–By Coralie Darsey-Malloy
This is a previously published article from a column I had in the Aquarium newspaper. Perspectives on Balanced Living featured a variety of articles on healthy, dynamic living, self-health and whole-person healing methods and all rights are reserved.
If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.
Michel De Montaigne
The number of men who feel hopeless and helpless is a growing problem in North American society. Mental health professionals accept the growing need to support men and their changing roles, needs and way of life.Medical and non-medical mental health resources report that men on the ‘edge of brokenness’ do not access support systems for a variety of reasons.
A document released in September of 2004 (Patterns of Regional Mental Health Illness Disorder Diagnoses and service Use in Manitoba: A Population Based Study) revealed men commit suicide more than three times as often (two per 10,000) to females (0.6 per 10,000).The ratio is approximately 102 men to every 22 women. The study does not reveal why more men commit suicide only that they do.
According to Constance Eagle from the Anxiety Disorder Association of Manitoba, women may attempt suicide but men carry it through…and in ways that are more violent. Although the reasons behind higher suicides rates in men are unclear, professionals theorize it is their unwillingness or inability to access mental health services that puts them at higher risk. Barriers such as peer pressure and gender socialization can make it difficult for men to open up to their wives, partners, family members and even their churches. The harsh and often shocking reality of their situation only hits when men run away from home or take their own lives.
Men’s tendency to internalize feelings may lead to addictions, financial problems, and violence, spousal and family abuse. When this occurs, there is often a fear of the justice system and create resistance to seeking help. The inability to access mental health resources can lead to suicidal thoughts and acting upon them.
While researching this topic a media contact added her experiences. She published an article on depression. Afterwards, numerous men from her readership called and admitted to living in quiet desperation with nowhere to turn. Police records in Manitoba confirm that growing numbers of men struggle in similar despair. There are 105 missing Manitobans and 95 of them are male and known to have health and psychological problems. On a larger scale, FBI databases in the United States contain the names of approximately 8,000 missing adults within the last year. Statistically, these men reveal how many are struggling with a variety of personal problems.
During interviews wtih mental health professionals they raised concern that Canada is one of the few countries that does not have standardized mental health policies. In Manitoba there is up to a six-month waiting period for those seeking psychiatric help unless patients are a considered a danger to themselves or others. Couple that with the stigma associated with mental health issues and the stereotypical conditioning about “real men not showing vulnerability” many struggle with nowhere to turn. One individual who left home in the midst of his crisis summarized the broader male perspective in this way,
“When faced with challenging situations men do not think to look in the yellow pages. It is hard for us to disclose what we think and feel at the best of times. Men rarely ask peers what they did (or do) because most of them do not know where to turn either. He added, “In conversations with other males I found there is a general view that it would be easier to seek help if Manitoba had a centralized intake process with a 24 hour crises line strictly geared to men and their personal challenges. The lack of services for men is a growing problem in society today. Interviews with men for this article underscored their concern about privacy even if they did seek counseling. Frequently men have difficulty in relating to their peers on a personal level. Sharing feelings is something the male gender is comfortable in doing. Terminology about “manning up or sucking it up” from a young age lead to masking hurt, disappointment and frustration out of a fear of being “weak.” Things often remain the same until they become intolerable…then we act and often in ways that are not in our best interest.”
He and other interviewees’ agree that access to toll-free crisis lines ‘for men by men’ could provide support and confidentiality. During interviews, men admit to being apprehensive about their health and well-being but resist going to doctors, healers or therapists because of their up bringing or conditioning. Some of their health related concerns include; high blood pressure, heart disease, impotence, memory loss and prostate cancer. They admitted that outside influences at work, marriage, divorce, weight, appearance, retirement and financial security impacts self-perception and increases stress levels.
When these affairs become more than they can handle some men leave home as a coping mechanism. At times men return to untenable situations because there is no other place for them to go. Men who have gone through this process say they did not have a sense of equality within our social system. One man put it this way, “When men do cave, leave home and contact family housing and services…some workers don’t know what to do with him. For example, a friend of mine ended out on the street for two days before making it to the Salvation Army. He said one worker told him to ‘get his act together and go back to his family where he belonged.’ Therefore, he did. His circumstances did not change and he ended up killing himself two months later.
