By Matthew Schultz
I’m going to do something I’m not supposed to do as a writer: I’m going to write this as if you and I were having a conversation, as if I were right there with you because I am. And so are most men in your ministry, your friend circle, and in your community.
Here are the facts: six million men each year are diagnosed with depression; one in five men are dependent on alcohol to cope with their stress, anxiety, or feelings of inadequacy; men are three times more likely to use drugs as a coping mechanism than women.
Those facts are staggering. Think about your church, your men’s group, or just your friends. One in five are fighting a battle that no one knows about and it’s killing them—literally. Men are three-and-a-half times more likely to commit suicide than women. Sixty-two thousand men die of alcohol-related deaths each year. (Statistics come from the National Institute on Mental Health, Mental Health America, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.)
Alone. Stigmatized. Scared out of our wits. Afraid to talk about it. So, what do we do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Because if I do something about it, I’m weak: I’m not manly enough, I’m not strong enough, I’m not good enough.
You might think I’m being a bit dramatic, but anyone who has been in ministry for any amount of time knows the signs because we’ve seen them in ourselves. Take a look for yourself:
- Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness
- Noticeable changes in mood, energy level, or appetite
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Difficulty concentrating, feeling restless, or on edge
- Increased worry or feeling stressed
- Misuse of alcohol or drugs
- Sadness or hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts
- Feeling flat or having trouble feeling positive emotions
- Engaging in high-risk activities
- Aches, headaches, or digestive problems without a clear cause
- Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior
- Thoughts or behaviors that interfere with work, family, or social life
- Unusual thinking or behaviors that concern other people
(Symptoms from the National Institute of Mental Health.)
So, how many of these symptoms do you have? No, I’m serious. How many do you see in yourself? How many do you see in the men of your ministry? The guy who used to come to all the activities telling you he’s just not into it. The group of men who seem to have one too many drinks every time you get together and alcohol is available. The men whose wives tell your wife that they’re just not the same. How many?
Men are told to just suck it up. We think we have to do it on our own. So we do, and then we end up exactly where Satan wants us—alone. One little sheep off by itself. An easy target.
Peter warns us to be on our guard against our enemy Satan because he prowls around like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8). It would be nice if he roared. Then maybe we would take notice. But what about when he comes in stealthily and silently? What about when he comes in with the half-truth about God’s grace, that we have to be “good enough” to be part of the church? We have to be “man enough” to bear up our burdens by ourselves. Show me in the Bible where it says we are supposed to do this on our own! Show me where it says that we have to be good enough to receive God’s grace.
The silent and stealthy lie. A killer message hidden in a cultural stigma: be man enough to earn God’s grace. It’s not true. We know it. We believe it.
Jesus did it all on the cross. We don’t earn God’s approval. We already have it. You already have it. But as men this means doing something that none of us want to do—admit we need it. Admit our weakness. And yes, that means admitting our struggles with ourselves and our situations.
That means that we as churches need to make safe spaces for men to do what they least want to do—to be weak, to be vulnerable, to be man enough to receive God’s grace for even this struggle. We need to actually believe and live in grace, for ourselves, and for one another.
If you’re struggling, don’t do it alone. Talk to someone. If you see a brother struggling, don’t wait. Let him know that it’s alright and that you’re going to walk through it with them. Because when it comes to men and mental health, silence is killing us.
And if you’re wondering, yes, I have sought treatment for mental health and still do.
Mental Health Resources
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Veterans can press 1 or text to 838255
Crisis Text Line: Text “HELLO” to 741741
Hazelden Betty Ford Addiction Centers: 1-844-537-4683
Free Counseling Session from Focus on the Family: 1-855-771-HELP. Click this link to fill out their online form for a callback.
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