Debunking the Myth: Men CAN Have Anxiety

“No matter what our circumstances, we’re all carrying around things that hurt — and they can hurt us if we keep them buried inside,” he wrote. “Not talking about our inner lives robs us of really getting to know ourselves and robs us of the chance to reach out to others in need.” 

~Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers 

There is much conversation about women experiencing anxiety in the workplace, in forming and maintaining relationships, all throughout motherhood… It is well understood that women of all ages across the globe undeniably face anxiety in nearly every stage of their lives. But why are men so quickly excluded from the dialogue on anxiety? In today’s post, I would like to do my part in creating an open conversation on men and anxiety!

Do men experience anxiety, too? The short answer is a resounding yes! Anxiety is no respecter of person; men and women alike are vulnerable to its effects. Everyone feels anxious from time to time. Not only is it common, but it is actually important that humans have the capacity to feel anxious because anxiety is the body’s way of telling you that there is a threat that needs attention. (Note: With an anxiety disorder, a person may repeatedly respond to situations as if there is a perceived threat, although there is not one.) While both men and women can feel anxious during their lives, they tend to respond to their anxiousness differently. 

The facts about men and anxiety:

  1. Studies have found that about 1 in 5 men (and about 1 in 3 women) will have an anxiety disorder during their lifetime. On top of that, only half of the men experiencing anxiety will be diagnosed and untreated! (In a recent Wall Street Journal article, it was reported that mental health professionals fear these figures grossly under-report male cases.)
  2. It is more common for men to experience anxiety than depression
  3. Men and women are prone to different types of anxieties. For instance, women are more commonly affected by generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobias, and panic disorders than men. When it comes to social anxiety disorder specifically, men and women are equally affected. 
  4. Suicide rate among men is four times higher than the suicide rate among women. This is important to note because suicide is often set in motion by indicators of anxiety–narrowing of vision, a hopelessness, the sense that things are not going to get better, etc. 
  5. Anxiety manifests itself differently in men than in women. Women tend to manifest anxiety through nervousness, excessive worry and avoidance of frightening situations. Men manifest their anxiety in ways that often seem unrelated to anxiety which can lead to many instances going undiagnosed. Researchers and psychologists are finding that men report headaches, difficulty sleeping and muscle aches and pains. Or their anxiety is masked by anger, irritability, and aggression. Men are also more likely to use alcohol and drugs to cope with anxiety, so what looks like a drinking problem may actually be an underlying anxiety disorder. 
  6. It is more socially acceptable for men to employ strategies such as substance use and alcohol to suppress their emotions than to admit to anxiety. There needs to be more talk about productive resources like men needing a good friend with whom to talk, the benefits of self-care in combating anxiety, the power of communication instead of bottling up (or ignoring altogether) feelings of anxiousness. 
  7. Men are socialized to not ask for help or be vulnerable. An informative study found that when male (but not female) leaders ask for help, they are viewed as less competent, capable, and confident. And when men make themselves vulnerable by disclosing a weakness at work, they are perceived to have lower status. This is problematic as it becomes a vicious cycle where men needing help are not able to admit to it, let alone treat it. 

In my research on men and anxiety, I came across an example that perfectly illustrated the stigma around men and anxiety: A construction worker, who worked on scaffolding 30 feet high, described daily panic attacks that would come on quickly and would make him feel dizzy, nauseous, and disconnected from reality. This went on for ten years before he sought treatment. When he finally got help, he was asked why he had waited so long; he said he felt his ‘episodes’ were a manifestation of a weakness on his part. He believed he could control them (“mind over matter) but he tried for ten years without success. This construction worker did not free himself from his debilitating anxiety until he admitted to needing and sought for help. This is the case for any man or woman struggling with anxiety: Healing and balance is possible but often requires getting professional help. 

If you struggle with anxiety, reach out. Talk about it. Get help from a trained professional. Anxiety is not a weakness. Anxiety disorders are real–often a chemical imbalance of the brain. It exists in men and women. Men, you are not alone and it is okay to get help! Everyone deserves to live their life with tools to face anxiety and be in control of their life. Healing is possible! Please do not hesitate to contact me and schedule a session.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Taking the Stigma Out of Mental Illness

Taking the Stigma Out of Mental Illness

Taking the Stigma Out of Mental Illness | Cluff Counseling, Dallas Mental Health TherapistDo you shy away when you hear the words mental illness? For years, there has been a stigma about mental illness in our society. It was taboo–something uncommon and misunderstood; some even ventured as far as to say it was made up by the “weak” as a ploy to receive attention. However, over the past two decades, much has been learned about mental illness and a fair amount of resources have been developed to educate mental and medical health professionals.  Mental illnesses are very real; in fact, 43.8 million, or 18.5% of US citizens are affected. Mental illness influences the way one thinks, feels, behaves, and relates to others and to his/her surroundings. Those with mental illness often feel tense, anxious, and/or sad to the point that it is difficult for them to function normally.  That is no way to live! If you feel you or someone you love may have an undiagnosed mental illness, now is the time to get help. My purpose in writing this post is to increase understanding and awareness of mental illness in order to help you or someone you know who is suffering. Let’s begin with some basics on mental illness:

  1. What is a mental illness? According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood. Such conditions may affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day. Mental illnesses come in different types and with varying degrees of severity. The most common types are depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder, personality disorders, trauma and eating disorders.
  2. Who has a mental illness? While some studies show that mental illness can be hereditary, we are all susceptible. In fact, 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year! Mental illness can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, income, social status, race/ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, background or other aspect of cultural identity. It can occur at any age, but 50% of mental health conditions begin by age 14, and 75% of mental health conditions develop by age 24.
  3. How do you get a mental illness? Although the exact cause of most mental illness is not known, researchers are finding that many of these conditions are caused by a combination of the following factors and not personal weakness or a character defect (as was previously believed):
    a. Heredity (genetics passed on from affected family members)
    b. Biology (imbalance of neurotransmitters)
    c. Psychological trauma (emotional, physical, or sexual abuse; a significant early loss; neglect)
    d. Environmental factors (death or divorce, a dysfunctional family life, changing jobs or schools, substance abuse)
  4. Are mental illnesses treatable? Certainly! Much progress has been made the last two decades to better understand mental illness and how to treat it.  A full recovery from a mental illness is not simply a matter of will and self-discipline. With therapy and/or medication, a full recovery is absolutely possible.

I hope that better understanding mental illness will remove the stigma and allow more people to seek the treatment they need. It is very real and it is very treatable. If you suffer from mental illness, I want you to know that there is hope! There is nothing shameful about a mental illness, and there are a myriad of resources available to you today–the foremost being a trained and experienced therapist to be your coach and advocate along the way.  Start treatment early and be an active participant in your own recovery process. Contact me today to set up your first appointment!

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