Mental Health

Part 4 Four: Aces Are Great in Poker But Challenging in Life

You can check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series. It never occurred to me that my lifelong anger and depression, and later my two broken marriages, had anything to do with my childhood. All that changed in 1998 when I reached out to a colleague, Dr. Charles Whitfield, because I couldn’t seem to heal my depression even though I was receiving good therapy and was taking medications. He told me that the missing piece in my healing might be addressing childhood trauma.

Dr. Whitfield introduced me to the (ACEs) studies developed by Vincent Felitti, M.D., the head of Kaiser Permanente’s Department of Preventive Medicine in San Diego, and Dr. Robert Anda, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC.

“The information the studies have provided us is not just helpful,”

said Whitfield,

“it is astounding.”

He went on to describe the original studies and what they learned.

“Drs. Felitti and Anda looked at 9,508 middle-class, middle-aged people in Southern California. All were members of Kaiser’s health maintenance organization, who were medically evaluated, and then each completed a sixty-eight-question survey about seven categories of childhood trauma and subsequent illness. The researchers also had the medical records of each patient with which to verify the findings.”

They found that a large percentage of this general medical clinic population reported the following traumatic experiences from their childhoods.

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Exposure to domestic violence
  • Household substance abuse
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Having an incarcerated household member

Their findings rocked the world of health care. It offered a whole different approach for understanding, treating, and preventing disease—everything from cancer and heart disease to obesity and depression. All these problems, and more, had roots in our childhood experiences of trauma. Childhood wounds provided a psychosocial basis for a whole range of problems that impact brain function, even those that were assumed to be purely physical.

They found the following to be true:

  • More than half of respondents reported at least one  ACE.
  • If you have one ACE, you are highly likely to have two or more ACEs.
  • The more ACEs you have as a child, the more likely you are to have a whole range of physical and emotional problems as an adult.

I was surprised to learn that mental, emotional, and relationship problems can be caused by the experiences we may have had as children. I was even more surprised to find that even physical problems such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer were also connected to ACEs.

I was anxious to see how I would score and answered the following questions developed by the ACE researchers for the general public:

Prior to your eighteenth birthday:

  1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often . . . Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? Or act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
    No___. If Yes, enter 1 ___.
  • Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often . . . Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? Or ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?
    No___. If Yes, enter 1 ___.
  • Did an adult or person at least five years older than you ever . . . Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? Or attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?
    No___. If Yes, enter 1 ___.
  • Did you often or very often feel that . . . No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? Or your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?
    No___. If Yes, enter 1 ___.
  • Did you often or very often feel that . . . You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? Or your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?
    No___. If Yes, enter 1 ___.
  • Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
    No___. If Yes, enter 1 ___.
  • Was your mother or stepmother: Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? Or sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? Or ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?
    No___. If Yes, enter 1 ___.
  • Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic, or who used street drugs?
    No___. If Yes, enter 1 ___.
  • Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide?
    No___. If Yes, enter 1 ___.
  1. Did a household member go to prison?
    No___. If Yes, enter 1 ___.

Now add up your “Yes” answers: ____. This is your ACE score.

I found I had four ACEs, which is great if you’re playing poker. However, in the game of life, four ACEs are very risky. The study found the following increased risk factors for those who had four or more ACEs compared to those who had none:

  • A four- to twelve-fold increase of health risks for alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, and suicide attempt.
  • A two- to four-fold increase in smoking, poor self-rated health, having more than fifty sexual intercourse partners, and sexually transmitted disease.
  • A 1.4- to 1.6-fold increase in physical inactivity and severe obesity.

New Understandings from the ACE Studies

Since the first ACE studies were reported in 1998, there have been hundreds of further studies that have validated the basic findings: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can cause later physical and emotional problems in adulthood. The latest information about current research on ACEs is available on two websites developed by journalist Jane Ellen Stevens: and Stevens has been a newspaper and magazine journalist focusing on health, science, and technology for more than thirty years and has been reporting on ACE study and related research since 2005.

Subsequent to the original ACE study, other ACE surveys have expanded the types of ACEs, so if you have had any of the following experiences, add another number to your ACE score.

  1. Did you experience racism?

No___. If Yes, enter 1 ___.

  • Did you experience gender discrimination?

No___. If Yes, enter 1 ___.

  • Did you witness a sibling being abused?

No___. If Yes, enter 1 ___.

  • Did you witness violence outside the home?

No___. If Yes, enter 1 ___.

  • Did you witness a father being abused by a mother?

No___. If Yes, enter 1 ___.

  • Were you bullied by a peer or adult?

No___. If Yes, enter 1 ___.

  • Were you hospitalized, in foster care, or forced to live away from your family?

No___. If Yes, enter 1 ___.

  • Did you grow up and live in a war zone?

No___. If Yes, enter 1 ___.

  • Did you grow up in an unsafe neighborhood?

No___. If Yes, enter 1 ___.

  1. Was a family member deported or did you live in fear of deportation?

No___. If Yes, enter 1 ___.

More recent research also indicates that most everyone, even those of us with a significant number of ACEs also have had positive childhood experiences that can balance the negative ones and that positive experiences throughout our lives can improve our physical mental, emotional, and relational health.

            ACEs have been invisible to most of us, since they happened a long time ago. Even when we were aware of the effects of past abuse, neglect, or abandonment, we often don’t realize how much the past still influences our present. Only by understanding our life history can we heal old wounds we didn’t even know we had.


How ACEs Early in Life Can Lead to Problems Later in Life

It took me many years to really understand how events in childhood, even relatively common ones such as having parents who divorced or had mental health problems, could lead to an increased risk for adult depression or broken marriages.

