Category:

Mental Health

Photo by: Mark Basarab / Unsplash.com

Have you been following the discussion that began with a question to a small group of women: If you were alone in the woods, would you rather encounter a bear or a man? The great majority of the women answered, “a bear” and explained that they would feel safer encountering a bear in the forest than a man they didn’t know. The hypothetical question has sparked a broader discussion about why women fear men.

            I’d like to share my own experiences. I will start by laying my cards on the table so you know my biases from the outset:

  • I have been a man all my life which now totals 80 years.
  • I was born in New York City, grew up in Los Angeles, and have lived in cities most of my life where I never encountered a bear or any other wild animal.
  • I am a psychotherapist, author of 17 books about men and their relationships, and have worked with what many consider “dangerous men” in jails, prisons, and treatment centers.
  • In 1991 my wife and I moved out of the city, bought land in the hills of Mendocino County outside a small town of Willits, California and I had my first encounter with wild animals including several bears.

            The impetus for our move to the country began when I was diagnosed with a rare adrenal tumor which kills most people before they know they have it. Luckily, I didn’t die. My doctor made the diagnosis—a pheochromocytoma. I had emergency surgery and the tumor was removed.

            When I asked the doctors what caused me to get a tumor, they didn’t know. “Maybe genetics, maybe bad luck, who knows?” they told me. Well, I believe we all have an inner healer who does know. I asked and the answer I got was clear and concise:

            Inner Healer to Jed: Adrenal tumor, adrenaline! Don’t you get it? You’ve living in stressful environments for way too long. You have to slow down.

            Jed to Inner Healer: I have slowed down. I was born to New York, pretty high-stressed place. We moved to Los Angeles where I grew up and went to school, a lower stress place. Now we live in Mellow Marin County. I’ve been slowing down, really I have.

            Inner Healer to Jed: I do hear you. You have slowed down, New York, Los Angeles, Marin. You’ve gotten your stress score down from 100 to an 88. But you have to get it down to a 9.

            Jed to Inner Healer: You’ve got to be kidding me, a 9!  I’d have to change my whole life!!!

            Inner Healer to Jed: Yep.

            So, we found a little cabin on 22 acres of land and moved in and I planned to relax more. It was quiet and peaceful and the neighbors were nice. But the truth was, everything scared me. It was too quiet. After we had been there a month and I was sitting on a ridge overlooking a valley, I heard a very faint sound. So soft, I wasn’t even sure it was there. I finally realized that what I was hearing was the sound of my eye lashes blinking. I was used to the sounds of a big city. It was difficult to think with only the sounds of silence to keep me company.

            What really scared me, though, were the animal sounds I would hear at night. I was determined to follow my inner healer’s advice and learn to slow down and relax. I knew I needed to settle into my new surroundings. There was  a deck at the end of our property where I often went to think about my future. I decided I would learn to address my anxieties and fears by sleeping outside every night during the first summer we were there.

            Each night after dinner, I would walk in the dark from our house to the deck, about a ten-minute walk, where I would spend the night. I walked first with a flashlight, then stop, turn it off, and listen to the night sounds. I would hear the bugs, birds, and small animals moving through the brush. I would snuggle up in my sleeping bag and gradually I got used to the night sounds and got to know the creatures that lived in my new neighborhood in the woods.

            One morning as I was just waking up I saw a large animal coming my way on a narrow trail that led away from my deck where I slept. At first I didn’t know what it was. It was bigger than a big dog but walked differently. It didn’t take me long to realize that a large black bear was walking towards me.

            My mouth went dry, my heart began to pound. I didn’t know what to do. Should I yell and try and scare him away? Should I run and hide? I had no idea. What I finally did was to start talking very fast: “Ah…bear…I’m Jed, I don’t have anything you would want to eat, including me, I know this is your home, I just moved here, I really want to be a good neighbor, please don’t hurt me, I…”

            I ran out of words and the bear stopped a hundred feet from me. I looked at him (or her? I had no idea)  and he looked at me. And I wondered whether the next thing would be a bear at my throat. Instead, he turned around and walked back down the path.

