Mental Health in Young Males
Talking about and admitting to mental illness is something that we shouldn’t be ashamed of. It shouldn’t hide in the shadows. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 35 in Ireland. It ends more lives than car crashes or cancer. But you, yes you, can be part of the trend that starts changing this figure.
November 19 was International Men’s Day and it’s vital we don’t forget that men are often sidelined by a society that trumps women’s rights. Girls outperform boys at every educational stage. Young men are more likely to be unemployed than young women. Women in their twenties and thirties out-earn men. After years of not being judged on their bodies, young men must have the clenched abs looks of Poldark. Meanwhile an anti-male culture paints men as potential rapists, as porn-addled harassers and online bullies who must be tamed and shamed in consent classes, all of which can cause metal health issues.
The problem isn’t that young men are more susceptible to mental health issues than girls are; the problem is that they are much worse at dealing with psychological problems. Young men are less likely to look for help, to talk about how they’re feeling with family and peers, or even fully understand themselves that there is something wrong. They’ve been told forever that they need to be “strong.”
Until very recently it was generally accepted in my profession that twice as many women suffered from depression than men. We were wrong. We’re now asking if this is because women are far more likely to open up about being depressed and to look for help.
In fact when men do attend their doctor because of their mental health, they will often present with a physical symptom (like back pain) which the GP will often treat at face value. The mental health problem will continue undiagnosed. Each week we have, on average, ten suicides in this country and eight of them are men, not because they’re wayward or reckless, but because they’re depressed.
Denial of mental illness runs through our society but genes, neurochemicals and circumstances can interact unpredictably and sometimes devastatingly. Don’t despair though. With the right help, the vast majority of people pull through.
The majority of people suffering from depression are treated effectively by their GP. Your son’s GP can discuss the treatments available (ranging from antidepressants to lifestyle changes, like taking up exercise and eating a balanced diet). People who are depressed have low levels of serotonin. Most antidepressants work by upping serotonin levels in the brain and take 4 to 6 weeks to act. Your son’s GP can also refer him onwards to a psychiatrist if appropriate.
We all need to work together to create a society where young men feel able to talk about their feelings and feel valued. Otherwise this sad epidemic of young males feeling alienated and killing themselves is going to get worse.