The doctors who designed the initial research had some tentative ideas. Now these ideas have been tested and accepted. They are posted on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. The mechanism for our childhood traumas leading to later problems as adults goes like this:

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) lead to faulty neurodevelopment, which leads to social, emotional, and cognitive impairment, which leads to adoption of risky health behaviors, which leads to disease, disability, and social problems, which lead to a shortened life and early death.

This has helped me understand how ACEs contributed to the problems I experienced as a child and also later in life. As noted earlier, I experienced 4 ACEs growing up. I came to understand that the effect of these early traumatic experiences had caused a disruption in how my brain functioned. As a child, I felt different. With my father locked up in a mental hospital and my mother terrified that I would end up like my father, I went on with my life, but I always felt afraid. I worried constantly about whether I would end up like my father. Would I be locked up? Would I feel so depressed I would want to die?

I learned that ACEs can not only undermine our physical and emotional health and well-being but can undermine our relationships. Understanding ACEs can go a long way toward helping us understand why men live sicker and die sooner than women.

I will continue the story in Part 5. If you’d like to hear more about men’s mental health and other important issues, I invite you to join our online-community and subscribe to our weekly newsletter. It is free and you can easily unsubscribe if you ever find it no longer meets your needs.

The post The Myth of Mental Illness and the Truth About Mental Health: A Man’s Journey to Freedom appeared first on MenAlive.

            On July 25, 2023, the Moonshot for Mankind, was launched, in partnership with Ubiquity University and Humanity Rising. At this stage of my career, spanning more than fifty years, I want to use the time I still have to make the most positive impact in the world. Research conducted by Randolph Nesse, MD and Daniel Kruger, PhD showed that in every country studied, men, as a group, died younger and suffered from most major diseases at rates higher than women.

            The study concluded with three powerful statements:

  • “Being male is now the single largest demographic factor for early death.”
  • “Over 375,000 lives would be saved in a single year in the U.S. alone if men’s risk of dying was as low as women’s.”
  • “If male mortality rates could be reduced to those for females, this would eliminate over one-third of all male deaths below age 50 and help men of all ages.”

In 2021, I invited a number of colleagues whose work was making a positive difference in improving men’s mental, emotional, and relational health to join me in exploring ways we could reach more individuals and organizations who were committed to helping improve the lives of men and their families.

The purpose of the Moonshot Mission is to bring together organizations and individuals throughout the world who are doing significant work to help reduce male mortality, to offer our resources, and coordinate efforts for change. With on-line events July 25, 26, 27, and 28, 2023, the following founding members of the Moonshot for Mankind offered short, keynote talks, led panel discussions, and fielded questions from the audience.

You can learn more about the founding members, their work, and organizations here:

Lisa Hickey and The Good Man Project:

Joe Conrad and Man Therapy:

Shana James and the ManAlive Podcasts:

Frederick Marx and Warrior Films:

MaLe Corona and Male Wholeness:

Jed Diamond and MenAlive:

Words can only say so much about our vision and dream of a better world where men and women work together in true partnership. We invite you to watch the short film that we all worked on together to produce and which was put into form by Joe Conrad and his team at Cactus.

When I began working in the field of gender-specific healing and men’s health, following the birth of our first son on November 21, 1969, there were very few individuals and organizations working with these issues. Now there are thousands. But we often work in isolation and are not aware of what others are doing. One of the purposes of the Moonshot for Mankind is to bring us together.

Based on the individuals and organization I have worked with over the last fifty-plus years, I estimate that there are at least 1,000 organizations and 1,000,000 men and women who are vitally concerned about these issues. Hopefully, in the coming months and years, we can find ways to work together to support men and their families and return to our partnership roots with the community of life on planet Earth.

Lost Men and the Women Who Are Reaching Out to Them

            Christine Emba writes about ideas for The Washington Post’s Opinions section. She is the author of Rethinking Sex: A Provocation. In a recent Washington Post opinion essay, “Men Are Lost. Here’s a Map Out of the Wilderness,” she offers many important insights about men in her 6,520-word essay, none truer than these nine words in the last paragraph.

“In the end, the sexes rise and fall together.”

            In these times of gender conflict and confusion, Ms. Emba is not afraid to address these issues head on. She says that many of the ancient archetypes of maleness have become stigmatized.

“Men were too assertive, too boisterous, too horny,”

says Ms. Emba.

“But, in fact, most of these features are scaffolded by biology — all are associated with testosterone, the male sex hormone. It’s not an excuse for ‘boys will be boys’-style bad behavior, but, realistically, these traits would be better acknowledged and harnessed for pro-social aims than stifled or downplayed.”

            It may seem obvious but we can’t even talk about males without talking about females. They don’t exist as separate entities. Like a coin, they exist together, heads and tails, males and females. The playwright, Tony Kushner, captures this reality.

“The smallest indivisible human unit is two people, not one; one is a fiction,”

says Kushner.

“From such nets of souls societies, the social world, human life springs. And also plays.”

            Marianne J. Legato, M.D. is the Director of the Foundation for Gender-Specific Medicine. A pioneer in her field, her discoveries and those of her colleagues have led to establishing sex and gender as important variables in the way we think not just about the treatment of disease, but also health and lifestyle.

            “Over the past two decades, we’ve radically revised how we conduct medical research and take care of our female patients,” says Dr. Legato, “and we’ve made valuable discoveries about how gender helps determine vulnerability to illness and, ultimately, the timing and causes of death. But I now believe that we doctors and researchers may have focused too much on women.”