            It was a strange rite of passage for this city boy. I felt like he had decided that I was definitely a little strange but I was OK. He came back periodically when I wasn’t there. I could tell because he marked his territory by scratching marks on the posts of my deck. I had a number of encounters with bears, a few real scary one when we encountered a mamma bear with her cubs and she reared up on her hind legs and barked her cubs up a three. I bowed low and slowly backed away.  I had a healthy respect for bears and other wild animals but we got to know each other.

            Not so, when I had my first encounter with a strange man. One morning I was walking on my property and suddenly a strange man turned the corner on the trail. I yelled, turned around and ran. I looked over my shoulder to see if he was chasing me and realized that he was running away, looking over his shoulder to see if I was chasing him.

            We both stopped running and slowly approached each other cautiously. I told him I owned this property and told me he was visiting neighbors and had gone for a walk and gotten lost the night before. He had slept out all night and was trying to find his way back when he ran into me. I drove him back to the neighbors who saw me as a hero for finding their friend and we shared stories about our encounters with bears and men.

What Evolutionary Science Can Teach Us About Bears and Men and How to Stay Safe

            We can’t understand bears, men, or how to be safe unless we know something about evolutionary science. In their book The Universe Story, cosmologist Dr. Brian Swimme and historian Dr. Thomas Berry, share our evolutionary history. Here are a few key players and the dates they joined the party:

  • 12 billion years ago, the universe began with a bang.
  • 4 billion years ago life first emerged.
  • 216 million years ago the first mammals appeared.
  • 55 million years ago the first bear-like animals evolved.
  • 2.6 million years ago the first humans, Homo habilis, walked the earth.

            In a recent book, Solving Modern Problems with a Stone-Age Brain, evolutionary psychologists Douglas T. Kenrick and David E. Lunberg-Kenrick, detail the seven fundamental problems the humans have faced since we arrived. We have to:

  1. Survive by meeting our basic needs for water, food, and shelter.
  2. Protect ourselves from attackers and plunderers.
  3. Make and keep friends.
  4. Gain status and respect from our fellow tribal members.
  5. Find a mate.
  6. Hang on to that mate.
  7. Focus on family and raise good children.

            What they say about basic challenges number 1 and 2, can help us better understand how to stay safe in today’s world. The first step is clear. We must get what we need to survive or our story ends here. All our direct ancestors survived and completed all seven steps.

            They go on to talk about the reality that in our evolutionary past, as well as in modern times, we have a lot more to fear from men than we do from wild animals. In the Bronx Zoo, there is a classic sign on one exhibit that advertised, “World’s Most Dangerous Predator.” Above the sign was a mirror.

            Humans truly are a dangerous species and the danger is most commonly coming from men. Whether you are venturing into the remote unexplored jungles where modern hunter-gatherers live or looking at death rates from our evolutionary past, Dr. Kenrick and other evolutionary-informed scientists have found that men are the more violent half of humanity.

“The odds that a stranger is a potential threat to your physical safety are many times higher if that stranger is a male. They are especially high if he is a young adult male and if he is with a group of other young adult males.”

            So, it is natural that women, and men, would be more fearful of meeting an unknown man in the woods than a bear. But the fact that our modern brains still have the old wiring from our evolutionary past, does not mean that we should be afraid of all bears or all men. As I learned, we are all safer when we learn about the others who we will encounter in our lives.

            I learned to get comfortable with the bears who lived in my neighborhood. I also learned I could talk to the bears, let them know I was no threat, and I imagined they would listen. I found out I could overcome my immediate reaction to flee or fight when confronted by an unknown male. I could stop and realize we were both afraid of each other and taking time to calm down and talk helped us both connect in a positive way.

            What I have learned from evolutionary science is that most wild animals can be our friends and so can most men. The way to be safer in the world is to connect more deeply with ourselves, each other, and this beautiful planet we all share.

