Men have a unique set of issues to cope with in our society today, and some serious mental health concerns come along with those. For example, statistically speaking, men are far more likely to suffer from addictions and tragically, also more likely to commit suicide. These are significant facts, with many related problems in a mix of biological, cultural and social causes. Men are, of course, physiologically different than women, and they are socialized differently-held to different cultural and social expectations. Consequently, psychologically and in behavior, too, men have a unique experience. Unfortunately, that experience can be debilitating in many ways when mental health concerns arise. And, often three significant mental health issues come together for many men. These are trauma, addiction and the potential for suicide.
You or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five individuals wrestles with a mental illness.1 Of the 43,576 individuals in Brown County2, nearly 9,000 struggle with mental illness. But within our often silent struggle, there is hope.
My name is Danei Edelen. I am Executive Director of the newly formed Brown County Ohio affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI is the largest grassroots organization in the country whose members are individuals that live with a mental illness, like me, or someone who lives with someone who does, like my husband. NAMI calls this “lived experience”. NAMI provides support, education, advocacy, and public awareness so that all people affected by mental illness can build better lives.
Those who have not been directly or indirectly affected by an eating disorder may find it easy to dismiss behaviors associated with these conditions. They may not understand that it’s more than an obsessive diet or a desire to lose weight. But the truth is that eating disorders are serious medical and mental illnesses that are incredibly complex and risky — not merely a phase or a lifestyle choice.
Eating Disorders and Mental Health
Unfortunately, insurance companies and other organizations often fail to recognize eating disorders as the mental health problems they are. This can make it extremely difficult for those suffering from these conditions to seek treatment and for their families to gain a true understanding of their disorders.
But according to the Academy for Eating Disorders, research shows that eating disorders are, in fact, serious mental health conditions that pose serious risks such as mortality. Scientific and medical evidence supports the position that eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are actually biologically based and can be considered as heritable as conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. The behaviors associated with eating disorders — such as bingeing, purging, and restricting food consumption — have been shown to change an individual’s metabolism, neurochemistry, and brain structure in ways that make it extremely difficult for the person to stop these behaviors (much like addictions). In addition, eating disorders are associated with countless medical complications, cognitive and emotional impairment, and the highest rates of mortality among any other psychiatric disorder. In fact, those who suffer from eating disorders have a 10-15% mortality rate and a 25% suicide rate.
Mental Health America reports that 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some point during their lives in the United States. While some people may be more likely to develop an eating disorder, the reality is that anyone — regardless of age, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or size — can be at risk. And like with many other mental health issues, it’s not always obvious who may be suffering from an eating disorder. A person may appear to be healthy in many respects but may actually be extremely ill.
Eating disorders have more than one root cause, but there may often be issues related to mental health that contribute to their development. According to Mental Health America, contributing psychological and sociocultural factors may include low self-esteem, a rigid way of thinking, cultural pressure to be thin, or a history of sexual abuse. Those who have a genetic predisposition to depression or anxiety (including obsessive-compulsive disorder) may also be at a higher risk for eating disorder development. Those with eating disorders may also have co-occurring mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders (OCD, social anxiety, generalized anxiety), depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, mood disorders, and substance abuse disorders.
Are There Treatment Options?
Although many mental health disorders are not completely curable, they’re typically treatable. Eating disorders are no exception. Typically, treatment for eating disorders may include psychotherapy, medical care, or medications (or a combination) — just like countless other mental health issues. Eating disorder treatment may also include nutritional counseling. The National Institute of Mental Health stresses the importance of researching the root causes and risk factors associated with eating disorders to develop new ways to diagnose and treat these issues.
Eating disorders certainly impact the physical body, but they really get their start in the mind. That’s why they are classified as mental health disorders; despite the fact that we can’t see how an eating disorder affects the brain of someone we love, it’s imperative to focus treatment on thought processes and learned behaviors in order to facilitate recovery.
There’s a mental health crisis in America’s graduate schools, and you know what isn’t helping? That old cliché where the professor says, “Look to your left. Look to your right. One of these students won’t be there a the end of the semester.”
Maybe professors don’t still use that old line, but it’s implied. The truth is, you won’t get a lot of help, sympathy, or emotional support in graduate school. That’s just how things are. It’s the “school of hard knocks” philosophy. The work is tough and there’s a mountain of it. The sacrifices are considerable, and you must make them for a long time, possibly even long after you graduate.
It really does have to be this way.
Many people will boast the proven benefits of spending time outside for good reason. Though we might not know the exact reasons why, there seems to be a clear correlation between spending time in nature with improved physical and mental health. For these reasons, incorporating outdoor activities into addiction recovery can be key in staying sober.
Addiction can be the most difficult roadblock a person must overcome to achieve a fulfilling life. There is no miracle cure for overcoming addictive behavior, but there are proven methods and behaviors that universally increase one’s chance for success. One of the behaviors that can stave off addictive cravings while improving our longevity and self-worth is exercise. Finding exercises that are enjoyable and easy to replicate help us clear our mind of negative thoughts. Exercise also occupies time formerly spent in addictive behaviors.