When times get tough, the tough turn to sedation and escape.

The headlines summarize the state of health in the  developed nations. Recessionary woes lead to adverse alcohol outcomes for men and middle-aged Americans. Antidepressant use soars in developed nations. I could copy and paste similar captions ad nauseam.

None of the figures shown in the graph below should come as much of a surprise to anyone involved in health care. DrugAbuseIt is screamingly obvious that economic downturns increase stress and have profound impacts on mental health. The Ontario booze monopoly, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), has seen growth in sales of 4.5% over the previous year and the volume of sales has increased by 2.5% since 2008, when the recession hit. It is the same across all the provinces. It is clear from the graph, that men are far more likely to turn to alcohol in order to deal with the stress they experience in day-to-day life. Men are also more likely to self medicate than women.

In terms of mental health, a recently released report by the OECD has indicated a sharp increase in antidepressant prescriptions being filled across the developed world. Speculation has varied as to the cause of the increase. Some have claimed it is due to the economic situation while others have said it is because of marketing efforts of ‘Big Pharma.’ Others have noted that it is far cheaper for individuals to swallow a pill than to pay for therapy – true enough. I’d suggest it is all of the above.

Canadians aged 24 and over have also reported an increase in consultation with a professional or utilized a professional service for problems with emotions, mental health, or use of alcohol or illicit drugs. According to Statistics Canada the professionals included psychiatrists, family doctors and general practitioners, psychologists, nurses, social workers, counsellors, and psychotherapists.

The graph on the right shows that women and men report suicidal thoughts almost equallyMentalHealth with women reporting just 7% more than men. However, women were almost two times more likely to seek help than men. As the graph to the right shows 63% of mental health service patients were women. The recent results do not show anything new or surprising, it is the same old story. It is socially acceptable for women to ask for and receive help – not so much so for men.

In a TV ad about depression it features a woman experiencing depression symptoms at a 9:2 ratio over men. The ad directs the viewer to depressionhurts.ca. You could easily mistake the ad and the website for one that is government sponsored. However, it is actually owned, according to the information contained in the copyright section of the website, by “One of Canada’s leading research-based pharmaceutical companies.” It doesn’t say which one. So there is certainly something to be said about Big Pharma promoting the use of their product – fair enough. However, they seem to be promoting it to an easily accessible target audience, in this case women. The site advertises another entity called the Mood Disorder Association of Ontario. That site asserts that being a woman – is a risk factor for developing depression.

There seems to be a deliberate or terribly misguided understanding of reality, especially given the evidence in the graphs on this page. It should be clear to anyone remotely connected with research or in the health care industry that men simply do not admit to being depressed as easily or as readily as women do. Men are obviously far more likely to self medicate in order to avoid the social stigma of being in need of help. The male suicide rate is four times that of women. It is a damning and pathetic indictment on mental health in the so-called developed world. It should be clear that self medication does not help reduce the stress, anxiety or angst that men obviously have difficulty with. Socially inculcated norms of masculinity encourage men to be strong and silent. ‘Playing through the pain’ is a meme, an emotional expression, which encourages men to suppress and ignore their feelings. It doesn’t work that well in sport and it doesn’t work that well in life, as evidenced by a suicide rate 400% higher than that of women who use mental health services without stigma.

The mental health problems faced by men should be obvious. In America for instance, it is not so much a second amendment issue as it is a mental health issue. Whether it’s Newtown, LAX, a Colorado movie theater or whatever happens next. Men are more likely to resort to behaviors that harm themselves and or others. Pretending anything otherwise is wilful ignorance.