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Breaking Down the Men’s Mental Health Stigma Through Running

When you think of running, you might picture the physical benefits—improved heart health, weight loss, and increased physical fitness. But running can also play a significant role in mental well-being. Society often places unspoken rules on men, expecting them to be strong and stoic. This can make it difficult to acknowledge—let alone discuss—mental health struggles. However, running can be a powerful tool in flipping this narrative and opening doors to mental wellness.


The Stigma Around Men's Mental Health

a man standing on the beach taking a selfie

The stigma surrounding men's mental health is deeply rooted in societal norms and expectations. Men are often taught to be strong, self-reliant, and emotionally reserved from a young age. This cultural conditioning can lead to a reluctance to express vulnerability or seek help for mental health issues.


As a result, many men suffer in silence, feeling ashamed or weak for experiencing depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or other mental illness like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. As many as 19.7% of American men had some form of mental illness in 2022. However, men are less likely to seek support than women, often preferring to cope in silence. This stigma around men and mental health is perpetuated by what the media portrays and social attitudes that equate masculinity with emotional suppression, further isolating men who need support.


"This idea of men's mental and emotional health—and a lot of the stigma associated with it through bypassing and a culture of masculinity that doesn't really support these conversations—is very much top of mind as I am living through it right now," says Chris, Functional Movement Screener, Balanced Athlete Coach, Trauma Informed Yoga Instructor and Sea Change Yoga Board Member.


This harmful stigma prevents men from seeking necessary help but also exacerbates their mental health issues. The fear of being judged or misunderstood can lead to increased stress, worsening symptoms, withdrawal, and even suicidal thoughts. Men may resort to unhealthy coping behavior such as abusing alcohol and other substances to manage their emotions. The lack of open converastion and supportive spaces means that men often lack the resources and encouragement to address their issues effectively.


Recognizing the Warning Signs and Symptoms

Recognizing the warning signs of mental health issues in men is important, as they exhibit different symptoms from those typically observed in women. While women might be more likely to express sadness and hopelessness, men often show changes in behavior. These can include increased irritability, anger, aggression, suicidal ideation, aggression, and risky behavior. Men might also withdraw socially, lose interest in work or hobbies, and experience physical symptoms like headaches, difficulty sleeping, or digestive problems without an apparent cause.


Male depression is common, too, but men are less likely to seek mental health services than women. Additionally, men are 3.85 times more likely to die by suicide than women, whereas self-harm is more common in women. Factors such as societal stigma, reluctance to seek help, and inadequate coping strategies, play a role in these higher rates.


The Mind-Body Connection: The Mental Health Benefits of Running

While people often celebrate running for its physical benefits, its impact on men's mental health is equally important. Running regularly can significantly enhance your mental well-being through the mind-body connection.


When you run, your body releases endorphins, known as "feel-good "hormones, which can reduce stress, anxiety and depression. These endorphins interact with receptors in the brain, triggering positive feelings similar to those induced by morphine, often referred to as "runner's high." This natural mood boost can be a powerful tool in managing mental health issues.


Nicolas was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) in 2020. Because medication didn't work for him, he took to walking instead, which quickly turned into running. "I tell anyone who will listen, running for your mind is just as important as running for your physical well-being...running is my therapy and as much a part of my life as eating and sleeping," he says.


Beyond the immediate mental health benefits, running also provides a structured routine and a sense of accomplishment, both of which are imperative for men's mental health. Setting and achieving running goals, whether it's completing a 5k or simply jogging for 20 minutes a day, can boost your self-esteem and provide a sense of purpose. This discipline and commitment to running often spill over into other areas of life, encouraging you to prioritize overall health.


For instance, many new runners begin to focus more on their diet and nutrition to support their performance. Protein is essential for athletes, so eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (like fish) can enhance brain function and has been shown to alleviate symptoms of depression. Iron can help runners by improving oxygen delivery to muscles and preventing fatigue. Because many runners eat nutritious meals and take supplements, they often have a more balanced lifestyle, easing symptoms of mental health challenges.


Breaking the Silence

a man running on the road

Talking about men's mental health can be challenging, especially if you're used to keeping your feelings to yourself. Running, however, can serve as a bridge to these conversations.

Todd has struggled with schizophrenia for years and turned to running as a solution to his hallucinations. In his book, "From Beneath the Ice," he states, "What seems impossible to you now, will one day be your normal. We are only limited by what we tell ourselves we can do. Starting today, tell yourself to take the first steps towards your impossible."


This first step may be seeking professional help or even joining a run club. Many run clubs focus on mental health and serve as a safe space to build meaningful connections. Men may find that running together provides a comfortable space for discussing personal issues, as many others are also there to improve their mental health.


Running communities, like Still I Run, are focused on taking control of their mental well-being through movement and aim to raise awareness for mental illnesses. Joining clubs like this can make it easier to share your thoughts and feelings, knowing that everyone there is also there for emotional support and determined to improve their mental health problems.


The Community Aspect

The community aspect of running can be immensely beneficial for younger men, especially. It offers a unique opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals, create supportive relationships, and even make close friends. Joining a local running club or participating in group runs creates a sense of belonging. In these settings, men can find encouragement, motivation, and companionship, which are crucial for mental health.


This sense of companionship can encourage men to seek help when needed and promotes a culture where mental well-being is prioritized. Ultimately, the community created through running can be a powerful catalyst for positive mental health outcomes among men. In fact, one study indicated that higher-intensity forms of exercise, like running, are the most beneficial for easing symptoms of mental disorders.


Taking the Next Step and Getting Help For Your Mental Health

It takes courage to seek mental health treatment, but it's vital to live a full life. Acknowledge the courage it takes to prioritize your well-being and ask for help. If you experience symptoms like emotional distress, anxiety, difficulty coping, or feeling sad often, reaching out to a close friend, family member or mental health professional can be a crucial first step. Opening up about your emotions and experiences allows others to offer support and understanding, breaking down the stigma often associated with seeking help.


Seeking professional guidance can provide men with tailored strategies and resources to manage their mental health more effectively. Whether through therapy, counseling, support groups, or clubs, these avenues offer safe spaces to explore and address your emotions constructively.


Breaking the Stigma

Many men experience common mental health conditions, but running can be a beneficial way to take a stand against the stigma surrounding men's mental health. You're showing that it's okay to seek help, talk about your struggles, and prioritize your well-being. Each step you take is a step toward breaking down barriers and creating an open dialogue about men's health.

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By amber2765

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