Guide to Mind Health

You don't need to be a stealth Ninja to watch for the signs of why you may not feel on top of things.

Introduction

This handy mind health model was developed by the Canadian Department of National Defence, in cooperation with the United States Marine Corps’ Department of Psychiatry. Given Marines are among the manliest blokes around and deal with some pretty hairy situations, I reckon they might know a thing or two about mental toughness, but also how to spot when a mate needs support. 

The model recognises a range of mental and physical health problems that can affect men during their lives. That dinky little arrow shows us that health is a continuum, and the state of our health can sometimes move back and forth along it more than your Uncle Danny’s hips at the RSL disco when he’s impersonating John Travolta. Depending on where you are along the continuum, there are a range of strategies you can use. Just as you wouldn’t try to tee off with your putter, no one single strategy is effective for all situations.

Check out the different descriptors and see where you fit. If you think you fall within the yellow zone, have a peruse through some of my DIY Man Therapies to get your mind back into tip-top shape. Even if you’re a fully fledged greenie, it’s important to stay on top of things and look out for any changes in your moods. And by greenie, I obviously mean the green zone – not one of those tree-hugging, hemp-wearing types.

If you’re in the orange or red zone, I strongly recommend you talk things over with a health professional.

Borrowed from the Canadian Mental Health Commission, Working Mind Project, 2013.

Healthy Reacting Injured Ill        
Normal mood fluctuations
Calm and takes things in stride
Good sense of humour
Performing well
In control mentally
Normal sleep patterns
Few sleep difficulties
Physically well
Good energy levels
Physically and socially active
Good appetite
Maintaining a stable weight
Irritable/impatient 
Nervous
Sadness/overwhelmed
Displaced sarcasm
Procrastination
Forgetfulness
Trouble sleeping
Intrusive thoughts
Nightmares
Muscle tension/headaches
Low energy
Decreased activity/ socialisation
Regular but controlled alcohol use/gambling
Changes in eating patterns
Some weight gain or loss
Anger
Anxiety
Pervasively sad/hopeless
Negative attitude
Poor performance/ workaholic
Poor concentration/ decisions
Restless disturbed sleep
Recurrent images/ nightmares
Increased aches and pains
Increased fatigue
Avoidance
Withdrawal
Increased alcohol use/ gambling is hard to control
Loss of appetite
Fluctuations or changes in weight
Angry outbursts/aggression
Excessive anxiety/panic attacks
Depressed/suicidal thoughts
Over insubordination
Can’t perform duties, control behaviour or concentrate
Can’t fall asleep or stay asleep
Sleeping too much or too little
Physical illness
Constant fatigue
Not going out or answering phone
Alcohol or gambling addictions
Other addictions
No appetite
Extreme weight loss or gain

Mind health continuum

 Maintain healthy lifestyle
Focus on task at hand, small steps
Controlled breathing
Nurture a support system
Join a support group
Plan time for rest and fun
Recognise limits, take breaks
Ask for support when necessary
Set limits and boundaries
Balance demands and priorities
Identify unhealthy coping
Apply problem-solving skills
Keep lines of communication open
Take action sooner rather than later
Talk to someone, ask for assistance
Tune into own signs of distress
Make self-care a priority
Accept that you cannot do it all by yourself
Maintain social contact, don’t withdraw
Talk to a doctor and follow their recommendations
Accept offers of assistance from others
Learn and try new coping strategies
Be honest with yourself and how you are doing

Focus on regaining health



Depression

Kryptonite to the manliest of male minds

Depression is a serious, yet treatable health condition that can affect any man, no matter how keen his D.I.Y. skills or Dennis Lillee-like his moustache. While depression is often associated with sadness and hopelessness, it often manifests itself in fits of rage, unnecessary risk taking and alcohol or drug abuse in men.

What to watch for:

Physical Emotional
Persistent pain Feeling guilty
Loss of energy Feeling angry and violent
Loss of sex drive Losing interest in hobbies
Changes in appetite Apathy
Lethargy Feeling sad or nervous
Exhaustion Feeling alone
Change in sleep patterns Taking unnecessary risks
Restlessness Thinking about death or suicide
Alcohol or drug abuse

Causes

Depression isn't the result of being a 'big girl's blouse', mama's boy or cry-baby.

