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Managing mental health is an important part of every patient’s wellness journey. For men, seeking care for mental health is essential—for both the individual and society at large. But men face a stigma around asking for help—one that can be detrimental to their health, both physically and emotionally.
To provide support to your male patients when it comes to their mental health, it’s important to first acknowledge and begin to break down the stigma around seeking treatment. “We need to do a better job, as providers, of addressing men’s attitudes and beliefs about health care,” said Victor Ukwu, M.D., a family medicine physician at Inspira Medical Group Primary Care Haddon Township. “Going to the doctor is not a sign of weakness, and it’s up to us to start to break down those walls and get men more comfortable with visiting their providers on a regular basis.”
Stress, Anxiety and Sleep Deprivation
The most common mental health issues that men face are stress and anxiety. “As a society, we don’t do a great job of teaching about stress. It’s important for us to give clarity to our male patients on when stress and anxiety are helpful and when they may become problematic if not managed effectively,” said Dr. Ukwu.
One way anxiety can show up in male patients is sleep deprivation. “We all have days or points in our life when we’re not getting enough sleep. But men, in general, have the added pressure of performing all the time. We have this belief that we need to push through the sleepless nights and keep working hard. And before we realize it, we’re only getting three to four hours of sleep per night. It may feel like a bragging right to function off of so little sleep, but in reality, it’s detrimental to our wellbeing.”
As providers, it’s important to check in with male patients on their sleeping patterns and mental health management. Symptoms of sleep deprivation, especially for male patients, can include:
- Weight gain
- Reactivity or feelings of being “on edge”
- Memory issues
- Poor decision making
- Daytime fatigue
If your patients are complaining about a lack of sleep, it’s time to dig a little bit deeper to figure out the root of the problem. If you’re concerned about a patient’s sleeping patterns, Dr. Ukwu suggests talking to them about using a wearable device to track sleep or setting bedtime reminders on their phones—after screening them for sleep apnea or other sleep-related conditions.
Managing Stress and Anxiety
One way for men to manage their stress and anxiety is by focusing on their mind-body practice. “I help my patients set up a plan that combines mental and physical health routines to really get in tune with their minds and bodies,” said. Dr. Ukwu. A balanced mind-body practice should incorporate elements such as:
- Physical exercise
- Spending time with a spouse or friend
- Spiritual rituals
Community Support for Mental Health
Another way for men to handle stress and difficult emotions is to connect with their community. “Stress doesn’t make you any less of a man, and neither does seeking support from your peers,” said Dr. Ukwu. “Men may find it more difficult to verbalize their emotions and worries, which makes it harder to work through them. There’s an existing fear among many men about others knowing that they’re struggling, but talking about these anxieties and stressors in a group setting can help to remove the stigma.”
“As men age, their close connections and friendships with other men tend to dissipate. We need those friendships and communities where we feel comfortable having conversations about life, relationships and our mental health,” said Dr. Ukwu.
One of the highest predictors of depression and thoughts of suicide in older men is their level of connection with friends and supportive communities. Providers can support their male patients by suggesting community groups and social causes to get involved in. “I like to suggest participating in something like No-Shave November, because it gives men a chance to join together for a cause and find a reason to connect with each other on a personal level,” said Dr. Ukwu.
Connecting with Patients on a Personal Level
“I like to focus on my patients’ holistic health and make things personal. I try to give them the space to share their concerns with me, even if it’s something I can’t address right away,” said Dr. Ukwu. “Even being vulnerable and sharing my own struggles has helped male patients open up to me. And I suggest to every one of my patients at least one session of therapy to start to work through emotions they may never have aired before.”
As health care providers, it’s on all of us to continue working towards positive social change when it comes to men’s unique mental health needs.