Emirati men walk along the empty beachfront boulevard of the usually crowded Jumeirah Beach Residence in the Gulf emirate of Dubai on March 12, 2020. (File photo: AFP)
Mental health experts in the UAE have moved to debunk myths surrounding men’s health by saying that males also suffer from conditions traditionally associated with women, such as postpartum depression and eating disorders such as anorexia.
Ahead of this year’s Mens Health Week, which runs from June 12-18, Dr Shweta Misra, a clinical psychologist at Aspris Wellbeing Center in Dubai, said men are just as susceptible to mental illness as women , but the perpetuation of certain myths, plus the stigma many men still associate with asking for help, can deter them from seeking support.
Common myths include that only women suffer from postpartum depression. She said 8 to 10 percent of all fathers suffer from postpartum depression. The challenges faced by a new mother, such as coping with lack of sleep and new responsibilities, are also experienced by the new father.
Additionally, many believe that some mental health disorders such as eating disorders only affect women.
Males make up 25 percent of individuals with anorexia nervosa and are at a higher risk of dying, in part because they are often diagnosed later as many people assume men do not suffer from eating disorders, Dr. Misra pointed out.
Another common myth, the doctor said, is that marriage will fix a man’s mental illness.
This idea is prevalent in some cultures, but the impact of such a marriage is likely to negatively impact the mental health of both partners, she said. Research suggests that men place more shame and blame on mental illness than women, making them far more likely to manage their illness through self-care methods such as self-medication.
It is surprising that in the 21st century gender roles can still have a negative effect on the way men deal with their mental health. Society in some cultures still requires that men should be tough, independent and emotionless. This discourages many from opening up emotionally and this is not compatible with therapy.
According to the doctor, the most common mental health conditions in men are anxiety disorders, mood disorders, especially depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and schizophrenia.
Traditional male social expectations and ideals may also contribute to higher rates of substance abuse among men. They are also at higher risk of developing PTSD, particularly those with military experience or exposure to traumatic events.
Even eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder can still affect men, although they are less prevalent than women.
A change of attitude
However, Nesma Luqman, a clinical psychologist in Abu Dhabi, believes that while there is still evident resistance and hesitation among her male patients to seek help, there has certainly been a shift in attitudes towards mental health over the past couple of years. among men.
I’ve noticed that more and more men are getting to grips with mental wellbeing and are willing to step up to try therapy for the first time.
This is a positive trend, as it suggests that more men are recognizing the importance of looking after their mental health and are seeking help when they need it.
Ozan Akbas, also a clinical psychologist at the Aspris Wellbeing Center in Dubai, echoes this: I now see more male patients coming forward for support than five years ago and I strongly believe this is the result of fostering a more diverse masculinity and positive role models, who are becoming big advocates and trying to reach more men who may be suffering from mental health disorders. This, plus the increase in mental health encouragement and education in businesses and schools in the UAE is having a positive impact.
Mental health symptoms differ for men
Symptoms of mental illness can differ dramatically for men than for women and can make them much harder to recognize.
Dr. Misra says: Depressed men may not cry or talk about their feelings. Men with depression may struggle to hide their symptoms. As a result, they can get angry and aggressive. Depressed women, on the other hand, may be sadder and more withdrawn.
Similarly, women with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS), for example, may feel nervous or anxious, but men may become angry and aggressive and are more likely to start abusing various substances as a coping mechanism. Men with an eating disorder may obsessively watch calories or may work out at the gym to excess. Men with body image issues may also become obsessed with their muscles, skin, genitals, nose or hair.
Akbas highlights how men are more likely to express their emotions through a subconscious process known as somatization. When we are unable to articulate our emotions verbally, they can sometimes be expressed through our bodies in the form of headaches, pain in various parts of the body or, in extreme cases, loss of sensation or function for a limited time in various parts of the body.
However, it is important to remember that individual experiences and symptoms are not absolute and can vary greatly. It is essential to consider each person’s unique experiences and needs when addressing mental health issues.
Luqman believes that while progress has been made in stigmatizing mental illness among men, much more still needs to be done. Stigma prevents men from seeking help and this stigma continues due to societal expectations of masculinity, fear of judgment and discrimination, lack of awareness and education, and limited emotional vocabulary and coping mechanisms.
To address mental health stigma, we must continue to promote awareness, challenge gender norms, create supportive environments, and provide accessible mental health resources. By normalizing conversations about mental health and emphasizing that seeking help is a sign of strength, we can reduce stigma and improve men’s willingness to seek support.
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