They're often overworked, fatigued, and plagued by pent-up stress and depressive moods.
A lot of men have mental health issues they neglect, say experts.
“Illnesses, particularly mental illnesses, are incompatible with many men’s masculinity ideal,” says Berlin-based Men’s Health Foundation executive board member and University Hospital of Munich professor of social science in psychiatry Dr Anne-Maria Möller-Leimkühler.
An orientation towards traditional masculine norms, “that is, being strong and successful, solving problems on your own, bearing up and not showing your feelings”, is more pronounced in older men than younger ones, she says.
This attitude, she warns, can be “very self-destructive”.
By virtue of their socialisation, many men have extremely restricted access to their emotions, she says.
“They suppress and downplay their mental problems.”
Depression in particular is often misinterpreted as a sign of weakness and failure.
And some men, she says, try to offset it with “masculine strategies: in other words, more aggression and anger, more alcohol, more social withdrawal, much more work, much more sport, more risky behaviour and escape into the internet”.
Every year, one in four adults in Germany is affected by a mental illness – about one in three women and one in three or four men, according to University of Leipzig Medical Centre Clinic and Polyclinic of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy director and German Association for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics (DGPPN) women’s and men’s health department head Dr Anette Kersting.
“Men suffer more often from substance abuse, i.e. dependence on, or abuse of, alcohol or drugs,” she says, but they’re diagnosed with depression only about half as often as women.
Depression in men can sometimes be overlooked though, she adds.
Prof Möller-Leimkühler believes the number of undiagnosed cases of depression in men to be high.
She notes that if left untreated, depression can have serious consequences, including inability to work, social decline, isolation, anxiety disorders, diabetes, stroke and an elevated death rate.
“Men’s suicide rate is at least three times higher than that of women,” she says.
A person’s occupation normally has no bearing on the occurrence of mental disorders, the experts say.
But Prof Möller-Leimkühler cites jobs with a high percentage of men in which they’re more common than in the general populace: the armed forces, rescue services and police.
She says that stress in these occupations can be extreme and traumatic, and traditional masculine norms are especially pronounced.
Post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) and depression are the most frequent mental health conditions in these fields, she remarks.
She notes that men are much more strongly affected by occupational stressors than women are.
Few seek treatment
Men are also less likely to recognise and identify symptoms of illness, Dr Kersting says.
“We see clear gender differences when it comes to availing oneself of the healthcare system.
“Men use its services considerably less often.”
Only a minority of people with a mental illness are under treatment for it, she says – and fewer men than women.
The shortage of therapy services is a problem, according to psychologist and occupational health and safety consultant Sebastian Jakobi.
“Someone requiring psychotherapy is in a weakened life situation and can’t afford to wait many months for a therapy spot,” says the DGPPN’s freelancer department executive board member.
He dismisses any suggestion that the predominance of female psychotherapists is why men rarely visit a psychotherapeutic surgery.
The cliche “a man knows no pain” has become less prominent in recent decades, particularly among younger men, Jakobi says.
Nevertheless, he points to “attentiveness, reflection, and seeking and accepting help” as “important health skills” in which many men are lacking.
Even in a modern society that strives for gender equality in regard to opportunities, rights and responsibilities, many men place very heavy demands on themselves, he says, e.g. in the role of family breadwinner.
At the same time, he sees a trend towards destigmatisation of mental illnesses.
Greater attention is being paid to psychological factors in health, diagnostics have improved, and doctors have become much more sensitised to mental health problems, he says.
If men who fear stigmatisation turn to mental health apps instead of seeking professional help, “it’s good – better than nothing,” says Jakobi.
They may do this because of the easy-access, anonymous advice they can get, and the simplicity of switching among various apps.
However: “It’s wrong to think that online information is a substitute for real, personal therapy from a psychotherapist.” – By Yuriko Wahl-Immel/dpa