From Our Experts

Bringing Men’s Mental Health to the Forefront

Originally published December 14, 2023

Last updated December 14, 2023

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Calm man relaxing and smiling outdoors in a park

Steven Siegel, MD, PhD, chief mental health and wellness officer at Keck Medicine of USC, shares insights on men’s mental health, including the importance of raising awareness and mental health services.

Mental health covers a wide range of conditions, such as mood disorders, but I want to primarily focus on one critical issue: men’s mental health. Depression and anxiety, which affect 1 in 10 men, are often experienced differently in men than in women.

And while men are less likely to experience depression and anxiety than women, they are more likely to lose their life to suicide. This may be the result of fewer men seeking treatment or diagnoses for emotional challenges compared to women, probably due to an ingrained stereotype of masculinity that views asking for help as a sign of weakness. Generational and cultural expectations may also play a role.

What are the signs of depression in men?

The symptoms of mental distress may also vary between men and women. While women living with depression typically experience sadness and sleep disruption, symptoms of depression in men tend toward irritability and impulsive anger.

Depression and anxiety can be crippling because they rob people of joy and hope. What may not be as well-known, however, is that they also adversely affect our physical health. Studies have indicated that depression can be just as harmful to the heart as morbid obesity, smoking and Type 1 diabetes. Additionally, depression and anxiety are linked to the body’s immune system, potentially making it harder to fight off infection and increasing vulnerability to illness.

Embrace your own agency. Acknowledging your role in whatever you’re facing gives you the ability to fix it, which provides hope.

Dr. Steven Siegel, chief mental health and wellness officer at Keck Medicine of USC

What are the treatment options for depression and anxiety?

The good news is that the mental health field now has tools to help the majority of people with depression. If medication alone isn’t effective, there are two other options, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). These treatments are thought to relieve symptoms through the modulation of electrical brain activity — which impacts the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin — to restore both chemical and functional balance in the brain. Our Keck Medicine team offers both of these treatments.

The importance of raising mental health awareness.

Another hopeful development is that mental health issues are becoming increasingly normalized, especially among younger generations, including young men, who not only openly talk about their struggles but also advocate for mental health services. As the stigma of mental illness subsides in our society, we hope more men will feel comfortable acknowledging their feelings and seeking treatment.

Mental health services at Keck Medicine.

As part of our mission to deliver exceptional health care, Keck Medicine has expanded mental health services for our patients. Since my appointment as chief mental health and wellness officer in 2021, we have built up our staff to the point where we can routinely assess patients’ mental well-being and provide resources for them while in our care and when they return home.

Additionally, we now screen patients for depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation during many types of routine physician visits. We are, therefore, better able to detect a problem that may have gone unnoticed and intervene. We also remain dedicated to the mental health of our employees through the ongoing wellness services offered by our Care for the Caregiver program.

What men (and women, too) can do to support their own mental health.

Here are four recommendations I give patients to combat depression and anxiety:

  1. Act well before you feel well — the order of operations is “do” first, then “feel” later. The “doing” will result in feeling better.
  2. Try to stick to a healthy schedule. Wake up on time, exercise regularly, go to work or get out of the house and eat nutritious foods. Actions determine your mood, not the reverse.
  3. Be kind to other people; few things are more uplifting than doing something nice for someone.
  4. Embrace your own agency. Acknowledging your role in whatever you’re facing gives you the ability to fix it, which provides hope.

I understand that the world can seem a difficult place. Currently, we are witnessing an extraordinary time of division and war that can exacerbate underlying feelings of stress and despair. However, help is available. The earlier someone seeks treatment, the better the outcome.

I encourage more men to understand that distress is a normal human experience and not to judge themselves for it. Above all, be kind to yourself.

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Steven Siegel, MD, PhD
Steven Siegel, MD, PhD, is the chief mental health and wellness officer at Keck Medicine of USC.