Our society continues to perpetuate the myth of male strength and invincibility. Although the times are changing, many South African men still feel that it is “unmanly” to admit to weakness or vulnerability. So, what happens when a man finds himself battling with a mental illness? How does he explain to his colleagues and friends that he can’t cope anymore? And what is the best approach that he can take in order to regain control of his life?
Men who find themselves suffering from mental illness can take heart from the fact that they are in good company. Some of the most talented men in history suffered from a mental illness at some point in their lives. Abraham Lincoln, Ernest Hemingway and Charles Dickens all suffered from clinical depression, whilst it is reported that Ludwig von Beethoven, Edgar Allen Poe and Vincent van Gogh all battled with the ups and downs of bipolar depression.
Untreated mental health problems can result in both financial and human costs being incurred at top firms. For instance, a benchmark study published in 1993 by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of technology estimated depression’s cost to employers at $23.8 billion annually in absenteeism and lost productivity. Recent research indicated that at least 10% of American employees are depressed.
Male employees are often particularly worried about the personal stigma associated with mental illness in the business world. Even at the most progressive firms, the stigma surrounding mental illness can remain a barrier to effective medical care. Dr. Westmore agrees that, if left untreated, a psychiatric disorder can affect an individual’s ability to function properly in the workplace. However, if treated timeously with the correct programme, many sufferers can continue to perform as effective employees.
So, what kind of help is available for men that decide to confront their mental problems? Most mental illnesses are best treated by a three-pronged approach that involves medication, therapy and self-help. The best solution is to find a skilled psychologist and psychiatrist that can work in conjunction to ensure that you are receiving the best possible treatment for your illness. “More often than not, patients feel immense relief when they finally receive a proper diagnosis from a professional,” says Dr. Wynchank.
Educational campaigns need to continue to promote tolerance and combat ignorance regarding mental illness in men. Often men with underlying psychiatric problems present to their GP’s with superfluous physical complaints. GP’s need to be aware of these kinds of scenarios and be able to tactfully refer men to mental health professionals.
Antidepressants and sexual dysfunction
Many depression and anxiety sufferers have found that the usage of antidepressants has given them a new lease on life by effectively dispelling their depressive moods and stabilising anxious conditions. Unfortunately, amongst the more popular groups of antidepressants, such as tricyclic antidepressants, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAO) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the negative side effect of sexual dysfunction is still a very real problem.
Common sexual dysfunction as a result of antidepressants include problems with delayed ejaculation, decreased libido or sexual desire, erectile failure or difficulties and inability to orgasm. Degrees of sexual dysfunction vary according to the type of antidepressant and the mechanism of action that is involved.
Dr. Frans Korb, as psychiatrist and clinical psychologist in private practice says that there are ways and means of getting around antidepressant-related sexual dysfunction. “One possibility is to decrease the antidepressant medication to low dosages, so that the patient still has the benefit of the drug’s positive effects but few negative side effects. Often, once a patient has been on an antidepressant for a fairly long time, the side effects naturally decrease anyway. Another option is for the patient to change to another type of antidepressant which might not have the same negative sexual side effects.”
Sexuality is not just all biological, though. Kevin Bolon, a clinical psychologist with a special interest in cognitive behavioural therapy, reminds us that sexual activity is a complex interplay of biological, social and psychological processes. He believes that many sufferers blame medication far too easily for their sexual dysfunction where there could be a number of other variables involved.