by Mark Minear, Ph.D., licensed psychologist at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center
(June 2017) The issues facing men/boys with regard to mental health are no more or less diverse, complex, or complicated than those facing women/girls; in some respects, however, they are, at times, different. And, perhaps, those issues are more challenging with these two basic, well-researched facts: (1) that men are less likely to reach out for professional mental health services when they need it, while at the same time, (2) that men are also much more likely to give up in despair and end their lives by suicide when they are depressed.
One year ago when I walked across Iowa on the Old Lincoln Highway from the Mississippi River to the Missouri River, my focus was on men/boys and mental health while attempting to raise both awareness as well as financial support for the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center’s counseling assistance fund for men/boys. (After all, the Center has been very diligent for over the past 20 years with a Women Helping Women influence; and we have lacked options for how men might be able to help men—or how to emphasize the issues facing men and boys.) Upon the completion of my trek, the Center was ready for me to continue my blog to highlight men’s and boys’ emotional and psychological needs, consider how our Center could be more effective in reaching out to men and boys, and expand and strengthen our services to make them more meaningful with healing and empowerment to men and boys.
This led to a series of conversations over the past year among the men employed at the Center with recognition of our diversity and even some ambivalence in the optimal ways to communicate with men and boys: defining the masculine experience, especially across generations as well as within a cohort, is difficult, limiting, and ambiguous. What does it mean to be masculine? Simply being confronted with that question immediately brings up images, prejudices, and stereotypes, for all of us. It seems that we could simply honor the two long-held affirmations of (1) “how every person is unique” and (2) “folks are the same the whole world over”—and this could be the end of the discussion! As a matter of fact, the eight of us at the Center even had an exhilarating deliberation about what we should name this blog—acquiescing to the idea that nothing can be said about men or boys as a population… it all depends upon individual differences anyway.
But it does seem to be important, and hopefully helpful, to get us all to think about what individual men and boys might need—raising the questions pushes us all to reflect, discuss, inquire, re-evaluate. For instance, does depression or trauma or grief generally look different in men/boys than in women/girls? And what about shame—how might men/boys present with the emotional distress of shame… or fear or insecurity or anxiety or _______________?
Men are in trouble (as well as boys who grow up in our culture): they often seem to sink alone instead of asking for help—sometimes digging their holes deeper by their lack of healthy coping responses and resources; they often withhold from others what they consider to be indications of their weaknesses; and they often react with anger instead of embracing the deeper, more basic emotions of hurt, fear, or sadness. Men—and boys following their male role models and buying in to the messages in our current society—seem primarily equipped to express one emotion: rage.
Over the coming months, please watch for this blog and make your contributions. Other writers here at the Center will join the conversation, but we want to keep it in the form of a blog so you can respond and add to the discussion. I believe that you can enhance this conversation! Perhaps there in nothing new to be said about men/boys and their emotional and psychological needs—or at least nothing that can be universally clarifying about this topic; or, perhaps, some written reflections might just speak to someone’s condition—the man who is in emotional pain, the boy who is hurting and scared, or the wife, mother, sister, daughter who cares and is concerned!
Men’s blog homepage: www.dmpcc.org/men
In 2016 Mark Minear walked across the state of Iowa to raise awareness and funds for men and boys’ mental health. Read his daily reflections here: www.dmpcc.org/WalkwithMark.