At the moment in America, we’re hearing a lot about mental health in the news. Unfortunately, the sort of sensationalism doesn’t really do much to educate anyone about mental health, instead using it as another barb in a never ending battle between opposing ideals. That’s sad, because mental health should be something to be actually examined, understood, and treated more effectively. Treating mental health properly in men is particularly important, if for no other reason than that it’s been so severely neglected up until this point. Called “toxic masculinity” by some, our society has a tendency to tell boys and men not to talk about their emotions. There’s an all-to-prevailing belief that, if you’re not bleeding, you’re fine. But as men, we need to take back our right to good mental health. We need to embrace the need to take care of our own mental state, and not be ashamed if we have mental health issues that we need to address. Mental health has been a topic denied to men so long, there are undeniably men out there suffering from mental health conditions who aren’t aware of it. It’s important to educate you on different mental health disorders, because the first step in fixing the problem is nailing down what it is.
Depression is not being sad. Our language has twisted the word “depressed” into meaning “very sad”, so when some people hear depression, they think, “Oh, so you’re sad all the time.” Sadness can be a symptom of depression, but it’s certainly not the whole thing. Depression can be characterized more accurately as a complete, prevailing emptiness. A lack of interest in the things you used to love, a lack of energy to complete the tasks you need to, pretty much a lack of a desire to do anything at all. It’s an extremely common disorder, and, while nearly twice as many women have depression than men, there are still millions of men who suffer from depression. In extreme cases, depression is one of the leading causes of suicide.
Bipolar disorder is a mental condition characterized by “episodes”, an episode being a period of around a week to two weeks. Specifically, a bipolar person experiences depressive episodes, exhibiting many of the symptoms mentioned above, and manic episodes, which are just about the opposite. Manic episodes are times when the bipolar person is “up”, they have lots of energy, they talk very quickly, make reckless decisions, engage in risky behavior, especially of a sexual nature, and often spend money they don’t have. Bipolar patients can spend some time between these states, but much of their lives is a constant back and forth between two extremes. Bipolar I patients have the condition more severely than bipolar II, and thus, often need more significant treatment.
One of the hardest disorders to really lock down, BPD is a disorder marked by patterns of negative relationships, anger, anxiety, and mood swings. It’s basically an inability to properly modulate your emotions, making the BPD sufferer a person of intense extremes, especially involving their relationships with other people. Having a healthy romantic relationship is very difficult for those with BPD, and too often, untreated people with BPD end up engaging in domestic violence.
Unlike the impression given by every movie and TV show ever, schizophrenia has absolutely nothing to do with split personality. While it’s possible for multiple personality to accompany schizophrenia, the former is so incredibly rare that it doesn’t really bear talking about. What schizophrenia actually is is a disorder that affects how the sufferer perceives the world. Symptoms include hallucinations, hearing voices, delusions of grandeur, conspiracies, and difficult engaging with life in a normal way. Schizophrenia is very serious, and needs treatment to allow someone with it to live anything approaching a normal life.
When someone says that they’re so OCD because they need the TV volume at an even number, they’re wrong. OCD has become cultural shorthand for “meticulous”, but, while many with OCD are meticulous, it’s far more than that. OCD stands for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Those two words are very important, because they explain the major two things that intersect to make OCD so difficult to live with. The obsessive part means that the have repetitive thoughts that they can’t control, whether they be phobias, desires, or even repeated thoughts of violence. Compulsive means that they have the uncontrollable urge to do repeated tasks, like washing their hands a certain way, counting numbers, opening and closing doors, etc. These patterns need to be kept in strict order, or the OCD sufferer simply won’t be able to handle it. The difference between a neat freak and someone with OCD is that the OCD person literally cannot control their thoughts, whereas a neat freak has the choice. It’s the difference between wanting to do something and needing to.
There are a whole family of anxiety disorders that are quite common. Three of the most common are generalized anxiety, panic disorder, and social anxiety. Generalized anxiety is when a person is unnaturally tense and anxious all the time. Everyone gets nervous sometimes, but if you find that everything is all right, but your brain is searching for something that might be out of place just in case, then it’s likely you have generalized anxiety. Panic disorders are kind of the reverse; instead of spread out over long periods of time, a panic disorder cause people to have panic attacks, brief but overwhelming periods of incredibly intense fear and anxiety, leading to high blood pressure and hyperventilating. Social anxiety is the inability to deal with social situations well, due to an outsized focus on potential feelings of embarrassment, rejection, or shame.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is most commonly associated with soldiers coming back from a war, but that’s by no means necessary to the condition. Just about any significantly traumatic event could trigger PTSD. PTSD constitutes a number of different types of symptoms: re-experiencing like flashbacks or dreams, unconscious avoidance of particular places, people, or things, reactivity symptoms like being easily startled or unnatural outburst of anger, and cognitive function symptoms, such as memory loss, specifically about the event, or feelings of guilt. Getting PTSD means nothing about being weak or being unable to deal, it’s something that’s outside a person’s control. Two people could be in the same crazy car crash, and one could have PTSD while the other is fine.