Men are less likely to see a GP when feeling 'stressed'
Thank you to all the male readers for the many comments and feedback I had after my article last month which was the first of three articles on why men struggle with the notion of depression. The expectation to 'Man Up' from an early age was acknowledged by all of you as a commonly felt and accepted expectation. Some of you described it as a useful framework within which to know how to act, whilst others said that at times it led to personal confusion as to what to do in a crisis.
What are the expectations for instance, around being a father when your baby dies? Can you give in to your grief and helplessness or is the grief felt more acutely by the mother, in which case you the father may be expected to be stoic? Or perhaps this is something you believe you should do, so you do it and find you get the pat on the shoulder for bearing up (like a man!).
Bereavement can affect each of us differently as it triggers in us other personal losses but often as a man you may deny and bury any triggered emotions as your partner needs you. This is also just what is socially expected or perhaps you believe this. Health visitors will follow up a mum after, for example, a miscarriage but rarely (if ever) is a man asked how he feels about his loss. Even if a man is asked how he feels, he would probably say something like 'bearing up....' or 'got to stay strong for her' and conversation ends. He might go for a run, join friends for a drink at the pub or a quiet cigarette outside. He might bury himself in his work and consequently become more distant to his partner just when both need each other most.
Research shows that men deal with stressful life events differently to women, focussing on the problem at hand rather than the emotions which it triggers. At difficult times men often describe themselves as stressed and frustrated. They are quicker to anger or irritability with increased levels of loss of control. A woman might burst into tears if feeling overwhelmed; a man is more likely to shout, bang doors or bottle up and withdraw. Or he may go into tip toeing around and being extra helpful. All learnt behaviours from the past - from comments like 'there be a good boy and go out to play'; or 'just help to tidy up and help your mum'. Obvious distress, for example a person in tears is easier to attend to; when we see an angry person, more often an angry man rather than an angry woman, we back off leaving the angry person feeling isolated.
Men are less likely to see a GP when feeling 'stressed'. Therefore men are less often referred on for further help. This leads to a vicious cycle within which when a man does get to see a GP he is usually more acutely distressed than he or the health professionals he sees realise. Men will often minimise how they feel which further makes accurate diagnosis of the extent of the anxiety or depression difficult. This can be risky.
Men therefore need to be supported differently. They need patience and a different sort of understanding to get under the anger and aloofness, the contempt that they might exhibit at any mention of depression. They need to accept that most people suffer from depression at some point in their life and 'manning up' can worsen how how they feel. The state of depression is nature's way to get us to slow down and make sense of what is going on in our life. We ignore the signs at our peril as the mind just goes into overload instead. It is therefore not a weakness but rather a strength to acknowledge that we might be struggling with depression.
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About Maryanne Steele
Maryanne Steele and is highly experienced and trained Eating Disorders Therapist. She worked for many years within an NHS Eating Disorder service and in community mental teams. She is now Clinical Director of Wings, which is a Private Group Practice specialising in Eating Disorders and severe and enduring mental health issues.