Comparatively, when women are in crisis/danger existing safety nets kick and provide housing, direction and a sense of support. Men understand that women’s socialization conditions them with a higher comfort level in ‘sharing and caring’. This provides support systems than many men do not have. However, men who commented on this topic said they are completely lost when it comes to taking a proactive approach to resolving their problems. They view themselves and each other as pragmatic, problem solvers and have a low comfort level when life’s circumstances overwhelm them and alter their ability to cope in a ‘manly’ way…whatever that is.”
In another interview the contact summerized it for some of the ohers. “I believe men do not want to contact whatever resources are out there because of a genuine concern about being put when feeling weak or vulnerable.” He continued with a face washed in emotion, “Most women I’ve talked to keep towing the party line and say men need to take anger management classes and maybe we do. However, what they do not understand is that our anger is outer expression of other deeper feelings that we do not know how to handle.
Anger is the one emotion men are able to demonstrate as a ‘gender societal norm.’ Males display that in the sports arena and the crowds cheer. Nevertheless, how many men, women or children are equipped to handle a sobbing male who is overwhelmed with life? From childhood, men soldier on regardless of how they are feeling or what they are going through. Unfortunately most men I know have never been shown another way to do it…so we stay in our comfort zones of familiarity and when that doesn’t work…we end it. I have had a couple of close friends admit to being physically and emotionally abused by the women in their lives but they are unwilling to seek help much less discuss their problems with anyone…especially other men. There is a tendency for men to diminish each other if and when we take the risk to reveal painful, troubling emotions. Then there are still others who were molested in youth and they walk around as wounded warriors hiding their shame rather than finding ways to heal and release it.
Men thrive if they have a project to manage, re-build or construct…that we can do. Comparatively, ask us to organize a system that would support our physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being and fell lost. That is why many modern men are floundering or leaving the life they had in whatever form, they do it. “ As my fingers clicked the keys on this article, I understood the differences in how men and women approach self-health needs. The women ’s movement fostered change, continues to provide resources and supports to assist them in healing, independence, and empowered living. It is time to address offer men equal opportunities.
Dr. Sig Heibert and Randy Hildebrand from Eden Mental Health Centre suggested there are a number of reasons why both men and women may be reluctant to seek psychological help. One of the main factors is the social stigma associated with mental health problems. Gender socialization can make it difficult for men to admit they are having difficulty coping, so they continue to suffer in silence. That pattern can lead to addictions, violence or spousal and family abuse. When this occurs, there is a fear of the justice system. These concerns about openly confronting personal problems interfere with their ability to make proactive decisions. Courses in anger management and partner abuse, provide coping skills and healthy self-management techniques.
Counselors in the field of men and mental health indicate that mature men from all occupations, up to that point, have no role models to assist them in discovering alternative ways to think and behave. A central crisis line or service directed to men and their issues could provide what is currently missing. As men and women, address the lack of resources for men there is greater potential for both genders to implement services that meet men at their point of need.
Excerpt from What Your Mother Couldn’t Tell You & Your Father Didn’t Know by John Gray
P. 56, 1994, Harper Collins 427 pages,
Silently Sitting on a Rock
It is crucial to remember that one of the most significant differences between men and women is that while women cope with stress through sharing in nurturing relationships, men cope through solving problems. Traditionally, men assess options and when there do not appear to be any they look for alternatives. Ancient hunters would sit on a rock and silently search the horizon, looking and listening for their prey, or looking across the plains at their target, studying its movements and planning the attack.
This process of sitting, waiting, scheming, and planning allowed him to relax and conserve energy for the inevitable chase. Focusing keep his mind away from the fear of being attacked or of missing his target. When he achieved the goal, he returns home a happy, stress-free man.
Why Men Watch TV
When a modern man comes home, quite commonly, he sits in his favorite chair and either reads the newspaper or watches TV. Like the ancient hunter who needed to recover from the stress of his day, he instinctively finds his rock to sit on and begins gazing off into the horizon. Through reading or listening to the news he is, in effect, looking out over the world or scanning the horizon. As he picks up the remote control and begins searching through the stations, or turns the pages of his paper, he is once more in control: he silently and swiftly continues his hunt. As he assumes this ancient posture, deep and reassuring feelings of security begin to emerge. Feeling in control, he is able to cope with the stress of not having immediate solutions to the problems of his life. Through this instinctive ritual, he is able to temporarily forget his problems at work and is eventually ready for the relationship.