A number of things can be associated with the development of depression, generally not from a single event, but from a mix of recent events and other longer-term or personal factors.

Recent events Personal factors

Life stressors such as:
Family conflict
Relationship problems
Poor working conditions
Limited social connectedness
Recent losses and disappointments
Drugs and alcohol use
Medical illness and treatments

Past bad experiences and trauma
Personality
High anxiety
Changes in chemicals in the brain
(such as serotonin and stress hormones)
Family disposition

What can I do?

Fortunately there is a lot you can do to fix depression. Depression is a highly treatable condition. In most cases it can be improved with a combination of lifestyle changes, professional therapy and medication.

Still, thousands of Australian men experiencing depression are going untreated. If you think you might have depression, it is important that you do something about it.

Don't let it defeat you without putting up a fight. Make sure you have been right through this site to investigate everything from what you can do yourself, through to talking with health professionals.


Anxiety

When a warrior becomes a worrier.

Everyday, anxiety disorders affect the ability of 1 in 5 men to live a normal, happy life. And I'm not just talking about the sweaty palms, stomach butterflies and urge to soil your jocks you get every time you have to speak in public or call your father-in-law. No, I'm talking about feelings of worry, stress, fear and impending doom so severe they interfere with your ability to work, maintain relationships and even get a decent night's sleep.

What to watch for:

Physical Emotional
Pounding heart
Excessive sweating
Choking sensations
Dizziness and vertigo
Shortness of breath
Hot flashes or chills
Insomnia and exhaustion
Panic attacks
Feelings of dread
Concentration problems
Inner tension and nervousness
Catastrophic thinking
Irritability or edginess
Hyper vigilance toward danger
Absentmindedness
Fear of losing control

Causes

The exact causes of anxiety differ from man to man. For some men, anxiety might be triggered by a traumatic life event. For others, genetics or alcohol and drug use abuse could be the root cause. Stress, however, appears to play a major role in almost all anxiety sufferers. That's because stress can lead to an imbalance of anxiety regulating neurotransmitters (fancy word for brain chemicals), such as noradrenaline, serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid. When these chemicals become out of whack, life-altering anxiety could be the result.

Types of anxiety

General anxiety disorder - Sufferers experience excessive worry and tension, even if there is nothing rational to worry about.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - People suffering from PTSD experience long-lasting memories of traumatic events, such as fighting a battle or being sexually assaulted. Their inability to escape these intense recollections makes them emotionally numb and anxious.

Social anxiety disorder - Social anxiety causes overwhelming worry and self-consciousness about everyday social situations and interactions.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) - OCD causes the sufferer to experience constant anxiety and fears that cause them to perform certain rituals or routines.

Panic disorder - Causes people to experience terror (panic attacks) suddenly and without warning. Symptoms can resemble a heart attack.

Specific phobias - Sufferers have an intense, irrational fear of a specific object or situation.

Panic or heart attack?

Some guys think that a panic attack is a heart attack, but there is a core difference:

  • Panic attack: quick and rapid beating of the heart, often heard in the ears
  • Heart attack: crushing internal pain

If you or your family have a history of heart problems, then it is best to see your general practitioner after you have a panic attack to ensure it was not a heart attack. But if you are fit and healthy, then it was unlikely to have been a heart attack.

What can I do?

A lot of guys treat anxiety like they treat a dog begging for a pork chop. They ignore it and hope it goes away. Unfortunately this strategy rarely works. If left untreated, anxiety will not only get worse, it may lead to a bunch of other nasty mental and physical ailments, including heart disease. If your anxiety is relatively mild, you may be able to make some lifestyle changes to reduce your anxiety. See the Man Therapies section of my office for suggestions. If the anxiety is more severe, it is important that you reach out to a health professional in your area.

Want to learn more about some of the signs and symptoms of anxiety? Check out these videos of people sharing what they've experienced, including hot and cold flushes, snowballing worries and a racing heart.