            She goes on to say,

“What emerges when one studies male biology in a truly evenhanded way is the realization that from the moment of conception on, men are less likely to survive than women. It’s not just that men take on greater risks and pursue more hazardous vocations than women. There are poorly understood — and underappreciated — vulnerabilities inherent in men’s genetic and hormonal makeup. Men’s troubles begin during the earliest days in the womb. Even though there are more male than female embryos, there are more miscarriages of male fetuses. Industrial countries are also witnessing a decline in male to female birth ratios, and we don’t know why.”

            Male vulnerabilities continue throughout men’s lives. Dr. Legato continues saying,

“Even when a boy manages to be born, he’s still behind the survival eight ball: he is three to four times more likely than girls to have developmental disorders like autism and dyslexia; girls learn language earlier, develop richer vocabularies and even hear better than boys. Girls demonstrate insight and judgment earlier in adolescence than boys, who are more impulsive and take more risks than their sisters.”

“Teenage boys are more likely to commit suicide than girls and are more likely to die violent deaths before adulthood. As adults, too, men die earlier than women. Twice as many men as women die of coronary artery disease, which manifests itself a decade earlier in men than women; when it comes to cancer, the news for men is almost as bad,” says Dr. Legato. “Women also have more vigorous immune systems than men: of the 10 most common infections, men are more likely to have serious encounters with seven of them.

“While depression is said to be twice as frequent in women as in men, I’m convinced that the diagnosis is just made more frequently in women, who show a greater willingness to discuss their symptoms and to ask for help when in distress. Once, at a dinner party, I asked a group of men whether they believed men were depressed as often as women, but were simply conditioned to be silent in the face of discomfort, sadness or fear. ‘Of course!’ replied one man. ‘Why do you think we die sooner?’”

Helping men be as healthy as they can be is good for fathers, sons, brothers, husbands as well as mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives. Its good for all humankind.

Sex, Gender, and The Moonshot for Mankind

            I have known Dr. Legato and appreciated her work for more than twenty years. In a recent blog post, “Nature Verses Nature,” she addresses the importance of integrating sex and gender issues.

“Perhaps no question sparks more controversy than whether children assume sex roles as a result of their biology or the socialization they’re exposed to. The answer, of course, is probably not an ‘either/or’ but a ‘with’ – some combination of the socialization we receive interacts with our natural biology (itself a knot of complicated and intertwining factors) to turn us into the people we become.”

            “As much as some dispute the existence of the ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ brain, we’re at a loss to explain how many of these same biases show up in the animal kingdom, if there’s no biological imperative,”

says Dr. Legato.

“UCLA psychologists Gerianne Alexander, PhD, and Melissa Hines, PhD, did an experiment in which they presented vervet monkeys with six toys. The males played more with the truck and ball, while the females chose the doll and a pot; gender-neutral toys (a book and a stuffed dog) got equal attention. Certainly, socialization didn’t influence these subjects!”

            Our Moonshot for Mankind will bring together experts and interested men and women who want to understand the mysteries of male and female and all the variations in thought, feeling, and behavior that make us the unique human beings we each are now and will become. We hope you will join us. Please visit us at

The post The Moonshot for Mankind: Healing Men, Women, and Offering Hope to Humanity appeared first on MenAlive.

Part 3 – Being Bipolar: Living in a World of Fire and Ice

            In Part 1, I began sharing my father’s experience when he was committed to the mental hospital. In Part 2, I described his experience in a very different kind of hospital. I spent most of my life living in terror of becoming mentally ill and ending up in a mental hospital like my father. Subconsciously, I thought that if I learned enough and became a “mental health professional” I could keep myself safe from getting “the disease.” I was forced to confront my own problems in a surprising way.

            One of our adult sons was being treated for his drug and alcohol problems. My wife, Carlin, and I were invited to attend the program at a special “family day” where we learned about recovery and how addictions impacted families. As part of the education we received during our visit, we were told that often family members suffer from depression when a family member is dealing with addictions.

            We were all given a standard Depression Questionnaire to fill out. My wife scored “high” indicating she would do well to get a more complete evaluation for depression. I scored “low” on the test, indicating I did not have depression. When we returned home, Carlin went to see a psychiatrist who talked to her and did a more complete workup. He concluded that she did have depression and prescribed an anti-depressant. Her mood improved and some of the conflicts we were having in our marriage also improved.

            Carlin felt I also had mental problems and that I might also want to see her doctor. She thought that my irritability and anger might be an indication of depression. I was resistant to the idea. I reminded her that I had scored low on the Depression Questionnaire we had taken at our son’s treatment program. She reminded me that the test didn’t prove anything, just suggested it might be good to get a more complete evaluation.

            I was still resistant to seeing a doctor. Deep down I was afraid of what he might find. But I eventually went to see her doctor who diagnosed me as having a problem he called bipolar disorder of manic-depressive illness. When I returned home from the appointment, Carlin was anxious to hear what he said.

            I told her what the doctor had told me and also told her that I didn’t like the doctor, felt he didn’t really understand the stresses I was under, and told her I didn’t think I needed help from him. I told her, “I want a second opinion,” which really meant quit nagging. I’m fine. I’m glad you got help for your depression, but I’m fine. Leave me alone.

            Carlin was furious, but still kind.

“Jed, you want a second opinion. I’ll give you mine. I’m not the only one in this family with a problem. You’ve got one too and I hope you do see a doctor who can help you.”

            I finally did see another doctor, this one a woman who I felt did, indeed, “get me.” She did a much more complete assessment than the other doctor, was not dogmatic in her approach and saw healing as a collaboration between two people with a similar goal. Dr. Betty Lacy was a different kind of psychiatrist than anyone I had ever met and she opened my eyes, my mind, and my heart.

