2019, November 21

Mental Wellness Challenge

Last week I challenged you to 3 things.

  1. I challenged you to get at least 20 minutes of exercise each day and then – at the end of your exercise – to reflect a little on what positive benefits you recognize from the exercise.

It’s been shown that physical exercise can be as effective as medications for mild to moderate depression and anxiety.

2&3.  I challenged you to do a little research about anxiety disorders and to then share that learning with a coworker, a family member and a friend.

Learning a little and sharing what you have learned will go a long way to helping to lift the stigma associated with mental health.  I sincerely hope you were successful in your learning and sharing!

This week I’d like to share a little about November/MOVEMBER.  November is Men’s Health Awareness Month.  All facets of men’s health are championed with folks raising monies for support of men’s health initiatives.  The piece I’d like to share about is men’s mental health – which is one piece of the MOVEMBER initiative.

I don’t know how many times I have heard things like:  “Man up, get over it!”  “Big boys don’t cry.”  “Grow a set.”  “History hates a coward.”… AND SO MANY OTHERS….

I CALL BU1L$H!T!!!

All those sorts of sentiments, statements are so incredibly WRONG!  So incredibly HARMFUL!

I can only share from my own experiences.

From as early as I can recall, I was told by my parents that “big boys don’t cry”.  I was told that I should “stop being so touchy, so sensitive”.  Teachers, older siblings, other adults, EVERYONE… would echo the same perspective.  I was being taught that it wasn’t socially acceptable to share my emotions with the rest of the world.  I was being taught that it wasn’t OK to show that I felt the way I was feeling… that feeling the way I did was being broken or wrong.

When I was a kid we knew so much less about mental wellness than we do now.  We didn’t acknowledge Persistent Depressive Disorder, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or – well – we (society) didn’t acknowledge a bunch of things.  So when I was a kid – my ADD/ADHD boiled out to a “behavior issue.  Now, I wasn’t working against just one disorder… My parents and I didn’t know I was working with depression, anxiety, ADHD, and whatever else.  I just knew that I already felt like I was different than everyone else, I already felt that I didn’t fit in and now I was learning that all these sad/bad/angry/frustrating things I was feeling were things that I wasn’t supposed to share with the rest of the world.

So, I learned to stuff that “stuff”.  The more I stuffed, the more isolated I became.  I didn’t care for competitive team sports… I gravitated to being on my own – doing things by myself… Growing up in small town Alberta – well, I was even more of an outcast because of that…  It seemed that everyone played hockey, or basketball, or volleyball… That just wasn’t me.

Things were different 55 years ago.  We (society) didn’t talk about a whole lot of stuff.  We didn’t talk about diabetes, cancer, sexual health, mental health and all those other uncomfortable subjects… none of it.  That was all stuff that was discussed behind doors in a doctor’s office or maybe a private conversation in a private space.

Even today, we don’t talk about some of that stuff… although diabetes, cancer and sexual health are everyday topics with posters on walls, radio and television ads, and the like promoting care and treatment for those sorts of conditions.

We (society) don’t talk about mental health.  We talk about pretty much everything else – even in our politically correct, policy paralyzed environments… BUT we don’t talk about mental health.  As a matter of my experience – society actually side steps the issue.

My experience also shows me that mental health and mental health disorders are so very often errantly politicized.  Broad brush strokes are applied to all mental health disorders by so many policy makers in our society – and most of those policy makers (politicians) have little to no real understanding or appreciation of what it is that they are talking about.  Mental health often gets a coat of blame and that coat of blame applied by some policy makers scores them political points.  Again, I have experienced this personally.

I could go on and on here… I’ll just say that I learned early on that “No-one wants to hear it.”  So, I kept it inside… well I tried… the thing is – all that “stuff” doesn’t stay inside.  It comes out in some way, maladaptive behavior… truancy, etc, etc or the boy explodes…

That very same paradigm exists today.  I hear those very same words on job sites, on the street, everywhere.  I NEED TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS BECAUSE THIS PARADIGM IS KILLING PEOPLE.

NOTHING OUT THERE CHANGES!

I need to be the change that I want to see in the world.

Of all the men’s health issues out there the one “issue” that seems to get press is prostate cancer.  The truth is – that nearly as many men die from suicide each year in Canada as do from prostate cancer.

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Male suicide vs. prostate cancer

Almost as many men die by suicide every year in Canada as by prostate cancer. Prostate Cancer Canada has done amazing work with its “Movember” campaign to raise awareness and get men talking and thinking about the disease. Deaths are actually decreasing because of early detection and treatment. No such luck with male suicide (and, it is equally important to note, with suicide in general). Rates of suicide remain consistently high, and the stigma surrounding depression and suicide is never-ending. No one wants to talk about it, let alone grow facial hair. What makes this lack of support even more egregious is that, unlike prostate cancer, suicide is 100% preventable.

https://www.suicideinfo.ca/resource/menandsuicide/

https://www.suicideinfo.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Men-and-Suicide-2014-Update.pdf

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FACT – Suicide rates in men are 4 times what they are in women.
FACT – Men “stuff” their stress and illness and often deal with their stress and mental illness through maladaptive behaviors.
FACT – While women attempt suicide more often than men, men “complete” suicides more often than women.
FACT – Men and women process/handle/deal/socialize stress, emotional pain, and mental illness differently.
FACT – 80% of those affected by depression and anxiety disorders respond positively to treatment.
FACT – THERE’S HELP!

The whole “you’re weak” paradigm has to change.

Men are dying, in part, because of a “way of thinking” that is stopping us from having dialog about issues that are so incredibly important.

A man isn’t weak because a tear rolls down his cheek as he pulls a broken body from a car accident.
A man isn’t weak because he compassionately cares for friend facing divorce.
A man isn’t weak because he asks one of his hockey buddies about a lump he feels in scrotum.
A man isn’t weak because he asks for help with an emotional problem.

Yet – in so many ways – we still tell our boys  that they are weak if they cry because “big boys don’t cry”.

This has got to stop – we (ALL OF US – NOT JUST MEN) have to start talking, sharing, learning.

We have to get out that scrub brush and bristle off that thick coat of shame that seems to follow mental health around…  STIGMA

I understand that people have fear of things they don’t understand.  I understand that, that fear stops us from looking into those dark places… Mental health is not a thing to be afraid of.  Yes, it can be scary to see some who is so despondent that they are… well not able to control themselves.  I would posit that it would be just as scary as watching someone have a heart attack…  The only way I can see us out of this, is education – learning – sharing – dialog – discussion and some compassion.

So – let’s do that.

My challenge this week.

  1. Have a look for some information about men’s health. Maybe learn two or three things.
  2. Share those three things with at least one man in your life.
  3. Tell a person in your life that A) They are an important part of your life – and that your life would not be the same without them in it. B) That you sincerely love them.

That’s it.

I challenge you!

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