Year ’round, men’s health starts at the top: His head

  • Monday, June 10, 2019 1:30am
  • Life

Dear Mr. Dad: I’ve read several of your columns that have touched on the health of men and boys, but you haven’t spent much time talking about mental health. Is male mental health different than females’?

A: Very different. Within the broader men’s health crisis, which, as you mention, I’ve written a lot about, there’s one area where differences between male and female mortality and morbidity are especially stark: mental health, the most visible manifestation of which is suicide.

Across all ages and ethnicities, American men commit suicide at far higher rates than women. According to the most recent CDC data, between the ages of 15 and 64, roughly 3.5 times more men than women commit suicide. For those over 74, the difference is a startling 9.3:1. Overall, for males, suicide is the 7th leading cause of death. For females, it’s number 14.

The alarming disparity in suicides is undoubtedly driven by equally alarming disparities in the underlying mental-health conditions that lead to suicide itself, including depression and anxiety, psychosis, and especially substance abuse.

Between 2015 and 2016, male life expectancy decreased by .2 years, a rather dramatic decline over such a short period of time. That decline was driven, to a large extent, by an even-more-dramatic 9% increase in the male suicide rate, which, in turn, was related to a parallel increase in substance abuse — in particular opiate use — among men. Such a change in the suicide rate over the course of a single year could easily be classified as the bellwether of a looming public health catastrophe. Actually, two catastrophes. The second is the dramatic increase in opiate overdose deaths (75% of which are males). According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, between 2015 and 2016, those deaths increased 20.4% among women and 31.5% for men — primarily middle-aged men, who would otherwise be expected to be among the most productive members of their communities and our society as a whole.

Medical providers, members of the public health community, community organizations, politicians, and the media have collectively been unable (or unwilling) to acknowledge the massive scope of the mental health issues that affect males. As a result, tens of thousands of American men and boys are dying and suffering from what many experts believe are preventable or treatable behavioral and mental health issues.

The effects of this collective mismanagement of mental health issues in men and boys extend into nearly every aspect of American society and have broad implications for the ways we provide (or don’t provide) preventive mental health services to our fathers, sons, brothers, partners, and friends. (The Affordable Care Act, for example, provides girls and women with annual, free, well-woman visits, which include mental-health screenings. No such coverage exists for boys and men.)

— Tribune Content Agency

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