            One more point. Humans have certainly done our evolutionary job well in populating the world. We don’t need more and more people, but we could certainly use more wisdom from our animal elders. As Thomas Berry reminds us,

“We never knew enough. Nor were we sufficiently intimate with all our cousins in the great family of the earth. Nor could we listen to the various creatures of the earth, each telling its own story. The time has now come, however, when we will listen or we will die.”

            I have worked with a lot of dangerous and violent men in my life. I agree with the world of psychologist James Hollis. “Men’s lives are violent because their souls have been violated.” I invite those interested to check out our Moonshot for Mankind.

The post Man or Bear: What Evolutionary Science Can Tell Us About Male Violence and How to Stay Safe appeared first on MenAlive.

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Part 3—Gender-Specific Healing and Man Therapy

            In Part 1, I addressed the questions, “Men and Mental Health, What Are We Missing?” Part 2 focused on the way that “Mental Health Crises Are Putting Everyone at Risk.” In Part 3, I will explore my own journey addressing issues that address the unique issues faced by men and how the emerging field of Gender-Specific Healing and Men’s Health is a key to the future of health care.

            I have become an expert in the field of Gender-Specific Healing and Men’s Mental Health due, in no small part, to the fact that my interest began more than 80 years ago. Prior to my much-anticipated birth, my parents were convinced that I would be a girl and had girl’s names picked out as well as an assortment of cuddly girls dolls that were popular in 1943, the year I was born. It took my parents several days to accept the reality of my little penis and to agree on a name for their new baby boy.

            At age three I announced that I no longer wanted to wear my white “baby shoes” and announced I wanted a change. My mother took me to the shoe store for my first pair of “big-boy shoes”. After perusing the store I found my shoes and jumped for joy when my eyes landed on a pair of red Keds. The salesman measured my feet and returned with a box which he opened carefully and good out a beautiful pair of blue shoes. I was crestfallen and didn’t understand the logic of his cheerful explanation. “Blue is for boys,” he told us smiling at my mother. “Red is for girls and we wouldn’t want our little man to get off on the wrong foot…chuckle, chuckle.”

            Bless her heart, my mother was not amused and told the clerk in no uncertain terms to give her son what he asked for and I danced out of the store wearing my beautiful red Keds. I reasoned since I was a boy and I liked the color red, then red was obviously a boy’s color.

            When I grew up and got married and our son, Jemal, was born on November 21, 1969 and our daughter, Angela, on March 22, 1972, my wife and I promised that we wouldn’t try to push our children into societal pigeon holes or gender-restricting boxes of what boys and girls must do and be. Yet, like most parents, it soon became apparent that each of our children were unique and different and that there were clearly some differences that seemed sex-specific beyond the obvious reality of a penis being part of Jemal’s anatomy and a vagina part of Angela’s body.

            After receiving a Master of Social Work degree (and later a PhD in International Health), I began specializing in work with men and their families. My first book, Inside Out: Becoming My Own Man was published in 1983, followed by Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places, and The Warrior’s Journey Home: Healing Men, Healing the Planet.

            My work gained international success with the publication of Male Menopause in 1997. After working with many mid-life men and their wives, it became clear to me that men also went through a biologically based “change of life” that had many similarities and differences from what women experienced. The book was translated into fourteen foreign languages and I spent the next seven years speaking around the world and offering trainings for professional working with issues of midlife and aging.

            In 2002, I met Marianne Legato, M.D., following the publication of her book, Eve’s Rib: The New Science of Gender-Specific Medicine and How It Can Save Your Life.

“Until now, we’ve acted as though men and women were essentially identical except for the differences in their reproductive function,”

said Dr. Legato.

“In fact, information we’ve been gathering over the past ten years tells us that this is anything but true, and that everywhere we look, the two sexes are startingly and unexpectedly different not only in their normal function but in the ways they experience illness.”

            The need for gender-specific health care is gaining increased support. According to David C. Page, M.D., professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT),

“There are 10 trillion cells in the human body and every one of them is sex specific. We’ve had a unisex vision of the human genome, but men and women are not equal in our genome and men and women are not equal in the face of disease.”