            She helped me understand that my father likely suffered from bipolar disorder, but it was never properly treated and that it was a difficult problem to understand. She felt I also had the same problem. She suggested I get a book by Francis Mark Mondimore, MD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. In Bipolar Disorder: A Guide for You & Your Loved Ones, Dr. Mondimore describes bipolar disorder this way:

            “Bipolar disorder is the chameleon of psychiatric disorders, changing its symptoms from one patient to the next and from one episode of illness to the next even in the same patient. It is a phantom that can sneak up on its victim, cloaked in the darkness of melancholy, but then disappear for years at a time—only to return in resplendent but fiery robes of mania.

            Although both depression and mania had been described over two millennia previously by Greek and Persian physicians—several of whom thought the conditions were linked in some way—it wasn’t until the early part of the twentieth century that a German psychiatrist, Emil Kraepelin, convincingly presented the idea that these opposite conditions were two sides of one pathological coin, the two profiles of a Janus-faced disease that he called ‘manic-depressive insanity.’”

            This was helpful, but what really got my attention was when I read a book by one of the most respected experts on bipolar disorders in the world, Kay Redfield Jamison. In her book, An Unquiet Mind: Memoir of Moods and Madness, she helped me see that even a professional, with a world-wide reputation in the mental health field, can have problems like mine and live to talk about them. In the book’s prologue she offers this revealing portrait of her behavior against the background of her professional life:

            “Within a month of signing my appointment papers to become an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, I was well on my way to madness. Within three months I was manic beyond recognition and just beginning a long, costly personal war against a medication that I would, in a few years’ time, be strongly encouraging others to take. My illness, and my struggles against the drug that ultimately saved my life and restored my sanity, had been years in the making.”

            I knew this was a book I needed to read from a doctor I knew could help me. As I read more about her experiences I began to see myself. There was one description that ripped me apart. In the epilogue she sums up her experiences in a way that gave me the push I needed to get past my resistance to get the help I had so long been afraid to get.

            “Others imply that they know what it is like to be depressed because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or broken up with someone. But these experiences carry with them feelings. Depression, instead, is flat, hollow, and unendurable. It is also tiresome. People cannot abide being around you when you are depressed.”

            With the following words she absolutely nailed what was going on inside me. She was speaking my truth in a way I had never been able to articulate or share.

            You’re irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding, and no reassurance is ever enough. You’re frightened, and you’re frightening, and ‘you’re not at all like yourself but will be soon,’ but you know you won’t.”

            All these words resonated with me. I was irritable, paranoid, humorless, lifeless, critical, and demanding. No matter what my wife, Carlin, did to show me she loved me, it was never enough. I knew I was frightened inside, but I had to admit I was also frightening to the people who loved me the most.

            With doctor Jamison’s personal sharing and Dr. Lacy’s practical support, I started on a long journey of healing.

            I was prescribed a medication, Depakote, to deal with the out-of-control “ups” that would have me doing one project after another without needing to sleep. I was also prescribed an anti-depressant, Zoloft, to deal with the subsequent “downs” when things would eventually crash and I would become irritable, angry, and depressed. Within three weeks my bipolar illness was beginning to come under control. It took more than seven years before my illness was fully in remission.

            Like Dr. Jamison, at first, I fought staying on the medications. I was afraid I would lose my creative edge, that my feelings would be blunted, and I would be sentenced to a life without any real highs. I found that wasn’t true. On medications, I was just as emotional and creative and I actually got more done, wrote more books, did more work. When you don’t have to deal with the emotional crashes that follow the highs, life is much more enjoyable, stable, and fulfilling.

            But it wasn’t just the medications that saved my marriage and likely saved my life, though they certainly helped. The psychotherapy I did with my doctor allowed me to explore the roots of my problems and to track the day-to-day triggers that would set me off. Ultimately, the greatest healing comes from learning to love more deeply and to be loved in return.

            Working with Dr. Lacy I never felt inferior. I never felt like I was “mentally ill.” She treated me like a man who was suffering, but who could help  himself and improve my marriage. She was more like a health coach than a “know-it-all expert” who had all the answers.

            I learned that it’s almost impossible to love a person who is in the throes of bipolar disorder. Our lives are too chaotic and our emotional edges can cut deeply and hurt those we love the most. It’s also impossible to love ourselves. There’s a fragility to our lives that keeps us in constant terror that our world will collapse, even as we spend more and more energy putting on the mask of jovial well-being.

            Healing from bipolar disorder takes three elements:

  1. People who love you and give you the “tough love” necessary for you to get help.
  2. A good doctor who can evaluate your need for medications, but doesn’t see you as having a disease.
  3. A psychotherapist (I was lucky that my doctor also did therapy) who can help you understand the stresses that trigger your ups and downs and help heal the wounds from the past that feed your present illness.

It’s not an easy journey for the person going through it, for the family and friends who want to support their loved ones, or for the professionals who work with us. But it can be done and lives are saved every day by those with the courage to deal with bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. I look forward to your comments and hearing about your own experiences.

I will continue the story in Part 4. If you’d like to hear more about men’s mental health and other important issues, I invite you to join our online-community and subscribe to our weekly newsletter. It is free and you can easily unsubscribe if you ever find it no longer meets your needs.

The post The Myth of Mental Illness and the Truth About Mental Health: A Man’s Journey to Freedom appeared first on MenAlive.

