Movember Pt. 1: Looking at Men's Mental Health

Movember is here and men around the world will sport a mustache all month long to raise awareness and money for men's related health issues. Movember was started by two Australian friends back in 2003 who thought it would be fun to see if they could bring the 'stache back into style. They recruited 30 friends to take part in the challenge with them. Throughout the month, they realized what a conversation starter the mustache was and more people became interested in what they were doing. The following year they built a website to advertise the challenge and this time they combined it as a fundraiser for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia. They got almost 500 people to take part, and each year the movement has steadily grown. Fast forward to 2019 where roughly 6 million people around the world take part in Movember, raising money for hundreds of men's health organizations and charities.  

So, what are the health issues directly related to men that Movember focuses on?  There are a few we'll explore over the course of the next month, but the first one up is mental health.

Facts

- Globally, every minute, a man dies by suicide.

- In the United States, 75% of suicides are men.

- The suicide rate among American men is about four times higher than among women, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Women are more likely to attempt suicide but men are more likely to succeed.

- Men living in small towns and rural areas have particularly high rates of suicide in the US. States such as Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Alaska have the highest rates of suicide in the country. 

- Especially high rates have been observed in veterans, young American Indians and gay men.

Possible Causes

There are, of course, many reasons and scenarios that can lead a person to experience depression or anxiety. But what are some of the reasons or scenarios that may be specific to men?

1. Opening up and seeking help

Studies show that most men say they would be there for their friends seeking help, but these same studies also show that most men feel uncomfortable asking friends for help themselves.

Men often don't talk about how they're feeling and they also often don't look for solutions. This is without a doubt one of the main contributing factors to the men's mental health and suicide crisis. In a recent survey of 1000 men, 49% said they felt more depressed than they would ever admit to the people in their lives. Perhaps there's a genetic predisposition to men not being as communicative with their emotions than their female counterparts, but a large part is societal notions and stereotypes of masculinity and what being a man should look like.

This is largely rooted in traditional American notions of masculinity that emphasize being tough and strong and having unflinching grit and determination. However, another possible explanation is that formal mental health services are not attuned to men’s needs. Evidence suggests that men are significantly less likely to use mental health services in comparison with women. This is especially so for Black, Latino, and Asian men, who have much lower utilization rates than white men. These services tend to emphasize meds or traditional talk therapy. But some research suggests that men prefer action over words in the face of stressful situations. 

High rates of suicide have been observed in veterans, young American Indians and gay men. A common factor among these groups may be perceived and real rejection from mainstream society and not fitting the mold of traditional masculinity,  leading to strong feelings of alienation and isolation.

2. Substance abuse

Substance abuse is a predominantly male problem, occurring at a rate of 3 to 1 in comparison to females. Substance abuse is sometimes referred to as "slow-motion suicide," given that it can often end in a premature death.

Research indicates that many men engage in substance abuse in response to stressful life transitions including unemployment and divorce. Take for example that almost 50 percent of marriages end in divorce - many men report negative experiences in family courts, with data suggesting that only about 1 in 6 men have custody of their children, often with minimal visitation rights. This separation and loss can be devastating, leaving men feeling isolated and alienated from mainstream society. Substance abuse may be a maladaptive response to a tough situation.

Men are also almost two times more likely to binge drink than women. Not only do men abuse alcohol more often than women, men consistently have higher rates of alcohol-related deaths and hospitalizations. Men are also more likely to have used alcohol before dying by suicide.

3. Specific types of trauma 

About 6 of every 10 men experience at least one trauma in their life. Men are more likely to experience trauma related to: accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster, or to witness death or severe injury. PTSD related to these traumas can develop weeks, months, and sometimes even years later, and can cause a person to relive the traumatic event, avoid places or situations that serve as a reminder of it, experience nightmares and flashbacks, as well as a number of other difficult symptoms that can get in the way of everyday life.

Tips for combatting depression and anxiety

Talk, talk, talk -  If there's one thing we can learn from these statistics it's to be more open in sharing your feelings and talk it out when you're going through a tough time. Look to your community of friends and family - they're eager to help. Talking helps put internal issues out in the open which contextualizes them and puts them into better perspective. Friends are not only wanting to help and listen but often times you'll discover that they are going through some of the same feelings and challenges in their own lives. That only strengthens us and our community. If there's only one thing we can take away from all this it's to challenge ourselves and the other men in our lives to be more vocal and to talk it out. As Movember says, "Be a man of more words. Because talking saves lives."  

Exercise -  Science has shown that getting your heart rate up releases endorphins that can help regulate serotonin in your brain, which is the happy chemical. You also get the benefit of improving your health and the way you look and feel about yourself. And you know what they say, "if you look good, you feel good,"

If you don't incorporate exercise in your life yet, start with 30 minutes, three times a week. You can hit up your local gym or just go for a run and then do some pushups, sit-ups and air squats at home. Incorporating even just 30 minutes, three times a week, can be a real game changer both mentally and physically. 

