Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Is men’s mental health different from women’s mental health? It’s a question you’ve likely pondered.
On the one hand, men and women experience many of the same mental health issues and psychological distress. Treatment, likewise, is often similar, with medication and therapy being effective for both genders.
But things get complicated when you consider social issues and cultural stigma.
You’ve probably seen the statistics about men’s mental healthcare and the arguments about whether men and women have the same needs. We’re not here to argue semantics, but it’s an important part of how we look at men’s mental health in general — and how we treat mental health conditions.
Whether you’re here to learn how to better care for your own health or support the mental health of a man in your life, facts are facts. Let’s walk through some of the most critical facts that paint a portrait of the state of men’s mental health.
Women and men aren’t necessarily that different in terms of biology or chemistry, but when it comes to how mental healthcare is given and requested, things get polarized quickly.
One of the most telling statistics we can point to is the gender-based divide in diagnosis and mental healthcare.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), as of 2020, one in five adults in the United States had a mental health issue they were actively dealing with. The NIMH broke this down into two categories: “serious mental illness” and “any mental illness.”
In the “any mental illness” camp, women were at a higher rate of prevalence for illness (25 percent versus 15 percent of men). The same was true of the “serious mental illness” category, with slightly different numbers. But things get interesting when you look at who actually received treatment — and who sought it.
More than half of women with “any mental illness” received mental health services, while only 37 percent of men did. And in the serious category, women were 15 percent more likely to get treatment than men.
There’s a simple explanation for this: men are less likely to report because of the social stigma around mental illness. As a result, they’re less likely to receive treatment.
For the most part, men and women suffer from the same mental health issues. In fact, while women are generally more likely to be diagnosed with a disorder, there doesn’t seem to be a difference in what specific conditions affect which genders more.
So, what are the most common mental health disorders affecting men? A look at the National Library of Medicine suggests that the most commonly occurring mental illnesses are, in no particular order:
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
The health disparities between men and women lay in the coping mechanisms, behaviors and other responses to those disorders.
A 2011 study by the American Psychological Association looked at data from more than 40,000 adult Americans. They found that women are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety or depression, while men are more likely to be diagnosed with substance abuse disorders and antisocial disorders.
Mental health symptoms varied as well. Women with depressive disorders were more likely to ruminate than men, while engaging in less active problem solving than men when considering problems.
The study also found that although women tend to internalize emotions and become lonely or withdrawn, men prefer to exhibit their symptoms of depression by externalizing feelings through aggressive, impulsive or “noncompliant” behaviors.
This data might indicate the presence of other social and institutional problems. Substance use disorders, for one, are often considered secondary disorders — problems representative or reflective of other untreated mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.
People with depression are at a higher risk for substance abuse, and the opposite is true as well. The same goes for PTSD and some forms of anxiety.
Given the well-documented tendency of men to avoid seeking treatment, it’s entirely possible this study’s data reflects men as “more likely” to be diagnosed with substance disorders simply because they’ve been self-medicating while avoiding treatment.
So while these mental illnesses and mental health conditions may play out differently based on gender, there doesn’t appear to be any data suggesting, for instance, that men are more likely to be depressed than anxious, or vice versa.
And that matters — it matters big time. Global, statistics show that men are more than twice as likely than women to die by suicide, despite lower rates of reporting overall for conditions like depression.
It’s fair to argue that men may simply not be getting the help they need. And that’s unfortunate, as there’s plenty of support available that could help guys treat and manage mental illness.
Similar to the diagnostic data, there’s not much in the way of differential treatment based on gender. It appears both men and women can benefit from proven treatment options.
The question is how to get more men to accept and pursue treatment for mental illness rather than viewing it as a sign of weakness.
Once they do, treatment will take one or more of three forms: medication, therapy and lifestyle changes. Here’s what to know.
Medication has come a long way since the days when your grandfather developed his stigma against antidepressants. For people with depressive disorders and anxiety, taking antidepressants is a reliable and safe way to deal with symptoms.
First-line antidepressants these days are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. These medications help your brain maintain its supply of the serotonin neurotransmitters it needs to prevent your mood from hitting zero.
Though men may avoid therapy, data shows that it’s one of the most effective ways to manage mental health disorders. A practical, well-respected form of modern therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT.
With CBT, you learn techniques and practices for controlling the negative, anxious or depressive thoughts that come into your head. You can also learn how to stop overthinking situations or problems. With time and practice, you can shut out the ways of thinking that cause panic attacks, depressive episodes and other negative mental health impacts.
By the way, those substance abuse issues? They could be contributing to your mental illness. Making gradual and substantive changes to your alcohol, tobacco and drug use is a great way to reduce depression and anxiety risks.
The same goes for general healthcare basics like getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising regularly.
If you’re unsure where to begin, boy, do we have easy recommendations for you.
Truth be told, there’s no wrong place to start seeking the help you need. If you have a primary care physician, they’re a great person to talk to. An existing therapist or mental healthcare provider? Also fantastic. You can get referrals or recommendations from family members, trusted friends and religious or community leaders as well.
Sometimes, the first person you talk to won’t be able to give you the exact help you need. But even those healthcare providers will be able to point you in the direction of the right people with the right qualifications.
If you’re really struggling to find your first connection, we can help. Our mental health resources are a great place to gather more information about disorders like anxiety and depression, check out medications that have been shown to be effective in managing those conditions, and explore the various types of therapy that might help your mind be the best version of itself.
We can even start the therapy process with you today. Our online therapy platform is fast and convenient and puts you in touch with mental health professionals from the comfort of whatever room you’re in right now.
Your mental health shouldn’t be stigmatized, shamed or swept under the rug. Get the support you deserve today.