Part 2 – An Atheist Checks into Gods Hotel

            In Part 1, I described my experiences visiting my father in the mental hospital when I was five years old and my desire to help him and other men like him. I met an iconoclastic doctor, Thomas Szasz, when I was in graduate school and read his book, The Myth of Mental Illness. Here I will continue with what I learned about my father when I found journals he had kept during the time leading up to his hospitalization.

            In graduate school I learned the standard medical view of mental illness. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the handbook used by health care professionals in the United States and much of the world as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders. DSM contains descriptions, symptoms and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders. It is published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and is revised and updated periodically.

            When my father was hospitalized at Camarillo State Mental Hospital, the doctors told my mother he had some kind of “psychotic disorder.” In the DSM, I found the following information grouped together:

             (1) affective disorders, characterized by severe mood disturbance, with associated alterations in thought and behavior, in consonance with the affect; (2) schizophrenic reactions, characterized by fundamental disturbances in reality relationships and concept formations, with associated affective, behavioral, and intellectual disturbances, marked by a tendency to retreat from reality, by regressive trends, by bizarre behavior, by disturbances in stream of thought, and by formation of delusions and hallucinations; (3) paranoid reactions, characterized by persistent delusions and other evidence of the projective mechanism.

            These descriptions touched on my experiences with my father, but seemed cold, clinical, and somehow missing his spirit. More helpful were the journal entries I read describing his own experiences at the time.

Here is a note from my father’s first journal, written when he was his old self, full of confidence and joy for life:

            “A traveling troupe is putting on a show not far from us.  I know them from earlier times when I first came to New York.  They are gay and exciting and have an enchanting flavor of holiday.  I look at Kath and marvel at her sweetness and beauty.  You often forget how lovely feminine youth is.  The cream-like texture of skin, a verve and a buoyancy.  Henry is a perfect type of company manager.  He has great big floppy ears, that inevitable cigar, and a certain softness.  Charm is not the exclusive province of youth.  Henry has it as well as Kath.

            “I feel full of confidence in my writing ability.  I know for certain that someone will buy one of my radio shows.  I know for certain that I will get a good part in a play.  Last night I dreamt about candy.  There was more candy than I could eat.  Does it mean I’ll be rewarded for all my efforts?  Has it anything to do with sex?”

            Journal number ten was written three years later.  The economic depression of the time and the depression going on within his mind had come together.  His entries are more terse, staccato, and disheartening. I still get tears when I feel how much was lost in such a short time.

    “June 4th: 

                Your flesh crawls, your scalp wrinkles when you look around and see good writers, established writers, writers with credits a block long, unable to sell, unable to find work,  Yes, it’s enough to make anyone, blanch, turn pale and sicken.

    “August 15th:

                     Faster, faster, faster, I walk.  I plug away looking for work, anything to support my family.  I try, try, try, try, try.  I always try and never stop.

    “November 8th:

                    A hundred failures, an endless number of failures, until now, my confidence, my hope, my belief in myself, has run completely out. Middle aged, I stand and gaze ahead, numb, confused, and desperately worried.  All around me I see the young in spirit, the young in heart, with ten times my confidence, twice my youth, ten times my fervor, twice my education. 

             I see them all, a whole army of them, battering at the same doors I’m battering, trying in the same field I’m trying.  Yes, on a Sunday morning in early November, my hope and my life stream are both running desperately low, so low, so stagnant, that I hold my breath in fear, believing that the dark, blank curtain is about to descend.

               Six days after his November 8th entry, my father swallowed sleeping pills and he ended up being committed to the mental hospital where he was locked up for seven years receiving “treatment” until he escaped and never returned.

My Father Finds His Way to God’s Hotel

            After he escaped from the mental hospital, my father survived. He proved the doctors wrong when they told us that he needed to remain in the hospital longer and the treatments he was getting would cure his “disease.” He still had his problems, but they were better treated outside the “mental health” system. I wrote about his journey and mine in my book, My Distant Dad: Healing the Family Father Wound.

            I learned about my father’s re-hospitalization from someone who had read my first book, Inside Out: Becoming My Own Man and sent me an email.  

“I read about your father in your book and I know where he is now. He is at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco.”

            When I arrived at Laguna Honda for the first time, I felt a shudder of remembrance from my visits to Camarillo State Hospital so many years ago. Laguna Honda also looked like an old California mission with stucco walls and red tiled roofs. But once inside I knew I was in a different world. The walls were lined with beautiful murals by the artist Glenn Wessels painted in 1934 depicting the four elements—Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.

People were friendly and two chickens greeted me as I asked directions to Clarendon Hall where I was told my father stayed. Yes, chickens in a hospital. This was my first clue that this was not your typical medical center.

            I asked the person at the information desk about the chickens. “Yes,” she told me,

“That’s definitely different from what you’ll see in most hospitals.  We actually have other animals as well including rabbits, ducks, guinea pigs, and cats that live on the ground and occasionally wander inside.”

            When I looked surprised at animals in a hospital, she continued.

“They really raise the spirits of the patients here. Even those who are withdrawn in their own world and won’t talk to staff seem to come alive when the animals visit.”

            I learned that the animals have a long history at Laguna Honda which first opened in 1867 as an almshouse for the Gold Rush pioneers, at least the ones who didn’t strike it rich. The almshouse grew its own food and had livestock on the 87-acre complex. The hospital had changed over the years, but the animals were still there.

            Clarendon Hall, built in 1908, was one of the first hospital buildings constructed after the 1906 earthquake and the hospital grew around it. Mayor James, “Sunny Jim,” Rolph officiated at the groundbreaking of the Spanish-Revival style buildings that would become Laguna Honda Hospital in 1924. Designed by John Reid Jr, the building features eight “Florence Nightengale”-style wings each ending with circular bays, tile roofs, and an inner courtyard.