            Dr. Page summarizes the importance of his research.

“We need to build a better tool kit for researchers that is XX and XY informed rather than our current gender-neutral stance.  We need a tool kit that recognizes the fundamental difference on a cellular, organ, system, and person level between XY and XX.  I believe that if we do this, we will arrive at a fundamentally new paradigm for understanding and treating human disease.”

Man Therapy: The Future of Gender-Specific Health Care for Men

            Although the research on gender-specific medicine was intended to be for men as well as women, Dr. Legato acknowledges that men’s health has been neglected. In a recent interview she told me that gender-specific medicine is not just about women’s health, but about the health of both sexes, the funding for our initial research came from companies that were focused on new health products and services for women.

            In an article, “Healer, Heal Thyself,”  Dr. Legato told me candidly,

“My physician father illustrated many of the biological and societal hazards of being male. My mother outlived him by a decade, mourning his absence every day. The premature death of men is the most important—and neglected—health issue of our time.”

            I first heard about the work of Man Therapy when I met its founder and creator, Joe Conrad in November 2021. I was impressed with the creative ways that Man Therapy addressed serious issues like male-type depression and suicide prevention. I invited Joe to join a new venture I called our Moonshot for Mankind and Humanity. Joe’s team helped us create a website and introductory video.

            The purpose of the Moonshot for Mankind is to bring together organizations and individuals who are doing positive and important work to help improve men’s mental, emotional, and relational health. Man Therapy is one of the best I’ve seen since it has been proven to be effective in preventing suicide and engaging men in improving their lives.

            “What began as a suicide prevention campaign has morphed into a men’s mental health campaign where the goal is to support all men before they are ever in crisis,” says Conrad. “We remind men that taking care of their mental health is the manliest things a man can do, that therapy comes in many forms and connect men and their loved ones to information, tools and resources. Our goals remain to bust through the stigma, increase help-seeking behavior and reduce suicide among working-age men.”

            In 2022, I interviewed Joe Conrad and wrote an article, “Man Therapy: Why Gender-Specific Health Care is Good for Men, Women, and The  World.”  Joe told me,

“Man Therapy was launched in 2010 and has had more than 1.5 million visits to the site. Visitors have completed 400,000 ‘head inspections’ and there have been 40,000 clicks to the crisis line.”

            That was impressive enough, but I also learned that the program had been evaluated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The study shows that men who access Man Therapy, as a digital mental health intervention, experience a decrease in depression and suicidal ideation, a reduction in poor mental health days, and an increase in help-seeking behavior. Additionally, the study shows that men in the Man Therapy control group reported statistically significant improved rates of engaging in formal help-seeking behaviors through tools like online treatment locator systems, making or attending a mental health treatment appointment, or attending a professionally led support group.

The Man Therapy Community and Provider Directory: You Can Join Now

            When I began working in the field of gender-specific healing and men’s health there was a huge need for services, but very few practitioners focused on the unique health issues facing men. The need continues to increase, but now there are many more health care providers. For the first time, Man Therapy is creating a Man Therapist’s Directory.

            Joe Conrad says,

“The Man Therapy team is excited to announce that their very own Man Therapist Provider Directory is officially live. Knowing that men face unique mental health challenges, our aim in building this tool is to create a first-of-its-kind network of therapists and providers that are uniquely qualified and passionate about working with men.”

            He goes on to say,

“By joining our Provider Directory, you can leverage Man Therapy’s thousands of unique site visits every day to promote your services directly to men who are actively seeking help. This listing includes your headshot or logo, a brief description of your services, and a link directly to your personal website for more information about working with you.”

            I was excited to join and I immediately signed up. You can see my listing here. Joe’s long-term goal, which I am excited to support, is to make Man Therapy the world’s leading mental health brand. If you are a mental health professional or know someone who is, you may want to learn more about Man Therapy.

            “Man Therapy formally invites you to be among the first to join our growing network,”

says Joe Conrad.

