June is officially National Men’s Health Month with a focus on improving the lifestyles and overall wellness of men. With many options for improving health, we’ll look at how to address an often over-looked aspect of men’s health: mental health.
Mental illness (which affects one in five American adults) is often overlooked in men. Stigma regarding men and mental health is a big part of this problem.
In an interview with Healthline, Dr. Raymond Hobbs, a physician with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, discusses stigma noting, “I think part of it may be this macho thing. A lot of guys don’t want to admit they have this problem. They still see depression as a sign of weakness.”
According to the American Psychological Association, 9 percent of American men have daily feelings of depression or anxiety. This amounts to nearly 30 million American men experiencing daily depression or anxiety. Add to this the suicide rate for men, which is four time higher than for women, and mental health is a serious issue for American men.
Improving mental health is not a one-size-fits all answer. There are many ways in which men can improve mental health including seeking counseling, seeking community support, talking with family or close friends regarding feelings of depression and/or anxiety, and taking proactive steps to ensure stronger mental health. These steps may include adding excise to your daily schedule, getting enough sleep (which can affect mood and overall functioning) or eating a more balanced diet (which affects hormone levels, mood and energy levels). Beyond these go-to strategies, other activities can greatly benefit mental health.
5 Tips for Improving Mental Health Include:
According to Mental Health American, meditation is especially beneficial for reducing stress. Meditation can also help with depression and relieving or coping with chronic stress. Several apps are easy to download and help get you started including Calm and Headspace. Many apps offer free options or levels before payment is required. Also, YouTube is a great resource for meditations.
Mindfulness is different from but complimentary to meditation. For more about the art of being present, mindful.org is a great start.
Spending more time outside and in nature has proven to be therapeutic. Harvard Health indicates that mood disorders can be lifted by time spent outdoors. Doctors note that for many men, getting outside is an effective treatment for low moods or mental health issues. For many men, time in nature is therapeutic in and of itself. Even the sounds of nature can be calming. So get outside, pull out a sound machine or watch a nature documentary to slow down and relax.
Developing and cultivating hobbies can reduce stress and provide a break from the worries of work, family obligations and other sources of mental fatigue. According to the Australian Psychological Association, participants in a stress and relaxation survey found engaging in hobbies to be stress relieving. Trying a new hobby can spark learning, and picking up old hobbies can reignite passions set aside for other obligations like work and family. Hobbies are a great way to take care of self and engage in some “me” time, which is often lacking for many men and women alike.
Developing and keeping up with friendships is difficult in our busy worlds but necessary for improved mental health and connection. According to research in the Journal of Urban Health (2001), “Smaller social networks, fewer close relationships, and lower perceived adequacy of social support have all been linked to depressive symptoms.”
Mental health has a direct and reciprocal impact on overall health. Physical health supports mental health (which is why exercise and diet are so important). Mental health supports physical health. Some men have stigma regarding mental health or feel uncomfortable with some avenues of support (like counseling or even medication). Other options exist such as meditation, social connection and revisiting hobbies. Like physical health, addressing mental health is best done from a preventative perspective. Taking action before issues emerge can help men avoid bigger issues down the road or feeling overwhelmed by emotional and mental discomfort.
Finally, depression and anxiety are not the only mental health issues to be conscious of. Many experience unsettling feelings during periods of transition (retirement, divorce), after loss (of a loved one, of a job, of a position/title) and due to interpersonal issues (marital conflict, parenting issues, work-related communication problems). Support for any of these issues and others is available through counseling, religious guidance, social support or even by speaking with a physician.
Don’t let mental health take a back seat to your physical health. By taking charge of all aspects of men’s health, you can enjoy optimum overall health and a happy, balanced life.
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