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The Silent Majority in Mental Health

The month of June usually centers around school letting out, summer vacations, and Father’s Day. Did you know it’s also Men’s Health Month? Senator Bob Dole drafted legislation in 1994 initially establishing Men’s Health Week, but since the passage of that bill, that week has been expanded to a full month.

It’s a long overdue conversation because men typically don’t talk about their mental health battles, nor do they seek treatment very often. That silence has led to an uptick in male suicide, a rate that has been rising for the past twenty years, making suicide the 7th or 8th (depending on the stats you read) leading cause of death in males, right up there with strokes and Alzheimer’s. Three-fourths of all suicides are committed by males. Three-fourths. These are sad statistics that need to change.

It’s estimated that more than 6 million men have depression, and more than 3 million suffer from an anxiety disorder. However, because men often report depression symptoms as fatigue or stress, those numbers could be much higher. 20% of all men develop an alcohol abuse problem during their lifetime, maybe because many of them are self-medicating instead of having those necessary conversations.

I get it. When I was recovering from the attack, the last thing I wanted to admit was that I was experiencing any kind of mental health struggle. I didn’t want to show my weakness, or ask for help. I just wanted to get over it and get on with my life.

But I couldn’t do that, not until I was honest with myself, my doctors, and my loved ones, about what I was going through. As soon as I began having those conversations, it was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I felt like I could breathe, like I didn’t have to hide how I was feeling anymore.

Men suffer from those same fears. They are less likely to seek help than women because of societal pressure and a reluctance to talk about what they are experiencing. From birth, males are taught to “buck up” or “be strong.” Crying is frowned upon, and any expression of weakness is perceived as being wimpy.

What if we changed all that and began to talk about men who open up as brave and strong? Men like Michael Phelps, who has been very public about his mental health battle, are paving the way. They are out in the public eye saying, hey, I’m struggling, and it’s okay if you are too.

If you are a male, or know a male, who struggles with their mental health, it’s important to start the conversation. Just one look at the stats will tell you that men need help just as much as anyone else does, but that the chances of them asking for that help are much, much slimmer. On the Men’s Health Month site, there is a list of things you can do to raise awareness, but I think the best way to do that is to no longer be afraid to speak up.

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