkiss.