Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders in Men

9 Jul, 2022
mental health and substance use disorders in men

“Men are strong and not overly emotional. Man up! Crying is for girls. Men and boys don’t cry. Men are calm and rational, but all women are crazy.” Many of us have heard these or similar sentiments verbalized at some time or another. Unfortunately, these and statements like them are inaccurate, stereotypical, limiting, and can be harmful to everyone. Despite the stereotypes, men face substance use disorders (SUD) and mental illness and need help and effective treatment.

Prevalence of Mental Illness and SUD in Men

Mental illness and substance use disorders (SUD) affect both men and women, but the prevalence of mental illness is lower in men. However, men are more likely to die by suicide than women. According to research in 2018, around 75% of suicide cases were men. In 2020, it was estimated that nearly one in five adults in America was living with a mental illness, with 15.8% of men having any mental illness (AMI) and 4.2% living with a severe mental illness (SMI).

What are the Most Commonly Diagnosed Mental Illnesses in Men?

Men are less likely than women to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression and more likely to be diagnosed with:

  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Disruptive and impulse control disorders such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD), and intermittent-explosive disorder

Bias in Measurement and Reporting Prevalence of Mental Illnesses in Men

Are anxiety and depression less common in men, or is the significantly lower prevalence more pronounced because of measurement and reporting bias? Men are much less likely to report mood disorder symptoms than women. Men are also more likely to act out in the form of substance use, irritability, anger, and aggression when anxious or depressed. Since acting out behaviors are not included in standard measurement tools for depression and anxiety, this could result in these disorders being under-reported.

Critical Factors Affecting Male Mental Health

Mental health depends on many biological and environmental factors, but there are some common risk factors for poor mental health in men:

  • Job issues
  • Family problems and divorce
  • Life transitions such as parenthood
  • Adverse childhood
  • Co-occurring SUD

While all of the factors above can affect anyone’s mental health, job issues seem to affect men’s mental health more negatively than women. Family problems and divorce take a toll on both men and women, but men often have a smaller support circle than women. While women, as well as men, can experience an adverse childhood, men tend to act out and self-medicate with substances more than women. Men are more likely than women to experience SUD.

Warning Signs of Mental Illness

Some tell-tale signs to look for that may indicate that a man is struggling with mental illness include:

  • Anger/irritability
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Restlessness or feeling on edge
  • Excessive worry
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities that were once pleasurable
  • Noticeable changes in energy levels, mood, or appetite
  • Hopelessness
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors
  • Misuse or abuse of substances

Any one or a combination of these signs may be an indication that professional help may be needed. Many mental illness can present with similar symptoms such as PTDS and Acute Stress Disorder. It’s crucial to get a professional diagnosis and the appropriate treatment plan.

Men and Substance Use

Men are more likely than women to use almost all illicit substances, and use is more likely to result in emergency department visits and overdoses. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), young men have the highest rate of substance use. The most commonly used substance by men is alcohol. The most widely used illicit drug is marijuana.

Warning Signs of Substance Use

People using substances often try to hide their use, and use can remain hidden and undetected by those around them. However, there are signs and clues to look for that include:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Pupils larger or smaller than normal
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Unusual odors on breath or body
  • Changes in sleep or appetite
  • Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination
  • Frequent legal problems
  • Secretive or suspicious behavior
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Sudden mood swings or anger outbursts
  • Unexplained need for money

Barriers Preventing Men from Seeking Treatment for Mental Illness and SUD

Men are less likely to seek treatment for mental illness than women. One reason is the socialization into traditional masculine gender roles. Trying to live up to the stereotypes of self-reliance, invulnerability, and stoicism associated with these roles can prevent men from seeking help as they see it as being weak. In addition, when men do seek help, they may underreport symptoms that they believe make them seem weak. Bias related to masculine stereotypes can also occur on the treating provider’s part and hinder the treatment’s effectiveness.

The coping strategies that men choose can also be barriers to treatment-seeking and lead men to avoid getting professional help. For example, men will often use alcohol or drugs rather than seek treatment for mental illness to cope with emotional distress.

A person’s level of mental health literacy influences help-seeking. Men frequently have poorer mental health literacy than women. Thus men are often less able to identify when they have a mental illness or SUD.

It Is Time to Normalize Men Seeking Help for Mental Illness and SUD

Everyone deserves effective treatment for mental illness and SUD without fear of judgment and stigma, including men. Seeking help does not make a man weak. On the contrary, it takes strength and courage. If you are a man and need mental health or SUD treatment, please reach out for help today because there is hope. Effective treatment is available.

Women are diagnosed with mental illnesses more than men, but that does not mean men do not live with mental illness and SUD. Men need accessible, compassionate, and effective treatment for mental illness and SUD. They also need to feel comfortable in reaching out for that help.

Sober Life offers effective treatment delivered by expert, compassionate staff for mental illness and SUD. We offer partial hospitalization programs (PHP), intensive outpatient programs (IOP), and outpatient programs that fit into your busy life. For added convenience, we also have virtual IOP and outpatient treatment. Men who seek treatment with us will learn new, healthier ways to manage mental illness and SUD in a stigma-free and judgment-free environment. There is no “man up” or “real men do not cry” attitude here. Instead, we encourage open expression and growth, which promotes healing. To find out how Sober Life can help, call (619) 542-9542.

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