Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center presents Men for Mental Health on Friday, October 9, 2020. The two-hour virtual event, designed as an evening of fun and lightheartedness, will bring much-needed awareness to the social needs of the men and the impact on their mental health. Additionally, the event will raise funds for the underinsured and uninsured for men and boys. Features of the event are Master of Ceremonies—Steve Berry, a local comedian and actor; Derek Sullivan-Lo, founder of The Titan Project; local comedian Willie Farrell; local musicians, the Center’s own Mark Poeppe, PsyD, and others. I discussed issues facing men with the event’s coordinator, Center therapist Ann Flood, tLMHC.
Early in our conversation, Ann shared the chilling statistic that men are killing themselves at four times the rate for women and the rates are increasing for men age twenties to fifties. She talked about the barriers facing men and their approach to mental health. Expectations of men differ from the expectations of women. Men receive socialization to suppress their feelings. “Men have few role models and supporting men to help them recognize and manage their symptoms,” Ann said. She added, “Men’s symptoms are often very different in depression and anxiety. Their symptoms look like fatigue or irritability or anger.” She also pointed to men being innately hardwired with testosterone and increased aggression that is often misunderstood because others do not understand this about men. And, because of this, the stigma of seeking help weighs more heavily on them. Generally, men do not admit problems or ask for help, so getting them in the door for counseling is a delicate, difficult process. She spoke of a conversation with Mark Minear, Ph.D., a therapist at the Center, in which he said he was tired of men’s anger being pathologized. In agreement, she said it seems anger is the only emotion men are allowed to have and added, “Why can’t we just acknowledge that [socialization, lack of role models, differences in symptoms, hormonal influences, and stigma]? She hates the term “toxic masculinity.” They’re just men. There’s nothing wrong with them.”
Derek from The Titan Project started the group because he noticed men returning from military duty were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and he did not accept that diagnosis. The group is built around activities—fishing, hunting, backyard barbecues, etc. Men are more action-oriented than talking-oriented. Ann told me being tribe-oriented, they form bonds with comrades in the military. She said they flounder when they return because they need to rebuild their brotherhood. They ask themselves, “What do I do now? The website is https://www.thetitanproject.org/.
Ann’s approach to therapy is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which has roots in traditional therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). She uses mindfulness to help clients recognize their current state and accept it. The next step is to help the client move toward a “valued, fully-lived life as the client sees it.” Another tool she employs is bibliotherapy, so she maintains a booklist to share. She requests the client to commit to ten sessions then reevaluate. She said, “My goal is for everybody to be their own therapist. I want to work myself out of a job.” If a client wants to go beyond ten sessions, she will continue with them. While the approach works well for everyone, she said men respond well to it.
Ann, who applies the same philosophy to parenting her four daughters says she is “empty-nesting and loving it.” She believes in giving her children “their wings.” We talked about parents whose children live all over the world. She often advises parents that once their children leave, they are not coming back. When her eldest left home, Ann grieved and wondered, “There should be a support group for this!” Her youngest left the Saturday before our discussion, and she was already rearranging the furniture.
The Center formed a monthly men’s group following Dr. Minear’s efforts to raise awareness about men’s mental health and to raise funds for underinsured and uninsured men and boys in 2016. Ann has sat in on those meetings as well as formed a men’s group consisting of diverse men from outside the Center. She found they all agreed the issue of men’s mental health must be addressed, and they wanted a lighthearted way to do that rather than a heavy, dreary discussion. Hence, the Men for Mental Health event on October 9, 2020. She shared that men want practical solutions to problems often using different terminology such as doing, taking, and deciding when help-seeking rather than being in therapy or receiving help.
Ann is sensitive to the unique challenges and needs of her Black male clients. While some openly discuss the fear that dwells in Black males their entire lives, others avoid the topic. She walks a delicate line between allowing the client space to make his own discoveries at the same time she really wants and needs to nudge him so he can head in the direction of healing rather than remaining stuck. She said she tries to self-examine whether she is making the sessions safe for them. I am pleased she has Black clients, especially male. In all my years as a client, I have seen only one Black man in the waiting room. As a collective Black people attend church and possess a strong Christian faith. If they have a problem, they “take it to God” or to their pastor. So, getting Black men to seek mental health services is a huge challenge. I discuss this in detail in my article “African Americans and Mental Health”.
Women can help men receive the attention and services they need to heal and to thrive. Ann advises women to “learn how the symptoms are different in men when it comes to depression and anxiety and what to look for. Just listen to them.” Women listen to each other, but they do not listen to men because they do not understand “male” language and male needs. She said, “We can keep trying [to offer help] and the best way to keep trying is to read research.” Knowledge is always at the forefront of action. The Center has blog articles written by Center staff addressing the mental health issues facing men and boys at https://dmpcc.org/menandboys/. To schedule an appointment, contact the Center at https://dmpcc.org/, call 515-274-4006, or visit the website and complete an intake form.
Here are some useful resources from National Institute of Mental Health—National Institutes of Health:
- Men and Mental Health:
- Brother, You’re on My Mind: This National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities initiative uses a variety of activities to raise awareness of the mental health challenges associated with depression and stress that affect African American men and their families.
- Men’s Health: National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus offers resources on men’s health (en Español).
- Mental Health for Men: This blog post from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health discusses the importance of supporting men’s mental health.
- National Center for PTSD: A program of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, this Center offers targeted information for anyone interested in post-traumatic stress disorder (including Veterans, family, and friends).
- Preventing Suicide among Men in the Middle Years: Recommendations for Suicide Prevention Programs: This Suicide Prevention Resource Center created this resource to help state and community suicide prevention programs design and implement projects to prevent suicide among men in the middle years.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: SAMHSA offers publications addressing the specific needs of men.
Ann spends her Fridays connecting with her ever-expanding network to promote the event and to let them know what she is doing. In addition to the Men for Mental Health event, she is developing a training around men’s mental health needs and a small marketing campaign. Research and finding ways to support healing for men commands much of her attention.
We all benefit from mentally healthy men and boys. Our relationships, most notably with those whom we share close contact—spouses, partners, sons, and other family members and friends are richer and more satisfying. The same is true for relationships with other men who may enter our lives—bosses, colleagues, neighbors, business contacts, and a host of others. Stay tuned to the Center’s newsletters for more announcements and information about the Men for Mental Health event. You can sign up here to receive notifications about the event.