For all of my brothers out there, I’m sending some love to you over the next three issues because June is Men’s Health Month. Now there are lots of topics you can cover for Men’s Health Month – such as sexual health, cardiovascular health, prostate health, etc., but I’m not going to any of those usual suspects. I want to talk to you about mental health because it’s one of the most neglected areas of health for everyone, but particularly for men.
The Men’s Health Network has a great little book titled “Your Head – An Owner’s Manual.” It’s full of insightful information about how what’s going on in your head “affects everything” from mood to sleep to relationships and work performance, and practical information about what you can do about it. Mental-health problems can devastate your life, but you don’t have to white-knuckle through without help, and having a problem with anxiety, stress, or depression doesn’t make you “crazy,” it just makes you human.
It’s estimated that one in five Americans will have some kind of mental health illness in their lifetime, and that estimate is much higher for anyone who has suffered some type of trauma, which is the case for many LGBTs who have been kicked out of their homes or who have been bullied or discriminated against. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is all too real for many LGBTs, and that’s part of why the suicide rate for young gay and trans individuals is much higher than for the general population.
Depression is a medical condition, not just the feeling of sadness or hopelessness. In fact, the bad feelings we think of when we think of depression are just a symptom. Depression usually also involves an imbalance of the natural “feel good” chemicals in your body and brain. These chemicals can become out of balance through the experience of certain circumstances like losing someone you love or going through a difficult time in your life, but they can also become unbalanced for no apparent reason at all, like you’re fine one day and the next day you’ve got a black cloud hanging over your head. So, how do you know if you should seek medical help?
Here’s one way to tell: If you’ve been feeling down every day for more than two weeks, and at the same time, you’re not enjoying the things you usually do, then you may need assistance. You can also take an online screening at Adaa.org/iving-with-anxiety/ask-and-learn/screenings/screening-depression. This will give you some insight, and you can print out the results and talk to your doctor about them.
You can also try a few things on your own to try to turn your brain chemistry back around.
1) Get some exercise, 20-30 minutes at least four times a week. If you have physical limitations, always check with your health-care provider to make sure the form of exercise you want to try is safe for you, but exercise has been shown in some studies to be very effective in reversing the chemical imbalances behind depression.
2) Force yourself to do something you enjoy. Go to a funny movie. Take a nature hike. Laughter and spending time in a natural setting are nature’s way of restoring the mind and soul.
3) Spend time with someone who is upbeat and makes you feel good. This should be someone who is sensitive to how you feel, but who also helps you see life from the sunny side. Don’t spend time with other people who are depressed unless they have recovered and can give you some good tips on what helped them.
If you seek medical help, your provider will most likely suggest medication, talk therapy, or a combination of both. Keep in mind that you may only need medication or therapy for a period of time. You and your doctor will make those decisions together.
If you feel so badly that you are thinking of death and of ending your life, I urge you right now to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline- available 24 hours a day: 1-800-273-8255
Over the next two issues I will also talk about anxiety disorders and dealing with stress. In the meantime, here’s where you can find the Men’s Health Network Booklet: Menshealthnetwork.org/library/ownersmanual.pdf.
Liz Thompson has been a case manager at the Frederick County Health Department for over six years.
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