“Please click this link and follow the instructions for submitting your application. Once you get to the payment section, insert this discount code – mtlaunch50 – to receive 50% off an annual membership to our network as a thank you for all you do to support men.”

            This is a wonderful opportunity to get in on the ground floor and join this community of healers and those seeking to improve their own health. Stay tuned for more articles that will explore additional issues about the importance of men’s mental health. If you are not already receiving my free weekly newsletter you can sign up here.

The post The Future of Men’s Mental Health appeared first on MenAlive.

Photo by Dan Meyers / Unsplash.com

Part 2—Mental Health Crises Are Putting Everyone At Risk

            This is the second part of a multi-part series on “The Future of Men’s Mental Health.” I have been concerned about men’s mental health since I was five years old and my mid-life father took an overdose of sleeping pills after he had become increasingly depressed when he couldn’t support  his family doing what he loved. In Part 1 of this series, “Men and Mental Health, What Are We Missing?”, I detailed recent research showing the problems that have been neglected up until now.

            In a previous series of articles, “Healer Heal Thyself: Why Health Care Professionals Are Becoming Stressed, Depressed, and Suicidal,” I describe the challenging realities facing health-care professionals as well as those who seek them out for health support and healing.  In Part 1, I noted:

“Health care workers compared with non-healthcare workers have greater risks for mental health problems and long-term work absences due to mental disorders, and are at increased risk of suicide, compared with workers in other fields.”

“Our results extend earlier research from outside the United States that health care workers compared with non-healthcare workers have greater risks for mental health problems and long-term work absences due to mental disorders,” said Mark Olfson, MD, MPH, professor of Epidemiology at Columbia Public Health and professor of Psychiatry, Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “The importance of increased suicide risk of health care support workers is underscored by their growth from nearly 4 million in 2008 to 6.6 million in 2021.”

            Pamela Wible, M.D., is a family physician, author, and expert in physician suicide prevention. In her book, Physician Suicide Letters Answered, she says, “I’ve been a doctor for twenty years. I’ve not lost a single patient to suicide. I’ve lost only colleagues, friends, lovers–ALL male physicians–to suicide.”

            Males are not the only ones who die by suicide, but we are much more likely to die. Dr. Wible details the reasons that so many doctors and other healthcare professionals die by suicide including the following:

  • Doctoring is more than a job; it’s a calling, an identity.
  • With so much need, we often put the needs of others ahead of our own.
  • Most practitioners become burned out, overworked, or exhausted.
  • Workaholics are admired in medicine and other healthcare professions.
  • Caring for sick people can make us sick if we don’t take care of ourselves.
  • Seeing too much pain and not enough joy is unhealthy.
  • We don’t take very good care of themselves or each other.
  • We don’t acknowledge the reality that we are at high risk of overwork, overwhelm, breakdown, and self-harm.

            These issues are not only prevalent in males, but there are sex differences that we need to understand and address. According to Marianne J. Legato, MD, Founder of the Partnership for Gender Specific Medicine,

“Until now, we’ve acted as though men and women were essentially identical except for the differences in their reproductive function. In fact, information we’ve been gathering over the past ten years tells us that this is anything but true, and that everywhere we look, the two sexes are startingly and unexpectedly different not only in their normal function but in the ways they experience illness.”

            In Part 2  of the series, I talk about the future of gender-specific healthcare and describe my interview with Dr. Legato, who told me,

“The premature death of men is the most important—and neglected—health issue of our time.”

I also described my interview with Richard V. Reeves, author of, Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do About It and founder of American Institute for Boys and Men (AIBM). Reeves says,

“It became clear to me that the problems of boys and men are structural in nature, rather than individual; but are rarely treated as such. The problem with men is typically framed as a problem of men. It is men who must be fixed, one man or boy at a time. This individualist approach is wrong.”

