YouTired, overworked, overwhelmed by accumulated stress and tormented by unresolved weaknesses: many men in Germany have psychological problems, but they ignore them and do not seek help, as experts point out.
“For many people, illnesses, especially mental illnesses, are not compatible with the classical ideal of masculinity,” reports Anne-Maria Möller-Leimkuhler, from the board of directors of the Men’s Health Foundation. Orientation toward traditional norms of masculinity, “that is, being strong and successful, solving problems alone, persevering, and not showing feelings,” is more pronounced among older men than among younger ones. This attitude could be “very self-destructive.”
Many men have very limited access to their emotional world due to their socialization, observes the professor of social sciences psychiatry at the University of Munich. “They suppress and trivialize their psychological problems.” Depression, in particular, is often misunderstood as an expression of weakness and personal failure. Some people try to compensate with “masculine strategies,” says Möller-Leimcooler. “So more aggression and anger, more alcohol, more social withdrawal, a lot more work, a lot more sport, more risky behavior and escaping into the virtual world.”
Three times more suicides than women
In Germany, one in four adults suffers from a mental illness each year: approximately one in three women and one in four or five men, as described by Anette Kersting from the psychosomatic medicine clinic at Leipzig University Hospital. “Men are more likely to suffer from substance abuse, that is, alcohol and drug dependence or abuse.” On the other hand, only about half as many women are diagnosed with depression. However, depression in men can sometimes be overlooked, explains the clinic director.
Möller-Leimcooler assumes that, especially in the case of depression, there are a large number of unreported cases and underdiagnosis. Unrecognized depression could have serious consequences: inability to work, social impairment, isolation, anxiety disorders, diabetes, stroke and an overall increase in mortality. And: “The suicide rate for men is at least three times higher than that for women.”
In general, mental disorders occur regardless of profession, experts say. However, Möller-Leimkuhler points out high-risk professional groups with a high proportion of men in which mental disorders occur more frequently than in the general population: the Bundeswehr, the rescue services and also the police. The stress here can be extreme and traumatic, but at the same time traditional norms of masculinity are quite strong. The most common disorders here are post-traumatic stress disorders and depression. In general, men suffer much more professional stress than women.
Men are less likely to use offers of help
It’s not just their ideals that often seem to get in the way of men. Women recognize and name symptoms better than men, says Anette Kersting, director of the department of men’s and women’s health at the professional association of psychiatrists DGPPN. “We see clear gender differences in health care utilization. Men take much less advantage of offers of help.” Among people with mental problems, only a minority receive therapeutic treatment: men even less frequently than women.
The lack of places is problematic, emphasizes psychologist Sebastian Jakobi, who advises companies on workplace safety. “Those who need psychotherapy find themselves in a weakened life situation and cannot wait many months to get a therapy place.” However, the fact that there are few male therapists is less important. In any case, this is not the reason why men rarely visit a psychotherapeutic consultation.
In recent decades, the cliché “man knows no pain” has lost its meaning. This tends to happen more frequently among young people than among older people, observes Jakobi, a member of the board of directors of the independent section of the professional association of psychologists DGPPN. “Mindfulness, reflection, seeking and accepting help are important health skills.” “Major construction work” still remains for a significant proportion of men.
Even in a modern society with equal opportunities, rights and responsibilities for men and women, there are many men who impose onerous demands on themselves, for example to be the breadwinner of the family. At the same time, Jakobi sees a trend toward destigmatizing mental illness. More attention is paid to psychological factors, diagnoses have improved and there is also significantly increased awareness among medical professionals.
If men who fear stigmatization and don’t seek help turn to mental health apps, “that’s good, better than nothing,” Jakobi says. The advantages from his perspective could be: low threshold anonymous bidding, easy switching between multiple apps. But: “It is a fallacy to think that these types of digital offers could replace real personal therapy with a psychotherapist.”
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