It seems like a matter of pride to rely on oneself for many men, and self-reliance is clearly seen as a strength, not a weakness. Men’s reluctance to seek help may be one of the factors responsible for the higher rates of morbidity and mortality among men (American Journal of Public Health 2003).
Aside from the obvious physical repercussions of not paying attention to your health and not seeking support from health professionals when it is needed, people living with diabetes have the added responsibility of self-management of their condition. Things such as daily monitoring and medications management, worry about the future and diabetes distress impact on various aspects of life. People living with diabetes make an extra 200 decisions per day, which can create frustration and leave them feeling fed up and overwhelmed. For men who are less likely to admit that they are struggling to cope with the daily grind of their diabetes, there is significant risk of developing depression or other mental health issues. Depression can affect the ability to perform tasks, communicate and think clearly, which can interfere with the ability to successfully manage diabetes.
Mental health is just as important as physical health.
Joe Nelson reflects on men’s frequent hesitation to ask for help in his 2007 blog. “As with any machine, the body begins to break down, and even with regular maintenance – such as exercise, meditation, good food – it is still going to develop some minor problems,” he says on the website diabetesselfmanagement.com. “But I guess it only makes sense to take it in for a bit of overhaul work—you know, that beyond-the-surface look into the deeper depths of this temple. The physical aspect of this feat is often daunting for us guys; after all, aren’t we supposed to be able to just pick ourselves up and keep on moving? And then there’s another arena we rarely want to examine: the mental aspect of our health. Depression and anxiety may go undiagnosed for years.”
He speaks of “grumpy old men” and “workaholics,” and that depression in men is often misunderstood because the symptoms are not always the classic indicators of depression. Symptoms such as edgy emotions, quickness to anger, isolation, always working, watching excessive TV, loss of interest in sex, thoughts of suicide, and poor energy may be incorrectly attributed to the aging process, and thought might not be given to the possibility that something could be done about it, particularly if the man is hesitant to speak up himself.
It is important to understand that depression and anxiety are very treatable. Research demonstrates counselling and medication can have a real impact. If someone is opposed to one of these treatments, the other is likely to be effective. If one treatment is not useful, then a combination of treatments may be more useful.
If this is like you and you think you might need support, don’t feel that you are not coping by asking for help. This is an important way of coping. It is important, too, to remember that each of us can learn new coping skills and develop relationships with people who can provide support. Depression is not just a low mood but a serious illness. Feeling overwhelmed and finding it hard to do normal activities can have a serious impact on diabetes care and outcomes.
If you are having mental or emotional problems, or are struggling with managing your diabetes, consult your GP, diabetes educator or a professional therapist. Often a spouse, relative or close friend can point out the signs and suggest resources. To be a truly “strong man,” have the courage to get the help you need now.
If you are needing support or someone to talk to, speak with your diabetes health professional, your GP or call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for crisis support.