How can we spot mental illness in men?

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How can we spot mental illness in men?  The short answer is, ‘with difficulty’.  Not everyone exhibits symptoms of mental illness and some go out of their way to mask what they are going through both because of denial and because being a man struggling with mental illness is still inherently viewed as a ‘weakness’ (side note: it isn’t!).

The signs I’m about to write about that are just that; signs.  It doesn’t mean that everyone that exhibits these signs is struggling with their mental health and it doesn’t mean that those who don’t exhibit them are not ill.  Likewise, the signs I’m about to mention will appear conflicting at times but remember, mental illness may look similar but can behave very differently in those experiencing it.

Some signs may make sense and others may not.  The ones that don’t necessarily seem to be logical will tend to be borne from the archaic stereotype that masculinity is defined by strength, both physical and mental, and that men are seen as the ‘better’ sex (that isn’t a criticism; we still live in a very patriarchal society).

Self-destructive/risk-taking behaviour

This can almost be called a ‘classic’ sign.  As men have inherently been brought up not to discuss their thoughts and feelings with others, they need an outlet and more often than not, that outlet can be self-destructive.  That behaviour can present itself in many ways including drinking/smoking to excess, spending too much money and large impulse buys, gambling, risky sexual behaviour and/or increase in watching porn and even eating too much or spending a lot of time in the gym.  And whilst a lot of the above behaviours may be deemed acceptable by society, within reason, if you notice a man in your life who has a sudden, sharp uptake in a certain behaviour or even if it’s excessive for them personally i.e. they normally go to the pub a couple times a month but now they’re in there a couple times a week, it might be worth a gentle conversation.  If you don’t feel you can talk to them about it verbally, why not write it down on Comfort Cards™?

Becoming easily stressed/irritable/angry

Some people argue that men are more angry than women due to the testosterone in their bodies.  Others argue that they’re more angry because they are not taught how to express their emotions (or that it’s ok to do so).  We’ll leave the science to the professionals but we all know that becoming more irritable, angry and stressed is never a good sign.  It’s easier for men to feel they can share how stressed they are because it sounds like a natural reaction to external factors as opposed to anxiety which sounds like worrying about internal factors (it isn’t).

Change in socialising habits

For a lot of people, when they’re really struggling, socialising with friends, family and colleagues is one of the first major changes to become obvious.  Whilst it’s not exclusive to men, often they accept invitations to do things and cancel at the last minute citing a variety of false reasons because they don’t want to appear ‘weak’ to their mates.  They may even start to pull away completely saying “no” to social events as soon as they’re invited or ‘ghost’ ignoring messages, calls and emails from you because hiding from friends is inevitably easier than to explain what’s going on in their heads (when they sometimes don’t know themselves).  Conversely, they may become the life and soul of the party, out to everything they’ve been invited to and surrounding themselves with other people to distract themselves from their thoughts and to keep up appearances that everything is ‘fine’.

Appearing overly tired/Insomnia

Even if men aren’t consciously aware of their potential mental health struggles, sub-consciously the body can tell us we’re stressed and that something is wrong long before we’re willing to accept anything.  Therefore, their sleeping habits may begin to change.  That could mean struggling to fall asleep, waking up too early or waking continually throughout the night tossing and turning.  We all get tired at times and have days where we can’t sleep but if it seems they say they’re always tired or exhausted, it could be a sign that they’re struggling to sleep and have problems causing it.  Lack of sleep can cause its own mental health issues become apparent by them beginning to make easy mistakes at work or forgetting simple tasks at home.

Change in appetite

When we’re overly tired, our appetites can become very disordered and when you’re suffering with mental health issues, they can become even more problematic.  Some people are emotional eaters when they’re stressed and upset meaning that they struggle to stop eating even when they are no longer hungry.  Others can become so stressed/ill that they struggle to eat because they have no appetite or have no energy to prepare and eat food even when they do feel hungry which might lead them to reach for junk food.  A fairly quick change in weight either gain or loss is always worth a conversation.

A change in humour/jokes about death

Following on from the above point about socialising more, men might not just become the ‘life and soul’ of the party but also the class clown.  There are a variety of reasons why we use humour to mask such pain but a couple of reasons are that, by making others laugh, men can hide behind the mask that everything is ok.  The more they make others laugh and they smile and laugh themselves, in their minds, the less likely others are likely to see how much they’re struggling which can be confronting.  They may also become very self-deprecating with their humour and bring in jokes about death or fatal accidents and whilst we can all joke that we’ve ‘lost the will to live’ after a boring meeting at work, you can to be able to put it into context.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and, as I said above, everyone will have a similar yet inherently different journey with their mental health, especially as the above signs aren’t exclusive to men, but I urge you to consider thinking of the men in your life and reaching out if they exhibit any of these, particularly if they’re experiencing a few of them.

We all want and need to feel cared for in life; men included!


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