Men and Mental Health

As kids, most boys were told not to cry. They were told to be tough, to be “real men”, and those men didn’t cry and show emotions. They hid their feelings, no matter the cost.

This piece of advice has had terrible consequences, leading to high substance abuse rates, violence against women and children (among others) and other issues. When you can’t let out your feelings in a healthy way, it tends to come out badly. It also leads to higher rates of depression, anxiety and lack of self-care.

Why Men Don’t Seek Help

Everyone needs to take care of themselves, physically and mentally. This is a well-known fact. Men have a harder time acknowledging this because of the stigma they face in doing so. This will be covered in a later post, so stay tuned, but here are a few examples of what many men fear when going for help:

  • Being labeled as “weak”, “sick”, or any number of labels.
  • Having to be vulnerable. I can say from personal experience that starting therapy is rough. You are opening up with some of your worst demons to someone you just met..many men (and women) are not having it.
  • Being judged by those who know that they are getting help.

This information is in The Stigma of Mental Illness

Untreated mental illness can also lead to suicide, which has a higher rate in men, and men usually use more lethal means.

This fact breaks my heart each time I read it. Suicide in itself is heartbreaking and has far-reaching consequences.

As a mom, I’m teaching my kids that it’s okay to cry. My sons know it’s okay to have emotions. In light of numerous teen suicides in the news and those that I have lost to suicide personally, I feel a huge responsibility to watch out for my kids’ mental health. It’s HARD to be a kid these days.

Cameron started taking daily naps when he started middle school, and at first, I thought it was a phase. Then I worried about his heart because his SVT is pretty severe and can tire him out easily.

He told me that he felt fine, that school was just tiring him out. My next question was if anything was bothering him, and thankfully, he said no. Cameron is a pretty chill kid, but you never know.

Julian is pretty quiet, but he knows where Mom is if he needs to talk. So does Lily, but she is NOT the quiet type. The point of this is, please talk to your kids, no matter how rough it may be. Just check in.

What can we do for the men in our lives?

  • Check in with them. Especially if something major has happened to them recently- a death in the family, job loss, etc.
  • Be gentle. Most men facing a mental health issue don’t want to be forced into talking. Matthew’s parents divorced a few years ago, and there was a lot of drama involved. He’s not a huge talker, so I had to let him talk about it at his own pace.
  • Encourage him through whatever he does, if anything. If he decides to seek help, he needs to know you’re behind him 100%.

Of course, if things are going downhill quickly, please seek immediate help. You can go to the nearest ER or call 911.
Resources:

AFSP

Psychology Today

NAMI

If you are more comfortable seeking help online, this BetterHelp link will be helpful for Michigan residents, but the entire site is full of good information.

5 Powerful Ways to Discuss Depression With Your Teen

**Trigger warning: this post discusses suicide. Please read with caution.**

The Importance of Checking In

Cameron wanted to watch “13 Reasons Why” and while I’ve never watched it, I didn’t want to hold him back. I sat him down for a chat before I would allow him to watch. We discussed what it was about, how Hannah’s death impacted her friends and if Cameron thought it would upset him.

He said that he would be okay watching it, his friends had told him about it. He asked me if I wanted to watch it, and I told him thanks but no thanks. (My former therapist advised me to not watch it.) He watched it and was a bit sad but otherwise okay.

After Cameron finished the series, we talked again, only this time, we talked about suicide itself. I just wanted to see where he was. He said no, he had never thought about it or never been so depressed/angry that he thought about it. I was relieved.

He knows that he can come to me about anything, but I also know that many who consider suicide don’t always go to someone when considering it. I asked him if he knew anyone who might even be thinking about it or is hurting, and all I got was “Nope, I think everyone is good, Mom.”

I was relieved.

Thanks to my work with kids around Cameron’s age, I know this conversation doesn’t happen in every home and/or doesn’t go so well. I’ve seen teens angry as hell that their attempts were not successful.

There isn’t really a timeline on how often to check in, but I would go for it every once in a while. Just see what your child is thinking.

