A classic fundamental question still debated is which came first: the chicken or the egg? So, too, is the question of which is most important: the brain or the heart?
Many know the response given when someone complains of chest pain. It's an immediate "go to the doctor!" Without question, immediate support to see a doctor occurs when it comes to matters of the heart.
Now, someone mentions a lack of motivation, self-pity, anger, worry, or symptoms associated with withdrawal from a substance and people tend to judge the complainant as someone having self-will, strength, or priority problem. People are often greeted with dismissiveness, sarcasm, conclusion, shame, and silence when it comes to matters of mental health. Worse, yet, men will qualify matters of mental health as a disqualifier against being "a man."
The mind is, in fact, the most important organism in our bodies and we should not separate our mental health from our physical health. Yet we do, particularly men, by the stigma placed on mental health in terms of weakness and being inferior. I personally live in a household filled with women. I have witnessed time and time again my wife and daughters share their feelings. Put a group of men together? Not so much.
The result? The negative stigmas lingering in gathering places, on television, in families, among friends, and in school/workplace settings creates a division between mental and physical health that is literally killing us.
Mental health is a real experience. Just look at the numbers according to the American Psychological Association. Nearly 10% of men in the United States experience symptoms of depression and anxiety daily. Over 30 million men have reportedly experienced a depressive episode in their lifetime. Men are 4 times more likely to die by suicide than women. Rates of alcohol abuse or addiction are higher among men than women. Schedule IV drug use has a male-female ratio of 4:1. And disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disorders are higher among males than females.
Men struggling with mental health are less likely to seek treatment because of the negative stigma against sharing feelings.
And for supporting reasons. The two emotions most often accepted and, even, celebrated by men are happiness and aggression (often through competitiveness). And if a man is going to be happy or aggressive, he may as well be the happiest or the most aggressive. It's a cyclical competition.
It is difficult for men to open up about our mental and physical health because it is not something that is widely enough accepted or practiced.
Just look at Andrew Luck who recently retired from the Indianapolis Colts because of mental health and a series of physical health issues. In his last game, he was literally booed off the field and his Twitter feed flooded with comments associated with judgement of him being weak and selfish. Fans flocked toward the internet to complain of how their quarterback was being selfish about listening to his intuition about the health of his mind and body.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson opened up about his mental health admitting to suffering from depression after the attempted suicide of his mother. He stated, "It took me a long time to realize it but the key is to not be afraid to open up. Especially us dudes have a tendency to keep it in. You're not alone."
Prince William described in an interview recently on ABC that he felt "pain like no other pain." He went on to describe how the "stiff upper lip" approach has its place at times but advocated for mental health in so much as proclaiming the need to talk about our thoughts and emotions because "we're not robots."
The most common responses for men opening up about mental health is silence, dismissiveness, sarcasm, and judgment.
Men, we can do better than this. In fact, our wives, children, brothers, sisters, friends, co-workers, and fellow men need us to do better than this.
It's OK to not have it together, not to have the answers, to not know where to go, to feel depressed, to feel overwhelmed, to need a break, to feel anxious, to be afraid.
Phobologia is a made-up word in a book titled "Gates of Fire" used to describe how 300 Spartans, known for their epic Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, studied fear as a way to build strength and prepare for battle.
What a paradox. To study fear so that fear can be faced. To study fear literally requires having to admit to fear. Machismo, or the sense of being "manly" or self-reliant, is producing a sense of fear and isolation that is only feeding on the very fear we wish to overcome.
Times are changing. We need no longer to pretend to be strong. We need no longer to respond with phrases like "I'm fine," "I'm just tired," "I'm in my head," or "Nope, nothing's wrong at all."
Everyone wants a sense of validation in his/her life. Validation does not equate agreement and agreement does not equate acceptance. Validation is simply letting someone know you understand and, if you don't, that you're willing to be curious enough to gain understanding before giving advice or passing judgment.
Having a positive mental health does not mean you're without problems. It simply means that life doesn't fall apart in the midst of problems. It also means you're willing to be honest about having a problem in the first place. It takes communicating openly, honestly, and with willful intent on becoming more aware of fear: the silence killing us from within.
Ken Caselden, M.Ed, LPCC, LCADC, BIP is a professional counselor in private practice at Freedom Wellness Center, PLLC. He may be reached by visiting www.freedomwellness.org.