Stress

Don't let stress make a mess

When we talk about being stressed, it usually means we're tense about something that's happening in our lives.

Stress is a normal part of daily life. It's a natural physical and mental response that is designed to help you cope effectively with emergencies.

Some stress can be a good thing. It can help us get motivated to get things done.

Stress makes your body produce chemicals that raise your heart rate and blood pressure and increase mental focus. This helps you to perform well in a challenging situation over a short period of time.

What to watch for

Physical Emotional
Feeling sick in the stomach
Having constipation or diarrhoea
Having stomach aches and/or headaches
Having problems sleeping
Feeling constantly tired
Sweating a lot
Having cramps or twitches
Feeling dizzy or fainting
Eating too much or too little
Using drugs or smoking.
Feeling angry or irritable
Feeling anxious
Being moody and easily frustrated
Feeling like crying regularly
Having low self esteem or lacking confidence
Feeling restless all the time
Having trouble concentrating.

Causes

There are lots of different causes for stress. Things that affect one person may not be a problem for someone else. The important thing is to work out what's troubling you.

Generally, stress comes from feeling overburdened across a range of things in life:

  • Financial pressures
  • Relationship and family issues
  • Conflict in the workplace
  • Not having enough time, particularly if you have a long transit to work
  • Illness of self/others, or death of loved ones
  • Feeling like things are out of control

The problems from stress happen when stress is regular and doesn't let up. The chemicals the body releases can build up and cause changes that damage your physical and mental health.

Stress is not the same as anxiety or depression - but for some people, being stressed for a long time can end up leading to anxiety and/or depression, plus impact your physical health, particularly your cardiovascular health.

What can I do?

All of our Man Therapies sections provide tips to help you to reduce and deal with stress in your life, but here are some of the key ones:

Sort out relationship problems

Stress in relationships - whether this is with a partner, friends, your teachers, your parents or other important people in your life - is a major cause of mental health issues. You might want to talk to a counsellor or someone who can help you to work things out.

Take time out

Don't spend too much time worrying about things that are stressing you out. Take some time to do something distracting or something you enjoy, such as going out with friends, going to the gym or a yoga class, listening to music, playing sport or watching a movie.

Keep things balanced

Try to make sure you have a balance in your day between work and doing the things that you enjoy. This might mean learning to say 'no' more often so that you don't take on new things that will add to your to-do list, or your stress levels.

Get organised

Organise your time so your homework and assignments are not left to the last minute and avoid studying until late at night.

Exercise

Physical activity such as swimming, walking, yoga, cycling, dancing or going to the gym can help reduce the tension in your muscles and your mind. Try to do some exercise every day, even if it's just walking around the block.

Relaxation exercises

Exercises that slow your breathing and relax your muscles can help with stress. Slow breathing (three seconds in, three seconds out) for five minutes can be a useful short-term coping strategy for when you're feeling stressed. Relaxing your muscles might help with aches and pains, fatigue, headaches and difficulty breathing. Try sitting in a comfortable and quiet room, then tense each group of muscles for 10 seconds and relax them for 10 seconds.

Don't wait for stress to get so bad that you start feeling depressed or helpless. Try to work out what is troubling you and then talk to someone who can help, be it family or friends, or a health professional.

Anger and rage

The storm before the calm.

Anger is the body's physiological reaction to danger or threats. It gives you the extra boost you need to conquer fears, take action and escape sticky situations. Anger is normal. Rage, on the other hand, is not. Rage is anger that isn't triggered by an actual threat. Instead, it's caused by an irrational thought, an unreasonable expectation, or in the case of one infamous Australian cricketer, a cyclist who crossed his path.

What to watch for:

Physical Emotional
Pounding heart
Muscle tension
Accelerated heartbeat
Changes in breathing
Body trembles
Goosebumps
Flushed face
Clenched fists
Loss of control over trivial issues
Violent impulses
Inability to face reality
Jealousy and resentfulness
Low frustration tolerance
Unreasonable expectations
Suicidal tendencies
Melancholy and depression
Dominating behaviour

Causes

Anger is often caused by how men think and interpret situations. The following are four types of thinking that can cause irrational anger.