            I met my father in Clarendon Hall and I was directed to the well-lit visitor’s room. My dad got up and walked towards me. He had a smile on his face and gave me a hug. I was surprised. He had never hugged me since I was a child. His embrace was strong, yet gentle. “I’m so glad you came,” he told me with a strong feeling of warmth and welcome in his voice. I felt hopeful for the first time since I was five years old, but I held back. I wanted to see more before I got my hopes too high.

            He asked about my family and I told him about Carlin, our marriage in 1980, my two children, Jemal and Angela, from my first marriage, and Carlin’s three sons, Dane, Evan, and Aaron. I asked about his life at Laguna Honda.

“I’ve been here for five years,” he told me. “And I’ll be happy to spend the rest of my life here.”

            I was surprised.

“You escaped from Camarillo State Hospital and said you’d never be locked up in a hospital again. What happened?”

            “This place isn’t anything like Camarillo,” he told me.

“That place really was like a concentration camp. Whatever problems I had at the time, just got worse there. Here I’m not locked up. The staff respect us and the other people here are just people like me. I come and go as I please. I usually have breakfast in the morning, I take a bus out in front of the hospital and go into downtown San Francisco. I put on puppet shows anywhere there are people. When the kids see me coming, they cry out, ‘puppet man, puppet man.’ I make people happy. I come back at the end of the day feeling like a million dollars.”

“Wow, that’s not like any hospital I’ve ever seen.” I told him. I was beginning to understand the changes I was seeing. Maybe there was hope for a real reunion.

“Someone called it ‘God’s Hotel, and I can’t disagree,” he told me. “I’ve never been religious but since I’ve been here, I feel like I’ve been touched with the spirit of God. It’s really the result of being seen, cared for, and respected by the people here.”

I learned that the person who called Laguna Honda Hospital, “God’s Hotel” was Dr. Victoria Sweet who wrote a book about the time she worked there. The book, God’s Hotel: A Doctor, A Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine described a new way of treating people with a lineage going back hundreds of years.

I met Dr. Sweet at a book signing where she told a bit of the history.

“San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital is the last almshouse in the country, a descendant of the Hôtel-Dieu (God’s shelter) that cared for the sick in the Middle Ages.”

She remembered my father and described the kinds of people to ended up checked in to God’s Hotel.

“We get ballet dancers and rock musicians, professors and thieves—anyone who had fallen, or often, leapt, onto hard times and needed extended medical care—ended up  here. In the relatively low-tech but human-paced environment, these extraordinary patients began to transform their world and ours.”

My father had come a long way from Camarillo State Mental Hospital and healthcare had, it seemed, gone “back to the future,” drawing on ancient traditions to create a new kind of healthcare.

I will continue the story in Part 3. If you’d like to hear more about men’s mental health and other important issues, I invite you to join our online-community and subscribe to our weekly newsletter. It is free and you can easily unsubscribe if you ever find it no longer meets your needs.

Please consider joining us for our free Moonshot for Mankind Event.  >> Watch here for free on YouTube<< OR >>Join our conversation free on Zoom through the Humanity Rising Platform<<

The post The Myth of Mental Illness and the Truth About Mental Health: A Man’s Journey to Freedom appeared first on MenAlive.

I hadn’t heard “the two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you found out why” until recently, but I can’t get them out of my mind. I learned that they were attributed to Mark Twain. I thought the first day was both obvious and simple: I was born on December 21, 1943. I’ve been thinking about the date a lot lately since I will be 80 this year. My wife, Carlin, will be 85. We’re both dealing with the challenges of health and mortality, as are many of our friends.

The Day I Was Born

            Thinking about my birth, I realize that it was more complex than I originally thought: “Congratulations, Mrs. Diamond. You have a healthy baby boy.” My parents had gotten married in 1934 and had been trying to have a baby for some time. Having given up hope, they finally went to a doctor in New York who had developed a new procedure of injecting my father’s sperm into my mother’s womb.

            When they found out she was pregnant they were overjoyed, but my mother was terrified she would miscarry and tiptoed down 5th Avenue on her walks to keep the baby firmly attached. They were so sure I was going to be a girl that they had lots of soft dolls and a number of girl’s names ready for me and my arrival with all parts intact, including my little penis, caused some serious confusion.

            Being Jewish, they had me circumcised on the 8th day after my birth, and my mother told the story of the unkindest cut causing me to shoot a stream of urine up over my head hitting my father, who had been holding me down while I screamed bloody murder, in the eye. Even then I knew that my foreskin was not only mine and part of me, but had a useful purpose, and I was not a bit happy about its removal.

            I still had  not been named and they finally settled on John Elliott Diamond, which I shortened to a more manly “Jed” when I went off to college.

The Day I Found Out Why

            On November 21, 1969, I held my newborn son, Jemal, in my arms and made a vow that I would be a different kind of father than my father was able to be for me and do everything I could to create a world where men were fully healthy in body, mind, and spirit. I realized that this was my calling in life, the reason I was born.

My own father had a “nervous breakdown” when I was five years because he felt like a failure as man because he couldn’t earn a living supporting his family at the work he loved. He took an overdose of sleeping pills and was committed to the state mental hospital in Camarillo, just north of our home in Los Angeles. I grew up wondering what happened to my father, when it would happen to me, and how I could do to keep other families from experiencing the pain our family went through. I wrote about our healing journey in my book, My Distant Dad: Healing the Family Father Wound and offer an on-line course for men and women.

