Dr. Sara Hickmann is a Clinical Counselor for the Fleet and Family Support Center at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, CA. Previously, she served as the Director of Player Assistance Services in the Player Development Department at the National Football League (NFL) from 2004 to 2009. We asked Dr. Hickmann to compile a list of commonly held misconceptions about men’s mental health.
Our goal in the Men’s Mental Health Campaign is to challenge some of the common yet false beliefs that men hold about mental health, particularly the beliefs that might prevent them from getting the help they need. Let’s start the conversation.
Common Belief: “I don’t need help. I got this.”
Research shows that, often, the men who need mental health services most – stressed out, successful, athletic, family men – are also the least interested in getting help. The traditional male role encourages a preoccupation with success, power and competition. And yet these types of men are at higher risk of negative psychological consequences, such as depression, anxiety, and relationship problems.
Common Belief: “Talking about my problems is not going to change anything.”
The term “normative male alexithymia” has been used to describe men’s problems with expressing their emotions, a possible contributor to depression and barrier to treatment. Men are geared towards problem solving, but sometimes holding in how you feel is part of the problem. When you start talking about things that bother you or are causing stress, the problem solving can begin. Athletes will “huddle up” on the court or field to make a plan or a game strategy and make adjustments as they go along. This is similar to what happens in counseling or therapy.
Common Belief: “It’s not that bad, it’s the way I’ve always been.”
Most likely, you don’t like to go to the doctor when you have a fever, sore throat, and cough. You probably want to ride it out and see if you can just get better on your own. But then you realize the cough has now turned into bronchitis and you aren’t able to work. Mental health issues can be similar. It can be hard to know when it’s time. Sometimes, you just need to talk. And, other times, it’s pretty bad. You can’t get out of bed or function. Untreated depression and other psychiatric problems can result in personal, family, and financial problems, even suicide. According to NIMH, four times as many men as women die by suicide in the United States, which may result from a higher prevalence of untreated depression. Yet eight out of 10 cases of depression respond to treatment.
Common Belief: “People will think I am crazy if I see a psychologist.”
Our brains are sensitive organs that respond to our genetics, traumatic life events, and stress. Many of these factors are not in our direct control. Men may express their depression in terms of increases in fatigue, irritability and anger, loss of interest in work, and sleep disturbances. It has also been shown that men use more drugs and alcohol, perhaps to self-medicate. This can mask the signs of depression, making it harder to detect and treat effectively. A diagnosis is not a life sentence. A diagnosis can be a name of a condition that provides a road-map for proper treatment and improvement in your mood, relationships, and life.
Start the conversation. With someone you trust. With someone who is trained. With someone who cares. Ask questions. Start the conversation.