June is National Men’s Health Month where communities come together to heighten the awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys alike. This awareness month gives healthcare providers, lawmakers, the media and individuals in the community an opportunity to encourage men and boys to seek regular medical advice and early treatment for disease and injury. Physical ailments specific to men such as testicular cancer and prostate cancer take the main stage during this awareness month however issues that affect men also affect their wives, mothers, daughters and sisters, and therefore men’s issues are also truly a family issue. Mental health, substance abuse and eating disorders also affect men and therefore their families; and many of these issues are not often talked about among men in the community due to stigma.

Men and eating disorders

Approximately one in three people who are struggling with an eating disorder are male, and subclinical eating disordered behaviors such as binge eating, purging, laxative abuse, and fasting for weight loss are nearly as common among men as they are among women. Eating disorders affect 10 million men in the United States but due to gender and cultural biased surrounding masculinity, men are much less likely to seek treatment for an eating disorder although once they do get help, men show similar responses to treatment as women.

Men are more likely to engage in eating disorders in order to have a stronger, bigger and larger figure and therefore the tell tale signs of eating disorders in men may not be as obvious as they are in women. Men are more likely to take steroids and supplements, engage in unhealthy strict diets and spend hours in the gym lifting weights as a way to gain muscle mass and eliminate fat. For example, “bigorexia,” or muscle dysmorphia, is a type of body dysmorphia that is becoming increasingly common among boys and young men, influencing an obsession with muscle definition and body shape. Men often engage in restricting behaviors during the week by “eating clean” or cutting out any type of unhealthy food and then celebrate the weekend by having a “cheat day” where they can eat whatever they want which often leads to binging behaviors.

Men and substance abuse

Men are more likely than women to use illicit drugs and for most age groups; men have higher rates of use and dependence with illicit drugs and alcohol compared to women. Men are more susceptible to substance abuse than women because of their role in society; it is far more acceptable for men to go out to bars and party with their friends compared to women. Additionally men are more likely to be the breadwinners of their family, which comes with high stress, and responsibility, which can drive them to partake in illicit substances and alcohol. According to statistics approximately one in five men develop alcohol dependency during their lives and gay and bisexual mean are more likely to have higher rates of substance abuse compared to heterosexual men.

Men and mental health disorders

Our society makes men out to be strong individuals who are nearly immune to mental health problems however, mental health illnesses affect both men and women; regardless of the circumstances. Over six million men experience depression each year and because of the stigma, depression in males often goes undiagnosed. In terms of symptoms, men are more likely to complain about fatigue, irritability, and loss of interest rather than feelings of sadness or worthlessness. Additionally nearly 90% of individuals who are diagnosed with schizophrenia by 30 years of age are men. Men are also more likely to experience a decreased sexual drive when they are experiencing depression and/or schizophrenia. Suicide is also highly prevalent in men as the highest suicide rates in the U.S. are found in Caucasian men over the age of 85 years old. More than four times as many men as women die by suicide in the United States and suicide is the seventh leading cause of death among males. Gay and bisexual males are especially prone to suicide as this group of males is more likely to not only develop mental health disorders compared to heterosexual men but they are also at an increased risk for suicide attempts, especially before the age of 25.