Mending the minds of men
Jonathan E. Prousky, ND, MSc
For many men, mental health is still a taboo subject. But several therapeutic approaches can help men deal with their emotions and heal their hurt.
Our complicated and ever-changing world presents many challenges as we negotiate the ups and downs of our lives. Compounding these challenges are the holdovers of a long-gone era: myths and stereotypes that form indelible imprints on the minds of us men.
From an early eage, due to many psycho-sociological reasons, many of us learned to avoid expressing our feelings, to reject suggestions ot perceived weakness, and to compete at all costs.
We learned that a real man is unflinching when under stress. Like Harrison Ford in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, many of us are inculcated to believe that a real man is able to emotionally and physically navigate through any situation, no matter how difficult.
Reality is much different: men are just as vulnerable to problems as women and children. We need to throw away some of our firmly entrenched preconceptions and take a hard look at how some of us are managing our lives.
Too often, rather than admit to our anxieties, depressions, disappointments, secrets, and addictions, we make poor choices that merely separate us from the people in our lives who really matter.
Some men may think it is unmanly to admit to such things as mental problems, while other men might be steeped in their own denial, and completely unaware of how their behaviours affect others.
Results of several published studies that examined gender and mental health issues tell a very real story of how men’s responses can have far-reaching and unanticipated effects.
Men who have never been married or are divorced/separated have greater overall admission rates to mental health facilities than women in the same marital status categories.
Men have higher rates of substance use disorder (alcohol and drug dependency) and antisocial personality disorder than women.
Use of substances such as tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis is more common among men, and high use of these substances is associated with depression.
Some men believe that if they seek help, especially for mental health issues, other people will find out about their personal problems. Except in rare circumstances, such as the desire to inflict harm to themselves or others, confidentiality laws prohibit personal information from being released.
The good news is that there are many therapeutic approaches that can benefit men and improve the quality of their lives.
The term, bibliotherapy, simply means reading and learning as much as you can about a mental health issue you are experiencing. This is often the first step people take before making a decision about seeking professional care.
The majority of my male patients have done a fair amount of their own personal research on what can be done to improve their mental health issues. This not only helps them, but also informs me of possible treatment options I might have overlooked.
Books for bibliotherapy
Recommending books is akin to recommending artwork; both are so personal. Once you find a book that resonates with you, incorporate some of its suggested strategies into your life.
Both of these books speak to issues that men face and lay out realistic ways in which change is possible.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
A goal-oriented, systematic approach, CBT is used to solve problems related to the interactions between how we think, feel, and behave. Many psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical social workers, and psychotherapists use CBT to help their patients control anxiety and compulsive behaviours, to overcome depression, and to reduce stress levels.
CBT has a long history of use, and an extensive body of published literature validates it as an effective treatment option for those having difficulties managing their emotions. This often involves keeping a diary of both upsetting and happy emotional events, including associated feelings, thoughts, and behaviours.
It also includes restructuring assumptions and beliefs that might be hindering relationships, personal happiness, and other salient aspects of a man’s life.
Many of my male patients with anxiety and/or mood disorders have found CBT to be very helpful. It works best when combined with mainstream and/or naturopathic medications, such as diet, nutritional supplements, and herbals, that add further mental stability.
This form of therapy helps people achieve their personal goals. While life coaches are not usually trained to be therapists or mental health professionals, they do serve an important role in helping people accomplish more with their lives.
An alcoholic male patient who did poorly while under my care and while under the care of a psychiatrist later found a life coach and thrived. The life coach helped him improve punctuality at his job, establish a routine that kept him busy and away from alcohol, and increase his sense of self-worth.
Life coaches are excellent at helping clients establish viable short- and long-term goals. The strategies employed by life coaches have their roots in executive coaching and management consulting.
While life coaches use techniques from many disciplines, such as sociology and psychology, they do not provide medical diagnoses even though their services can be an integral part of any patient’s recovery.
While the psychodynamic (or psychoanalytic) approach has some merit for gaining insight and many qualified therapists rely on some aspect of psychodynamic therapy, nowadays they rarely use it exclusively when dealing with their clients.
Nonetheless, some of my male patients have found tremendous merit in examining the “unconscious” content of their psyche—a scrupulous evaluation of family-of-origin issues and discovering reasons for ongoing maladaptive emotional responses believed to have developed in childhood.
Many qualified therapists also offer relationship counselling to couples or family members with irresolvable issues. Many of my male patients have relied on relationship counselling to better understand how their repeated behaviours are contributing to their ongoing relationship (usually marital) difficulties.
This enables them to work through troublesome differences, to be more open-minded and less stubborn, and to increase communication and satisfaction with their partners. This is one of the best ways of mitigating marital discord and improving the quality of their marriages.
Medications and/or natural health products (NHPs)
While not necessarily considered “therapy,” I do believe that medications and/or NHPs play an invaluable role in reducing stress and improving the odds of a better outcome. When patients are overly stressed, feeling on edge, and very emotional, they are less likely to adopt recommendations from any therapy in which they are participating.
Success is more likely when patients feel stable and calm. Mainstream medicine relies on several different classes of prescription medications to help patients who are mentally distressed, but there are numerous NHPs that can either complement the mainstream approach or be used as an alternative to many classes of prescription medications:
I have consistently found that properly prescribed NHPs can dramatically improve the odds of overcoming mental health issues and their associated problems. For example, one male patient has found the addition of mood stabilizing and antianxiety NHPs (GABA and rhodiola) has helped to reduce his outbursts of anger, improve his moods, reduce his stress levels, and improve his relationship with his girlfriend.
Beating the odds
Working through mental health issues is an act of courage—not a sign of personal weakness. It takes a lot of strength to admit when things are not right and that help is needed.
Having practised naturopathic medicine for more than 12 years, I have seen many of my male patients, with plenty of work and effort, beat the odds and overcome longstanding mental and emotional problems.
If you are struggling with mental health issues and you are sick of feeling unhappy, now is the time to “man up!” Get the help you need so you can start living a happier and more productive life.
Five mental health myths debunked
Myth 1: Mental health issues are not real—like heart disease and cancer—and cannot be treated.
Truth: Mental health issues are classified as disorders and require careful evaluation and treatment like all medical conditions.
Myth 2: A better attitude is all that is needed to feel better - "Just snap out of it!”
Truth: Mental health issues are serious and usually require professional help. Many disorders require medication to manage.
Myth 3: Mental health issues do not happen to me.
Truth: We are all vulnerable to ongoing mental health issues given enough negative stressors in our lives. One in five Canadians will be diagnosed with a mental health issue in their lifetime.
Myth 4: Mental health issues do not kill people.
Truth: Ninety percent of suicide victims have mental health issues. Ineffective treatment or not seeking treatment increases the odds that suicide is chosen as a viable option.
While the majority of mental health patients do not attempt to end their lives, receiving no care (or receiving inadequate or improper care) is tantamount to a slow death from associated long-term problems such as anxieties, unhappiness, unemployment, relationship problems, and addictions.
Myth 5: People with mental health issues are dangerous.
Truth: The likelihood that people with mental health issues will commit violent acts is no greater than those without mental disorders.