How to treat men’s mental health
March 18, 2023 | 12:30 pm
Men account for about 80% of all suicides, with depression being a component of the majority of them. Depression among men is increasing rapidly, but current psychotherapy treatments typically fail to distinguish what works best for each gender. That has to change if we want to keep men mentally fit – and alive!
The masculinity crisis is real.
Men make up 49% of the population but almost 80% of all suicides.
Every 13.7 minutes a man takes his own life somewhere in the US, and depression is present in at least 50% of those suicides, according to the Canadian Center for Suicide Prevention.
In addition to medication, psychological therapy can also help to alleviate depressive symptoms.
For women, that is.
But less for men.
That’s because we seem to be suffering from depression all wrong.
Men and women see the world very differently; Their brains are literally wired differently.
And that means men and women suffer from depression in different ways too.
There was a time when the American Psychological Association (APA), the organization responsible for accrediting psychologists in the US, seemed open to the idea of ”male depression.”
As early as 2005, the APA noted that those in the psychological community “had come to believe that the traditional signs of depression (sadness, worthlessness, excessive guilt) may not reflect many men’s experience of a depressive episode.”
Unfortunately, not long after, the “sex is a construct” narrative began to gain traction, and the APA began to deny that there actually were gender differences.
Soon after, the APA decided to label traits associated with traditional masculinity as “mentally harmful.”
Is it any wonder that the current system, having effectively turned its back on men, is so ill-equipped to help the men of America?
Which brings us back to the idea of ”male depression.” Adam Lane Smith, a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in treating both men and women, says depression in men tends to revolve around feelings of helplessness and powerlessness.
“Men need the ability to change their environment, make a lasting impact (a legacy), and either stop their pain or give it meaning,” he explained.
They are less interested in having their feelings validated and more interested in finding a solution.
They want answers and they want them now.
Female depression, on the other hand, “is more centered on feeling unloved or useless to the people she loves,” Smith noted. “Women need to feel cared for, valued and supported.”
For men, the feeling of not being able to positively influence their environment seems to be the prelude to a deep depression.
“At first,” Smith said, “they feel helpless in those areas that they’re never going to get out of those negative feelings.”
Then, after some time, he added, “suicidal thoughts kicked in.”
Smith’s words are particularly troubling because the number of male depressions is now rising so dramatically.
Given the choice, men prefer to talk to a male therapist.
This has nothing to do with sexism.
Data confirms that men simply respond better to male therapists than to female therapists.
Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough male therapists to choose from.
Almost two-thirds of psychologists in the United States are women.
Eighty percent of clinical psychologists are female.
About 75% of psychology students are female.
This is one of the reasons why therapy fails in men.
Another reason is that most therapy sessions focus on making men feel better, “more loved and more connected,” notes Smith.
However, the vast majority of the time, he said, men feel powerless, “so when they feel loved while still being powerless, they feel more like a burden, not less than one.”
In other words, we try to treat male depression with female-centric approaches.
And that probably makes male therapy patients feel even worse.
This begs the question: What, if anything, can be done?
First and foremost, it is time for the broader psychology community to reverse course and acknowledge that there are biological differences—both for the physical body and the intangible mind. “
A one-size-fits-all approach is…[not] the tide will turn on the suicide epidemic, the drug epidemic, or any other mental health problem that is currently getting worse,” Smith explains.
To get men out of their rut, they need to not only feel better, but actually get impactful and meaningful results.
This should be the endgame of any mental health treatment.
Because to truly address male suffering, we must first accept the idea that a man’s pain often doesn’t look like its female counterpart.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis and live in New York City, you can call 1-888-NYC-WELL for free and confidential crisis counseling. If you live outside the five counties, you can call the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988 or go to SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.