Nutrition and hydration: It took me years to full realize and admit it, but what you put in your body is just as, if not more important than staying active. If you want to transform the way you look and feel, nutrition is 80-90% of the equation. It's also good for your health and can help you live healthier and longer.

There's a good rule out there that keeps it really simple - just stick to eating real food. If we didn't eat it 100 years ago, don't eat it. If it comes in a bunch of packaging or had to go through some significant processing to be what it is, don't eat it.

If you can shop organic that also helps, but more important is that you're just sticking to real food. Our bodies know what to do with real food, and that alone can be transformative for how you look and feel. Stick to the outer aisles of the supermarket, that's where the good stuff is. Examples: Vegetables, fruit, whole grains such as brown rice, oats and whole wheat pasta, chicken, beef, and fish, full fat dairy.  

Hydration is also a big one. There was a yoga teacher I had in grad school that said when you're feeling crummy - whether you're tired, low mood, anxious - go drink a few glasses of water and then check in. And she was right - a lot of times actually staying hydrated (aka: not only drinking water when you're thirsty) can take care of a lot. There have been numerous times when drinking a few glasses of water immediately made me feel better. Try it for yourself next time, you may be surprised.    

You can also incorporate organic CBD into your routine. Aurelian CBD can help reduce inflammation, soothe anxiety and stress, and bring balance to your mind and body. CBD is relatively new, but at Aurelian we're very excited to see many of our customers starting to use our products not just on an as-needed basis, but as part of a daily routine to stay healthy and happy. The effects of CBD are cumulative, just like exercise and healthy eating, meaning the more consistent you are with it, the greater the benefits and results.    

Journaling - Similar to talking it out, writing down what you're experiencing and feeling can often be very cathartic and grounding. Studies have shown the connections our brains make with information is different and often stronger when put down on paper. It gets the information out of our heads and into the world, which can be very powerful. Journaling in a free flow stream-of-consciousness manner can contextualize a lot of feelings and fears and reduce the power these have.  

Meditation - I'm sure you've tried or at least thought of trying meditation before. There's different types of meditation, some involving mantras or guided techniques where you're led by a guide, but at the very basic level of it, meditation is simply sitting somewhere quiet for a few minutes every day and focusing on your breath. The mind will naturally wander as it's conditioned to do, but then you offer yourself a gentle reminder to just put the focus back on your breath. What that means is that you can focus on the sound, or the feeling, or the rhythm of your breath going in and out of your body. Don't over complicate it, there's no "wrong" way to meditate.

Numerous studies have shown the power that even just a few minutes of daily meditation can have on stress and anxiety levels, happiness, focus, sleep, and depression to name a few. They've done scans on brains that show the amount of activity in the amygdala (which is the part of our brain that regulates fight or flight response, aka panic/stress) to go significantly down after incorporating a simple daily meditation practice. You don't have to be some barefoot, new age hippy to bring meditation into your life - just an everyday person looking to have better control over your mind and feelings, the same way you train your muscles in the gym.  

What can we do to help bring about change and awareness for men's mental health?

Men’s mental health should be recognized not only as a health issue but also as a social one, with attention paid to various topics such as unemployment and family separation.

There should be more choices in the mental health therapy industry, with options especially tailored to men and their unique needs. 

Health departments at various levels of government should create specific strategies to improve men’s mental health and awareness, setting goals and targets based on continued research.

The Movember organization outlines the following key steps:

- Give men the facts and educate them. This allows men to stay mentally healthy, build strong social connections and take action early when times are tough.

- Change behavior for the better. Work towards a world where men are comfortable having conversations about vulnerable topics that are affecting them.

- Create services that work for men. Men understand the needs of other men and can work to make sure that services are designed with those needs in mind.

- Unite the brightest minds. Movember and other organizations are funding the most innovative projects, and when they know something works, they share that knowledge globally.

- Listen to the community and advocate for men. Men need to be able to access support in their communities and where they’re comfortable. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Combine that with forcing governments to understand the issues that men are facing, and demanding action.

Movember's goal is to reduce the rate of male suicide by 25% by 2030.

 

Other resources:

Mentalhealth.gov

Provides one-stop access to U.S. government mental health and mental health problems information.

youth.gov

Created by the Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs (IWGYP) to promote the goal of positive, healthy outcomes for youth.

HeadsUpGuys

Is a men’s depression resource funded by Movember and provides guys with information and practical tips to manage and prevent depression.

 

Bibliography:

https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-by-the-numbers

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/12/numbers

https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-by-the-numbers

https://www.mhanational.org/infographic-mental-health-men

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-about-men/201702/mens-mental-health-silent-crisis

https://us.movember.com/

 

 

 

     

     

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