Chief Communications Officer, Mental Health America
“We need more examples of complex male characters dealing with addiction and depression — and showing that recovery is possible.”
Over the last few years, talking about mental health has gotten a little easier. Some can say it’s become trendy to be open about mental health. But the reality is that the shame around mental illness is still prevalent — even more so for men.
Approximately 6 million men have depression each year, 19 million deal with anxiety and 1 in 5 men develop alcohol dependency during their lives. According to the CDC, suicide is on the rise among middle-aged men.
Looking at MHA’s Online Screening Program data, of the men who take the depression screen:
- Only 28 percent say they’ll discuss their results with a family member, friend, or professional;
- One in three who screen positive report that they do not plan to take any action; and
- Only 21 percent say they’ll seek treatment.
Overall with male screeners:
- A majority — 69 percent — of men who screen positive have never been diagnosed with a mental health condition; and
- A whopping 62 percent have never received any mental health treatment or support.
Men are notorious for ”sucking it up” rather than admitting they may need help. And it’s making them sick.
It’s important that men young and old are taught that it’s OK to seek help. The celebrities they look up to and the shows and movies they watch can also go a long way in breaking down the stigma. Shows like “A Million Little Things” and “One Day at a Time” are portraying male characters with mental health or substance abuse issues in real and authentic ways. The film “Beautiful Boy” highlights the addiction of a young man and the toll it takes on family. And athletes like Brandon Marshall and Kevin Love have shown their fans that it’s OK to ask for help.
It’s a start.
How the media can help
The impact and influence of media on the complex issues of mental health cannot be understated. We need to hold media accountable when it defaults to the tired — and factually inaccurate — cliché that a man who has a mental illness is always violent or that a guy with a drinking problem is a lost cause. Just as a story arc talking about mental illness can help, inaccurate messaging and short-sighted storylines can also contribute to and perpetuate the destructive discrimination of people living with mental illness. And until men can see and recognize themselves on TV or film, it will be hard to convince them that it’s OK to not be OK.
We need more examples of complex male characters dealing with addiction and depression — and showing that recovery is possible. It’s an encouraging sign that more television shows and movies are taking steps to portray mental illness and substance use in real and authentic ways. Let’s hope it’s a trend that sticks around.
Erin Wallace, Chief Communications Officer, Mental Health America, [email protected]