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Mental Health

A young man lives alone in an empty building situated on the property of an old lumber mill.  He lives in a tin building that resembles half of a tin pie plate.  He spends most of his time sleeping and when he is awake, he usually leaves the lights off.  This young man used to work in a metal shop, but the antidepressant drugs that he takes make it hard for him to concentrate and he subsequently lost his job.  He is now on Welfare and owes back support payments for the care of his two small children.  He does not care if he goes to jail, he does not care about anything anymore.  His family has exhausted their efforts trying to help him and do not know what else to do.  He is but one of millions of men that are privately suffering from a mental illness, depression his crippler.  

While men and women both suffer from mental illness, men are less likely to be diagnosed and treated for it.  There are many reasons for this; the most common being that men are less likely to seek help or even acknowledge that there is something wrong.  Only half as many men as women will seek professional aid through either psychotherapy or a doctor when it is a matter of their mental state.  Convincing a man to visit a doctor for his physical health has always been a bit of a laughing matter.  A common attitude amongst men seems to be that there is no point in seeing a doctor unless the injured body part has literally fallen off and even then, there’s always duck tape.  All kidding aside though, if the thought of visiting a doctor for a physical ailment is so unappealing, how can men be expected to seek out professional aid when it comes to the complex and most private world of the mind and the pain that can reside there? 

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, studies show that new fathers are also vulnerable to postpartum depression and more and more young and middle-aged men are ending up in hospitals, suffering from many types of mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia.  Surveys such as these, taken from all over the world, are unearthing shocking facts.  In Canada, the StatsCan Canadian Community Health Survey on mental health disclosed that almost as many men as women who were surveyed, showed signs of a mental illness.  While in the United States, studies showed that over six million men have depression every year.  In Canada, four out of five suicides are male and while more women attempt suicide in the United States, men are more successful at it and therefore up to eighty percent of people who commit suicide in the States are subsequently men.    

This obvious mental health crisis is not only apparent within Canada and the United States.  In the UK, seventy-five percent of all suicides are men, according to statistics.  In Australia, one study's results confirmed the growing realization that not only do men not seek professional help, but also they have no idea how too.  It is therefore not surprising that since 1991, suicide has replaced car accidents as the number one cause of death for Australian males.

Divorce, loss of a loved one and unemployment are three occurrences that can cause one more common type of mental illness, depression.  Men experience these types of losses just as often as women and it is arguable whether they are in fact, affected even more so by them. "Mind" a men's mental health website that lists statistics and survey findings for the perusal of professionals, students and the public, states that most divorces and separations are initiated by women and in most cases not what the man had wanted.  Men are also more affected by unemployment and more likely to experience long-term unemployment, according to the same studies.  From a young age, men are taught the importance of being a provider.  Boys learn that their worth is most prominently determined by what they do for a living and are encouraged to seek out employment that is very profitable and subsequently more stressful.  Men are usually the main provider within a family and this creates added pressure upon them.  The world as it is today, a place where neighbor competes with neighbor for the title of the biggest TV, best car, prettiest wife and smartest kid, the pressure to be the best can be overwhelming.  When things go badly, such as unemployment or a broken relationship these are considered stigmas that can affect men deeply, perhaps more so than is either realized or previously documented.   

So why are men not getting the help that they obviously need? Emotions have always been considered a female trait and condition, generally seen as a sign of weakness and undesirable within a male.   Taught to mask their emotions and pain with acts of violence and substance abuse, men are less likely to show signs that are typically associated with a mental illness.  Crying, sadness, change in appetite, loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed are all telltale signs that men are more likely to hide.  Alcohol and substance abuse are far more common in men than women.  This may be because withholding feelings and emotions can lead to irritability and aggressiveness.  "Mind" attributes much of the crime committed, to be done by men under the influence and that more men than women suffer from alcohol or substance abuse, the ratio being five to one.  

In mid 2005 a marketing company conducted a survey on male suicide risk factors within rural Australia.  The aim was to learn how emotionally alienated men living in rural areas felt since the increase in suicide amongst men was becoming alarming in such areas.  The findings showed that men were not only unable to talk about their feelings but were in many cases documented, unwilling to do so.  Sharing their private thoughts and emotions was not something that they could comprehend and they were also unaware of any specific organizations designed to help them cope when experiencing emotionally trying and difficult times within their lives.  This being said, many of the men that were interviewed, admitted to at times experiencing feelings of depression and hopelessness at times.  Feelings associated with depression have only heightened within Australia due to the drastic change in weather.  Crops are drying up and farm animals are starving as a result of the extreme heat and farmers are taking their own lives.  During an April 19th 2007 radio interview on The CBC, an Australian farmer recounted a story that he had heard about a farmer living on the Gold Coast.  He had heard that this farmer, unable to feed his cattle because his crops had died, collected all of his ammunition and shot each of his cows as they entered a holding pen.  As the story goes, at the end of the day, after he had shot his entire herd, he had but one bullet left.  With this, he shot himself.  According to the CBC, it is currently estimated that every four days an Australian farmer takes his life.

While Australian men have been stereotyped as being both macho and reserved when it comes to their emotions, all men believe that they are supposed to be strong and in control.   Regardless of where on this planet a man calls his home, or what cultural, religious or ethnic background he has, it is important that he know his options regarding his mental health, that it is nothing to be ashamed of and realize there is help available to him.   Although men's health care seems to be less of a matter of concern to the public or medical field compared to the attention women's health issues receive, men are partially responsible for this.  They need to step forward and share their stories, seek information and demand help; the way women have in the past.                  

Until recently, men's mental health was not only neglected, it was ignored.  But there is finally acknowledgment that men all over the world suffer from many forms of mental illness.   Acts as recent and horrific as the Virginia Blacksburg shootings, where a young man shot and killed students and faculty members at the Virginia Tech University, are testament to this and can no longer be ignored.  Looking back over Canadian and American history, this particular type of behavior is becoming more and more common and is always acted out by a male.  The medical industry is thankfully beginning to answer these violent and deadly cries for help.

Web sites, journals, books and promotional campaigns are making a difference.  Articles written about men's health issues, funding finding its way to research projects and programs specifically targeted toward men, are making a positive impact.  Some internet sites that are leading the way are "MaleHealth", "WebMD" and previously mentioned, "Mind".  All three of these sites post shocking statistics and informative material that has been collected from all over the world.  These sites post useful contact information for local clinics and also a related mental health hotline number.  "The Men's Project", is a non profit charitable counseling agency, who since the late 90's, has been providing numerous types of counseling, healing programs, anger management, and fathering programs to men in need.  Their goal is to help men get back on their feet.  A recent and instrumental book "Men and Depression: Clinical and Empirical Perspectives", is also helping to identify and treat mood disorders within men and making it possible for them to find help amongst bookshelves.  The National Institute for Mental Health, is currently running a campaign whose aim is to connect men who are suffering from depression with other men experiencing the same thing.  The Institute's campaign, "Real Men.  Real Depression" encourages men of all walks of life to share their experience with depression in the hope that it will help other men seek information and aid.  A police officer, firefighter and college student are just a few of the men who share their stories. 

In the future hopefully there will continue to be funding available to men's mental health issues and specialists will continue to encourage ongoing research within this area.  Men have been suffering in silence for too long and without help they can become ticking time bombs, dangerous to others as well as themselves.