My calling has expanded over the years. Most recently I have invited a number of colleagues who share my passion to improve men’s health to join me for what I call my Moonshot for Mankind and Humanity.

            I believe we all come into the world with a life purpose. Here’s how psychologist James Hillman describes it in his book, The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling.

“For me what is lost in so many lives, and what must be recovered is a sense of personal calling, that there is a reason I am alive. It is the feeling that there is a reason my unique person is here and that there are things I must attend to beyond the daily round and that give the daily round its meaning.”

The Japanese have a name for it. They call it Ikigai, or “purpose for waking up in the morning.” A friend and colleague whose purpose for waking up in the morning connects with men’s health is Shana James.

Shana James and The Moonshot for Mankind

            When I reached out to colleagues who I knew were doing great work to help men and their families, I contacted Shana James who had recently written the book, Honest Sex: A Passionate Path to Deepen Connection and Keep Relationships Alive. Her work was featured in my latest book, Long Live Men! The Moonshot Mission to Heal Men, Close the Lifespan Gap, and Offer Hope to Humanity, which will launch to the world later this year.

            Here’s what Shana shared about her own calling:

“In my twenties, I was part of an intentional community. We decided to be honest and vulnerable with each other. We committed to working things out when they got tough instead of bailing when it got uncomfortable.

“Two men who were part of the community felt they grew so much from the honest feedback, especially from women, that they started a workshop called the Authentic Man Program (AMP). They invited me and a few other women to participate. Our role was to give men honest and loving feedback. This supported them to strengthen their self-awareness and understand why women were reacting to them in undesirable ways. Most of the men were in heterosexual relationships, but not all.

“After the first workshop, as we debriefed with participants, a man spoke up. With tears in his eyes, he shared that our team of women brought him back to life. He said our acceptance and love was a balm to his heart in a very challenging time as he went through a divorce and figured out how to be a father. Before the weekend, he hadn’t been sure if he wanted to be alive.

“I did not stop crying for hours. I realized that through my love, and becoming an ally to men, I could help keep men alive and support them to thrive. I realized I could be a safe woman for men to be vulnerable with. I could see a bigger vision for how this would impact not only these men, but families, communities, and the earth. I saw that men being understood and supported, especially in their most vulnerable places, would allow them to love themselves and bring more love to the world.

“What made me decide to join the Moonshot Mission? When Jed was on my podcast for men—Man Alive—to talk about the father wound and male depression, I was impressed. He brought depth, love, and wisdom to the listeners, and it was clear to me that he was an expert in men’s healing.

“When he created the mission for men to live longer, happier, and healthier lives, I jumped at the chance to be involved. Even as my work focuses on supporting men to feel connected and confident in their romantic relationships, there is a deeper mission. I want men to feel more self-love, aliveness, and fulfillment. I want men to thrive, first for themselves and then to become stewards of a healthier world and communities.

“Collaborating with those who support different facets of men’s well-being allows us to create the cultural change necessary to help men break free from the Man Box that fosters depression, anxiety, and even suicide.

“For men (and most humans), relational health is one of the determining factors of emotional health and a fulfilling and longer life. But many men were taught to ‘man up’ and struggle alone. So, when relationship challenges arise (and they always do), men often tend toward shame and isolation. They do not get the help they need to transform their pain into deeper connection and become more self-respecting and loving.

“As a relationship coach, I support men to be sovereign and connected—to know, and then communicate, their wants, fears, and vulnerabilities in a way that creates understanding and intimacy. I support men to have clarity about the impact their actions and words have on others, empowering them to collaborate to create the outcomes they desire.

“There is no doubt men’s work and rites of passage are powerful and important for men’s growth. There is a certain kind of healing men need to do with other men. There is also healing men need to do with women. As men return from workshops or men’s circles, it can be a challenge to translate their learnings into effective communication and collaboration with women in their lives.

“I am a practice ground for men to cultivate the awareness to consciously create their relationships. As I support men to know their own worth, they then isolate and explode less often. They generate their own safety, which allows them to open their hearts and reveal their humanity, creating the kind of intimacy that is a foundation of thriving.

“What is my vision for the future of this movement? Hurt people hurt others. The destructive power dynamics that plague our world result from the pain so many are feeling internally. Men hold a specific piece of this pain, and it is driving the suicide rate up and life satisfaction down.

“In order to support men to live healthier and longer, I see the need for a cultural shift. Men need the encouragement to take care of their health and receive care. They can be released from the culturally induced shame of needing to pretend they have it all together. I see this movement bringing awareness to men’s humanity and vulnerability. I see organizations around the world partnering to create a support network for men. I see us rallying people around the goal of men living longer, more fulfilling lives, and how this creates a more just and peaceful world. You can learn more about my work here:”

What is your own calling, your ikigai? Why are you here and what is your own unique contribution to the world? I look forward to hearing from you. Drop me a note to Put “Why I’m here” in the subject line. If you would like to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter, I invite you to join us here.

The post The Two Most Important Days in Your Life: The Day You Were Born and the Day You Found Out Why appeared first on MenAlive.

Part 1

I was five years old in 1949 when my uncle drove me to the mental hospital. I was confused and afraid.

“Why do I have to go?” I asked Uncle Harry.

He looked at me with his round face and kind eyes. “Your father needs you.”

“What’s the matter with him?” I was beginning to cry and I clamped my throat tight to

stop the tears.

He turned away and looked back at the road. In our family, we didn’t talk about difficult issues. I knew that my father was in a hospital and it was my duty to visit him. It never occurred to me to ask why my mother didn’t come to visit, but she assured me that I was being her “brave little man” by going to help my father.

