Problematic case of the “man”: how the “stronger” sex deals with mental illness

Problematic case of the “man”: how the “stronger” sex deals with mental illness

youTired, overwhelmed, overwhelmed by accumulated stress and tormented by unresolved problems: many men in Germany have psychological problems, but ignore them and do not seek help, as experts point out.

“For many people, illnesses, especially mental illnesses, are not compatible with the classic ideal of masculinity,” reports Anne-Maria Möller-Leimkuhler, board member of the Men’s Health Foundation. The orientation toward traditional norms of masculinity, “that is, being strong and successful, solving problems alone, persevering, and not showing feelings,” is more pronounced among older men than among younger men. This attitude can be “very self-destructive”.

Many men have very limited access to their emotional world due to their socialization, notes the professor of social science psychiatry at the University of Munich. “They suppress and trivialize their psychological problems.” Depression, in particular, is often misinterpreted as an expression of personal weakness and failure. Some people try to compensate with “masculine strategies,” says Möller-Leimcooler. “Therefore, more aggression and anger, more alcohol, more social withdrawal, much more work, much more sports, more risky behavior and escape into the virtual world.”

Three times more suicides than women

One in four adults in Germany is affected by a mental illness within a year – around one in three women and one in four to five men, as Anette Kersting from the Clinic for Psychosomatic Medicine at the University Hospital Leipzig describes. “Men are more likely to suffer from substance abuse, i.e. alcohol and drug addiction or abuse.” On the other hand, they are only diagnosed with depression about half as often as women. However, depression in men can sometimes go unnoticed, explains the clinic director.

Möller-Leimcooler assumes that there is a high number of unreported cases and underdiagnosis, especially when it comes to depression. Unrecognized depression can have serious consequences: inability to work, social decline, isolation, anxiety disorders, diabetes, stroke and an overall increase in mortality. And: “The suicide rate among men is at least three times higher than that of women.”

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Young man hiding a balloon with a sad face drawn on a blue background.  Negative emotion concept Getty ImagesGetty Images

In general, mental disorders occur regardless of profession, experts say. However, Möller-Leimkuhler points to high-risk occupational groups with a high proportion of men in which mental disorders occur more frequently than in the general population: the Bundeswehr, the rescue services and also the police. The stress here can be extreme and traumatic, but at the same time traditional norms of masculinity are quite strong. The most common disorders here are post-traumatic stress disorders and depression. In general, men are much more burdened by professional stress factors than women.

Men are less likely to use offers of help

It’s not just their ideals that often seem to get in the way of men. Women can recognize and name symptoms better than men, says Anette Kersting, who heads the women’s and men’s health department at the professional association of psychiatrists DGPPN. “We see clear gender differences in the use of healthcare. Offers of help are used much less frequently by men.” Among people with mental problems, only a minority receive therapeutic treatment – ​​men even less frequently than women.

The lack of vacancies is problematic, emphasizes psychologist Sebastian Jakobi, who advises companies on workplace safety. “Anyone who needs psychotherapy is in a weakened life situation and cannot wait many months for a place of therapy.” However, the fact that there are few male therapists is less important. In any case, this is not the reason why men rarely visit a psychotherapeutic office.

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Overworked businessman

In recent decades, the cliché “a man does not know pain” has lost its meaning. This tends to happen more often to younger people than to older people, notes Jakobi, who is on the board of the freelance section of the professional association of psychologists DGPPN. “Mindfulness, reflection, seeking and accepting help are important skills for health.” There are still “major construction sites” for a significant proportion of men.

Digital offers

Even in a modern society with equal opportunities, rights and responsibilities for men and women, there are many men who impose heavy demands on themselves, for example, in order to be providers for the family. At the same time, Jakobi sees a trend towards the destigmatization of mental illnesses. More attention is being paid to psychological factors, diagnoses have improved and there is also significantly greater awareness among the medical profession.

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Woman suffering from insomnia.  Alone at home, depressed, covered with a blanket in the bedroom

If men who are afraid of stigmatization and don’t seek help turn to mental health apps, “that’s good, better than nothing,” says Jakobi. The advantages from their perspective could be: anonymous and low-limit offering, easy switching between multiple apps. But: “It is a fallacy to think that such digital offerings could replace true in-person therapy with a psychotherapist.”

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