The world commemorates International Men’s Health Week from June 15 to 21. While it’s important to look after your physical health – by living a wholesome lifestyle and going for regular medical check-ups and screenings – you should remember to take care of your mental health, too. This means getting sufficient sleep every night, managing stress, maintaining good connections with your loved ones, eating well, exercising, paying attention to your emotions, and communicating how you feel, even if those feelings are negative.
Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre For Psychological Wellness, explains some of the most common mental health issues affecting men and shares tips for protecting your emotional wellbeing.
Q: What are the most common mental health issues affecting men in Singapore?
Dr Lim: The most common ones are depression, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) and alcohol use disorder.
Overall, about one in 16 men will experience at least one of these conditions in his lifetime. The lifetime prevalence of depression in men is 4.3%; that of GAD, 1.65; that of OCD, 3.6%; and that of alcohol use disorder, 4.1%.
The actual causes of these issues aren’t known, but they’re related to genetics, childhood trauma, environmental stress, negative personality resulting in a negative outlook, and the use of alcohol and other substances. These factors may result in aberrations in the neurotransmitters in the brain, resulting in mental illnesses.
Q: How can a man tell if he has any of these illnesses?
Dr Lim: There are a several symptoms to look out for, for each illness.
Depression is characterised by:
- Depressed mood nearly every day
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most activities
- Significant weight loss or weight gain
- Poor sleep or oversleeping
- Restlessness or feeling slowed down
- Feeling fatigued easily or having no energy
- Feeling worthless or having excessive guilt
- Poor concentration
- Difficulty thinking or forgetfulness
- Suicidal thoughts, plans or attempts
GAD is characterised by:
- Constantly worrying or obsessing about small or large concerns
- Feeling restless
- Being “keyed up” or on the edge
- Feeling fatigued easily
- Difficulty concentrating or mind “going blank”
- Irritability and feeling frustrated
- Muscle tension or muscle aches
- Trouble sleeping
OCD is characterised by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. Obsessive thoughts are experienced by the individual as intrusive and distressing. Common obsessive thoughts include:
- Fear of contamination by germs or dirt
- Intrusive thoughts about symmetry and orderliness
- Obsessive thoughts about checking things
As a result of the obsessive thoughts, the individual feels that he has to perform a certain act (compulsive behaviours) to undo the obsessions. These include excessive washing and cleaning and/or checking and counting. The compulsions are often performed in a ritualistic manner over a “magical” number of times.
Alcohol use disorders are unhealthy patterns related to the use of alcohol resulting in harm, including binge-drinking and addiction to alcohol.
Q: Why do so many men avoid seeking professional help for their mental health problems?
Dr Lim: Our society expects a man to be strong and to deal with his problems on his own. As a result, men often put up a brave front in the face of adversity. This means that they’re less likely to acknowledge their emotional problems and will not seek help if they have psychological difficulties as they’re afraid that they may be seen as weak.
Many worry that their employer will come to know that they suffer from a mental health illness and that their career will suffer as a result. And as men are often expected to be the main breadwinner, they’re even more afraid of jeopardising their job.
Q: What might happen if these illnesses go undiagnosed or untreated?
Dr Lim: Psychiatric illnesses are genuine medical illnesses and require treatment. If left untreated, they may cause problems in relationships and at work. When unwell, men can be irritable, and this may lead to quarrels with their spouse or partner and children. Their work performance may be compromised when they have no motivation or poor concentration, or are fixated on the difficulties arising from their symptoms.
To relieve their symptoms, men may turn to alcohol, drugs, pornography and gambling.
Most significantly, we know that men are less likely to talk about their symptoms but may be much more likely than women to complete suicide.
Q: How do loneliness and isolation contribute to mental health issues?
Dr Lim: Feeling lonely and isolated increases the risk of mental illness and suicide.
Even if you are unmarried and have no close family nearby, maintain strong friendships and engage with your community. You can volunteer, join an interest group or play group sports.
You can also connect with your family using social media and video chat. Having a pet like a dog has been shown to be beneficial to isolated individuals. Life can still be fulfilling if you’re alone, if you engage in meaningful activities and hobbies.
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Q: How can men protect their mental health?
Dr Lim: Start with simple practices like following a healthy daily routine. Make sure you have adequate quality sleep and make time for meals and toilet breaks.
Either have long, gentle walks daily, or do more intense exercise three times a week for at least 30 minutes per session, if possible.
Once you have a basic routine, look into personal time, hobbies, time with your spouse, and stress management.
Be mindful about your alcohol consumption and avoid using substances to numb yourself emotionally.
Don’t be afraid to express your emotions. Crying can, in fact, be cathartic. Also, don’t be afraid to talk to your loved ones about your difficulties and symptoms.
Stay fit with our workout ideas:
Note: Please consult your GP or physician before embarking on any treatment plan.
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