When I talk about “the myth of mental illness,” I am not saying that people like my father don’t suffer or that there isn’t a need for treatment. As you will learn as I discuss this more, I’m talking about the limiting and inaccurate way we have viewed mental suffering and the kinds of help that are needed for people in order to become mentally healthy.  

My uncle came to visit my father every Sunday and I went with him. Being a dutiful son was something I learned early. Even at age five, I felt responsible for my parents. Though the story of why my father was in a mental hospital emerged slowly and was never talked about, I came to understand from overhearing my mother and uncle talking that my father had a “nervous breakdown.” He had become increasingly angry and depressed because he couldn’t support his family and took an overdose of sleeping pills and he was committed to the state mental hospital to receive treatment.

I visited my father for fifty-two excruciating Sundays with Uncle Harry. As we would get closer to the hospital I thought about the story of Alice in Wonderland.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

 My father’s condition grew increasingly worse. He was given more drugs and more shock treatments. Even in my child-mind it was obvious that whatever he was getting in this place it was not helping him. However, the doctors told my mother he just needed more treatment which he continued to receive until he finally escaped from the mental hospital after seven years and never returned. I grew up wondering what happened to my father, whether it would happen to me, and how I could prevent it from happening to other families. I wrote about our healing journey in my book, My Distant Dad: Healing the Family Father Wound.

Medical School, Graduate School, and Meeting Dr. Szasz

After graduating from U.C. Santa Barbara in 1965, I was accepted into medical school at U.C. San Francisco. I hoped to become medically trained and go on to become a psychiatrist. I imagined that if I became smart enough I could somehow figure out how I could help my father and other men like him. And in my secret heart of hearts, I thought higher education would inoculate me from “mental illness” so that the disease that got him wouldn’t get me.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that medicine was not for me. Cutting up my first cadaver gave me some understanding of anatomy but talking to my professors convinced me that medicine, as it was being practiced back then, was way too restrictive for me. Getting through four more years of schooling, plus internships, and residencies before I could become a mental-health healer didn’t seem like a good choice.

I remembered doing a summer internship at a mental  hospital two years previously and remembered talking to several social workers who seemed to have a much broader view of mental illness and mental health. I decided to transfer from medical school to the School of Social Welfare at U.C. Berkeley.

However, before I could leave medical I had to see a psychiatrist. From the point of view of the medical establishment, anyone who would return a 4-year-full-tuition fellowship at one of the best medical schools in the country to transfer to a school of social work, must be crazy.  In my mind, I would be crazy to stay and work in a system that thought all problems were restricted to the individual psyche. I never knew what my psychiatric diagnosis was, but unlike my father I was not deemed a danger to myself or others, so I was allowed to return the money for my medical training and transfer to U.C. Berkeley.

Berkeley in 1965 was alive with protest. The free speech movement began there in 1964 when Mario Savio called on students to oppose the universities restrictions on free speech.

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part,”

he told his fellow students.

“And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus — and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it — that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

When I arrived on campus in 1965, people were protesting the war in Vietnam and I joined them. One of my fellow students in the School of Social Welfare, Mel Newton, had a brother named Huey, who co-founded The Black Panther Party to oppose police brutality towards minorities and I learned, first-hand, about the struggle for civil rights.

In my graduate studies, there were three overlapping divisions: Case Work where we learned about individual mental and emotional problems and healing, Group Work where we learned about family systems and helping people in groups, and Community Organization where we learned about the impact of larger systems on people’s health and well-being.

I specialized in Case Work but took classes in the other two disciplines as well. We learned about therapy, counseling, and psychological theory. But the school offered a much broader range of perspectives including some new ideas about mental health and mental illness that were viewed as somewhat radical at the time.

One of the guest speakers at the school was Dr. Thomas Szasz. He was a Hungarian-American academic and psychiatrist who served for most of his career as professor of psychiatry at the State University of New York. He was also a distinguished lifetime fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and a life member of the American Psychoanalytic Association.

He had just written a book, The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct. In describing the book he told us,

“I tried to show how and why the concept of mental illness is erroneous and misleading and because of their supposed incapacity to ‘know what is in their own best interests,’ people who suffer must be cared for by their families or the state, even if that care requires interventions imposed on them against their will or incarceration in a mental hospital.”

Dr. Szasz argued throughout his career that mental illness is a metaphor for human problems in living, and that mental illnesses are not “illnesses” in the sense that physical illnesses are. Today we know that all illness, physical and mental, have multiple causes and what goes on in our mind is influenced by our biology, believes, history, traumatic past, social environment and a host of other factors.  

By the time I met Dr. Szasz and read his book, I had reconnected with my father who unexpectedly showed up at my college graduation in 1965. I had not seen him since his “treatments” had made him worse to a point where he didn’t know who I was and in despair I stopped going to see him. My uncle continued his visits until my father was able to escape one day when he said he needed to get a stamp at the post office. He kept on going and my uncle had to report him missing.

I spent the summer following my graduation getting to know my father. He talked with bitterness about his time at Camarillo and was afraid that if he contacted his family, he would be returned and locked up again. In Part 2 of this article I will share more about what I learned from my father and how he was finally able to get the help he needed by checking into God’s Hotel where he met a doctor who could truly help and a hospital community where real healing could occur.  

If you’d like to hear more about men’s mental health and other important issues, I invite you to join our online-community and subscribe to our weekly newsletter. It is free and you can easily unsubscribe if you ever find it no longer meets your needs.

The post The Myth of Mental Illness and the Truth About Mental Health: A Man’s Journey to Freedom appeared first on MenAlive.

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