Men — Trust me, it is okay to ask for help, By Bryan Combs

Bryan Combs, PhD(c), MSN, CRNP, FNP-BC, CNL, ATC

There are many national health concerns men hear about regularly: cardiac disease, prostate cancer, erectile dysfunction, etc. When men watch TV shows or their favorite sports team, they will see and hear commercials about these very medical conditions. These conditions, along with their risk factors, treatment options, and patient testimonials, are also openly discussed both in society and in the patient room with a health care provider.

There is another health issue, however, that significantly affects men yet lingers in the dark corners of life and is routinely ignored — depression.

To some, the numbers surrounding depression are staggering. Depression costs America upwards of $200 billion a year and has a significant impact on males and females alike. More than six million men in America suffer from depression each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. When compared to women affected by depression, however, men are far less likely to reach out for help or mention it to a health care provider. This decreased willingness to ask for help is complex and based on several factors.

In many parts of society, men are raised to see depression as a weakness. They are told they should be able to control their feelings and remain “tough,” also they do not want to burden those around them. This is harmful not only to the individual experiencing depression, but it can also have an impact on those in their life. Instead of pushing these feelings aside, it is critical for men to understand that depression is common and treatable as long as they have the willingness to simply ask for help.

It is also important to understand that depression presents differently among men. Common depression symptoms among men include:

  • Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness
  • Anxiousness
  • Loss of interest in things
  • Problems with sexual desire and performance
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Lack of concentration
  • Increased fatigue and sleep
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
  • Engaging in high-risk activities
  • Isolating themselves

Men who experience any of these signs or symptoms should reach out and ask for help, even though that can be difficult for many men in America. To follow social norms, some men would rather self-medicate with alcohol or drugs and continue to hide their feelings. They think this is the manly thing to do and will keep from burdening the ones they love.

Fortunately, the media has recently highlighted men who are willing to open up about mental health and depression, as well as their experiences with it. Across the country, the likes of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Terry Bradshaw, Michael Phelps, Brandon Marshall and Kevin Love have acknowledged they have been diagnosed with a mental health illness. They also discuss the benefits of reaching out, including the fact that they were able to treat these illnesses and improve their health. Stories such as this are important to break the stigma around men, emotions, and mental health. It is critical men understand depression is treatable and all they have to do is ask for help, and seeing someone like The Rock — whom many men would agree is one of the manliest men in the world — speak up can encourage others to do the same.

As a care provider and a man who works in health care, I understand why men do not want to ask for help or reach out. However, I hope that with more exposure and examples like above, they will realize that having depression and asking for help does not make you “weak” or “soft.” Not asking for help has nothing to do with being strong but rather your pride. The strongest of men are those that understand the best way to work through trials and difficulties is with the help of others. No one can do it alone.

At UAB School of Nursing, we educate students about the importance of identifying, reaching out to, and treating individuals who have a mental illness such as depression. We also stress the different presentations depression can have among men and women and help our students develop the skills to assist these patients most effectively. The world of health care is always changing, and this is most evident in mental health awareness and treatment. We work diligently to update students on best practices but also help them learn how to stay up to date on their own after they graduate. We accomplish this by working with mental health experts in nursing as well as across other disciplines because, as I said above, no one can do it alone.

Bryan Combs, PhD(c), MSN, CRNP, FNP-BC, CNL, ATC, is a UAB School of Nursing Instructor and Director of the Nurse Practitioner Pathway.. He has extensive experience in orthopedics as a certified athletic trainer and a registered nurse, and Combs’ doctoral work concentrates on occupational health and orthopedics. For Men’s Health Month in June, Combs wrote about the importance of discussing depression in men.


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