Emotional reasoning - People who reason emotionally are prone to confusing their own feelings with fact. Because of this, they'll interpret an innocent conversation or event as an attack on them. This can lead to misplaced anger.

Low frustration tolerance - Many things can cause frustration tolerance to lower. It can be stress. It can be fatigue. It can be the mother of all hangovers. Regardless of the cause, a low frustration tolerance can lead us to interpreting normal things as threats to our well-being or ego.

Unreasonable expectations - Men with unreasonable expectations expect the world to act how they want it to. If a person, or even an uncontrollable event, behaves differently than what's expected, it's easy for frustration and anger to set in.

People-rating - People-rating is something we all do on occasion. When we label our boss an asshole or our brother-in-law an idiot, we are actually de-humanizing them and making it easier to get pissed off at them.

Impacts

When you get angry, your brain triggers the release of cortisol, adrenaline and catecholamine into your blood stream. These chemicals give your heart the boost it needs to get you through dangerous situations. The effect of anger on the brain shares a similar intoxicating quality to methamphetamines. And like meth, if experienced too often anger can become addicting.

What can I do?

Rage is dangerous. Not only could you damage property or explode on another person, you are also a hazard to yourself. And I'm not just talking about bloody knuckles and black eyes. Excessive anger has been shown to raise blood pressure and even cause heart attacks. If you believe that you are dealing with dysfunctional anger, it's important that you seek professional help. A therapist will likely work with you to determine the source of your anger and provide you with behavioural techniques you can use to disarm the rage before you explode like a stick of dynamite.

Alcohol & drug use

The treacherous snake pit of substance misuse

Drinking and experimenting with drugs has been firmly endorsed by male culture since the beginning of time. Guys drink. Guys smoke. Hell, some guys have even made a career out of boozing and using. (Yes, I'm looking at you, Charlie Sheen).

Unfortunately, guys also self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to cope with problems like depression, anxiety and rage. Often, this is when recreational use can turn into a serious problem.

What to watch for:

Physical Behavioural and Psychological
Bloodshot eyes
Changes in size of pupils
Deterioration of physical appearance
Unusual smells on breath
Tremors
Slurred speech
Built-up tolerance
Using to avoid withdrawal symptoms
Neglecting responsibilities
Unexplained financial problems
Sudden changes in friends and hobbies
Frequent legal trouble
Change in personality or attitude
Sudden mood swings
Periods of hyperactivity or giddiness
Anxiety, paranoia and fear
Problems in relationships

Causes

Weaknesses, character flaws or the inability of a man to handle his booze doesn't cause drug and alcohol addiction. Addiction is a disease caused by repeatedly using intoxicating substances. When smoked or snorted, ingested or injected, these substances trigger the release of "happy chemicals" (dopamine) in your brain. This substance induced happiness-or "high"-has a numbing effect that temporarily makes the user feel better. This is why men often get drunk or high to cope with problems, such as depression from divorce or anxiety from work.

Impacts

The effects of substance abuse on your brain are as ugly as an 80-year old fat man in lycra. Aside from head-pounding hangovers, repeated use will actually alter the way your brain looks and functions. These changes interfere with your ability to make sound decisions, think clearly, control your behaviour and even feel normal without drugs and alcohol.

What can I do?

The steps you should take toward controlling your substance use depend on how serious your problem is.

Mild to Moderate Misuse: Most guys who use alcohol and drugs, never become addicts or need to go to rehab. Their use, however, may still be enough to lead to negative life and mental health consequences. If you go on regular benders or use booze and drugs to self-medicate, its time to change your habits. Cut back on your use and, if necessary, stop hanging around your buddies who are bad influences.

Heavy Abuse or Addiction: The first step to dealing with addiction is admitting you are an addict and you need help. It's estimated that more than 90% of addicts never take this first step and get the treatment they need. Fortunately, addiction is highly treatable. It's time for you to escape from the shackles of drugs and alcohol. Visit the Other Resources section of my office to contact someone to talk to or find a rehabilitation service in your area.