5 Things to Keep In Mind

  1. Listen, even when your teen is being quiet. Teens do have quiet moments. It happens. The time to worry is when they are being more quiet than usual. Are they stressed out? Did they just have a bad breakup? Chronic medical issues and/or severe chronic pain? Is there a family history of suicide? A history of substance use? Encourage your teen to not isolate but don’t push too far. Some kids like being alone.
  2. Lower demands of your teen. Teens are very busy these days. Life is full of stress from school, friends, even sports and jobs. All of this can snowball and when you feel you aren’t “good enough” it can be crushing. Try to help your teen when you can and break things down, even if that means quitting a sport or other activities. There is a reason I keep my kids underscheduled. I don’t want extremely stressed out kids. This may change once high school starts, but for right now, they aren’t bogged down with constant activities.
  3. Teens can be embarrassed to ask for help, just like adults. They might not want to ask for help because they don’t want to burden their parents, who are busy with work and other things. They don’t feel worthy of the help they need. We need to remind them that they are worthy.
  4. Some teens are resistant to help but may warm up later. Don’t expect immediate results. They may try to skip sessions, not speak, etc, but will eventually come around. Stick to the therapy and the results will be worth it.
  5. If your child mentions wanting to complete suicide or wanting to die, please seek help immediately. Remove anything that they can hurt themselves with, including firearms, immediately and get them to an ER. This cannot be brushed off and can end tragically if it is.

Sad

Getting the Help Your Child Needs

Admitting that your child needs psychological help is not an easy thing. I’ve had to do it. Taking Julian to a psychiatrist was one of the hardest things I have ever done as a mother, but it was well worth it. It will be worth it for you, your child and your family.

Your child may need in or outpatient help, or a combination of both. If your child needs medication, that is not terrible. Please consider the pros and cons before starting medications. There is no shame in doing either and please remember, it is not a reflection on you as a parent. It took me years to learn that.

Encouraging Empathy and Compassion

If your child seems fine, this is great. The talk you have can change gears into how they can help a friend that isn’t okay. Again, the world we live in can be overwhelming for some teens. They may need a friend like your child who can listen, offer a hug and maybe even a laugh or two. Laughter can go a long way with teens when they are not doing so well.

Compassion and empathy can go far when your child has a friend who is struggling through their days and need someone to remind them that it is okay to not be perfect. Everyone has difficult times and needs someone to reach out to. Your child can be that person to someone. This can end up being a good lesson.

Depression can hit at any age, for any reason, at any time. Please remember this when you speak to your teen about this issue. Handle the discussion carefully and don’t judge them. You may lose their trust if you do so. Please see my Resources page for more information on depression and suicide resources.

Information for this post from these resources:

healthy children

apa.org

Pics courtesy of unsplash

Looking Back at Older Topics

I’m surprised at the number of topics I have covered on this blog- I still have so much left to discuss.

Here are five interesting posts to ponder:

The Dangers of Ignoring Mental Illness

Suicide and The Media

Should You Emphasize Grades or Mental Health?

Moving Forward: The Last Fifty Years of Psychiatry

Drinking, Drugs and Your Teen

Therapy office

Learning and Performing Under Pressure

*Trigger Warning: this post discusses suicide and suicidal thoughts. Please read at your own discretion.*

This post is for all mental health providers, professionals, physicians and dentists. I’m writing with a few people in mind- coworkers I’ve lost to suicide, and one that I admire deeply for being an attempt survivor and psychologist. Colleen, Scott, Austin, Jake and Don Ceo, this one is for you. The five of you were great to work with- I just wish it could have been longer. You were all awesome people in your own ways.

Josh, I’m so grateful you lived for many reasons, one being so that we could become friends. I had no idea what you’d been through right before we met. You’ve been able to help a lot of people in a career that you love deeply. I’m always here for you, but you know this.

Stethoscope mental health

The Research Is Out There

I had to do quite a bit of research for this post. I was aware that going into the medical field, no matter what specialty, comes with a lot of stress. Medical school, practicums, clinicals, theses, and other expectations can really throw a lot at a student.