            In Part 3, I discuss the unique times we are living in today where rapid change of modern life have created a unique set of mental health problems that must be solved on a systemic as well as a personal level.  The futurist, Alvin Toffler called the problem Future Shock and said,

“It will not be found in Index Medicus or in any listing of psychological abnormalities. Yet, unless intelligent steps are taken to combat it, millions of human beings will find themselves increasingly disoriented, progressively incompetent to deal rationally with their environments. The malaise, mass neurosis, irrationality, and free-floating violence already apparent in contemporary life are merely a foretaste of what may lie ahead unless we come to understand and treat this disease.”

            Toffler notes that Future Shock results when societies are faced with too much change in too short a time. Not only are we being overwhelmed with the rate of change in our lives, but also the overwhelming complexity of our social systems that  can lead to collapse of entire civilizations. Rebecca C. Costa describes the effects of complexity in her groundbreaking book, The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse. The result is a critical increase in fear and anxiety, which impacts everyone.

            In his book, Anxious: Using The Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety, Joseph LeDoux, one of the world’s leading mental health experts says,

“Collectively fear and anxiety disorders are the most prevalent of all psychiatric problems in the United States, affecting about twenty  percent of the population with an associated economic cost estimated to exceed $40 billion annually.”

            Dr. Wendy Suzuki is a professor of neural science and psychology at the Center for Neural Science at New York University, says,

“We live in an age of anxiety. Like an omnipresent, noxious odor we’ve grown used to, anxiety has become a constant condition, a fact of life on this planet. From global pandemics to crashing economies, to intense, daily family challenges, we have plenty of justifiable reasons to feel anxious.”

            The effects of all these changes are causing social and political upheavals. On April 7, 2024, The Morning Show on CBS aired a segment on the new movie, “Civil War” which follows a team of journalists who travel across the United States during a rapidly escalating Second American Civil War, that has engulfed the entire nation. It offers an unflinching look at a nation divided and violent, not in the 1860s, but today. The movie is a warning about potential things to come and like all wars, males are the main combatants.

Bringing Healers and Health-Seekers Together in Community

            It is becoming increasingly clear that the separation between “healers” and “those seeking help” is an artificial divide. We are all in need of help and support in addressing mental health issues and we are all able to learn to help ourselves and others. I believe it is time to bring healers and seekers together. In a recent article, “The Future of Mental Health: Bringing Together Health Seekers and Providers,” I noted the following:

            “We are living in crazy times, where the whole world seems angry, anxious, stressed, and depressed and things are getting worse. In 2018 the American Psychological Association surveyed a thousand U.S. adults about their sources and levels of anxiety. The APA found that 39% of Americans reported being more anxious than they were in 2017, and an equal amount (39%) had the same level of anxiety as the previous year. That’s nearly 80% of the population experiencing anxiety.

What are people most concerned about? The APA survey reported that:

  • 68% worried about health and safety.
  • 67% reported finances as their source of anxiety.
  • 56% were stressed about our political system and elections.

            The APA also found that 63% of Americans felt that the future of the nation was a large source of stress. 59% checked the box that “the United States is at the lowest point they can remember in history.”

            Men in the United States die by suicide, on average, at a rate four times higher than women. But the suicide rate for men is even higher in older age groups.

            Clearly with statistics like these, we can no longer view “mental illness” as simply a problem of individuals. We are experiencing a problem of whole systems collapsing and we need to develop new systems to bring about repair. My colleague, Margaret J. Wheatley, author of the book, Who Do We Choose to Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership says,

“Our task is to create Islands of Sanity, both internally and within our sphere of influence, where sanity prevails, where people can recall and practice the best human qualities of generosity, caring, creativity, and community.”

            It seems both appropriate and timely that we create a health community focused on men’s mental health as an “island of sanity” that can offer support and services to heal men, as well as our families, communities, and the world.

            We need a new approach for addressing men’s mental health issues. In the next parts of this series, I will address the important topic of depression and anxiety. I will examine the differences between the ways males express their dis-ease and wounds verses the way females do so. If you’d like to read more articles like these, please visit me at MenAlive.com and receive our free newsletter with new articles and tools you can use to improve your mental, emotional, and relational health. 

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