That’s not counting other things that happen while in college and beyond- marriage, children, family issues, and so on. What happens if your thesis is thrown out? What if you don’t get the residency you wanted? What if your grades aren’t what everyone, including yourself, expected? So many questions and thoughts can run through a student’s mind. I wasn’t aware, however, of the statistics of physician suicide.

I’m using the term “physician” as a general term, but it is meant to cover all medical professionals. It’s a very stressful career. According to WebMD one physician completes suicide a day, making it the highest suicide rate of any profession. The general population rate is about 12.3 per 100,000, but in physicians, it is 28-40 per 100,000.

Many of these physicians have underlying untreated mental health issues. This shows a large need for early diagnosis, outreach and treatment. Up to 30% of residents have shown symptoms of depression. Depression is affecting up to 12% of males and 19% of females in this profession. It’s dangerous for anyone to ignore their mental health, and even more for those that care for us. More information about this topic can be found in The Dangers of Ignoring Mental Illness

The main, and possibly unique factors in physician suicide are:

  • high demands/extreme stress
  • competitiveness
  • long hours/lack of sleep
  • substance abuse
  • stigma of seeking help because of fear of losing their job- this is a major issue
  • access to lethal means- highly powerful medications
  • patient deaths/malpractice suits
  • burnout

You can read about the stigma of men seeking help for mental health issues in Men and Mental Health

Therapist office mental health

What Is Being Done?

Many facilities and medical schools are trying to pick up on this important issue and help those that are struggling. Many physicians have lost a colleague to suicide, which is a feeling I know all too well. In their case, however, they don’t get the time to grieve. Male anesthesiologists are at the highest risk, according to Washington Post due to the medications they have access to. Like many others that die by suicide, many physicians are very skilled at disguising their feelings. They may appear happy but yet suffering on the inside.

There is a stigma within the medical community with seeking help for mental health issues. Many are afraid that they will lose their job and/or license. They fear that their care won’t remain confidential. Some go to different cities or towns and pay cash to keep from having to report to the state boards. They also have little time away from their demanding schedules to get the care they need. These physicians care so much for others, including their own families, they barely have time for themselves.

Facilities are beginning to create cultures in which employees feel comfortable talking about what they are dealing with, minus consequences. This shows physicians do have feelings, they are not robotic. They need to support each other. More research is being done in this area to help gather more understanding for the future.

Some facilities and schools are creating peer support groups so that students/employees feel less alone during rough times. Work/life balance is also being encouraged a lot more in workplaces. Medical schools are incorporating self-care into their professional development classes. They are also teaching classes on how to notice changes in their co-workers. This can be so beneficial. This information can be found on Physician Leaders

Distressed woman mental health

Experience Led Me Here

In a decade of work, I’ve worked with a lot of people in a variety of places. I never thought about someone I worked with completing suicide. Someone dying in a car crash? Maybe. Cancer or another devastating illness? Okay. For some reason, suicide didn’t enter my mind. It did when Colleen died, and to this day, I still can’t listen to anything by The Beatles without feeling sad. They were her favorite band, and “Let it Be” was played at her funeral.

The last mental health facility I worked at, sadly, has left me changed forever. One suicide occurred months after I started (Scott), then in 2015, two happened- less than a month apart. Everyone was incredibly sad- how does this happen? Austin and Jake are missed terribly by those that loved and cared about them, myself included. I missed Austin’s visitation and funeral because I was sick, but Jake’s was standing room only. He would have been surprised to see how many people cared about him.

Recently, another former co-worker from there died by suicide, and everyone is wondering the same thing- how does this happen? I don’t think there is an exact answer. It is hard to know what people go through daily, even when they seem well put-together.

A Message

Be kind. You never know what the person next to you is going through. They may not be in a deep depression, but might just be having a very hard day. If someone you know is struggling, do what you can to help, even if that’s just listening to them for a while.

If you’re reading this and you are a mental health professional/physician, please reach out if you need it. We need you.

Pics courtesy of Unsplash