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Let's talk about men's mental health

 International Men's Day: Let's talk about men's mental health.

International Men's Day: Let's talk about men's mental health.

Interview with Professor John Ogrodniczuk of HeadsUpGuys.

Like Movember, International Men's Day is a unique opportunity to talk about men's health. As the pandemic increases the burden of stress and anxiety, mental health has come to the forefront, as has men's struggle to cope with mental health issues.

A recent survey conducted by Nanos Research on behalf of CTV News revealed that many Canadians have more mental health problems than before the COVID 19 pandemic. Although the federal and provincial governments are providing more funding for mental health to help Canadians get through the crisis, not everyone is taking them up on the offer.

According to HeadsUpGuys (HUG), a program developed by mental health experts at the University of British Columbia, there are lingering myths, misconceptions, and stigmas that make it difficult for many men to come forward and seek help.

HUG speaks to men's mental health in a positive, inclusive, and supportive way to people of all backgrounds and ethnicities, regardless of gender, race, and sexual orientation.

We caught up with Professor John Ogrodniczuk of HUG to talk about the work the organization does to help men seek help and overcome their mental health issues.

1. Can you tell us more about your organization and its mandate? 

A silent epidemic is claiming the lives of an alarming number of men in many parts of the world. We are not talking about heart disease, cancer, or kidney disease, but suicide. The World Health Organization reports that three times as many men as women commit suicide. The Public Health Agency of Canada reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death among men aged 20 to 29 and the third leading cause of death among men aged 30 to 44.

Until recently, there has been little media coverage of mental health and suicide rates in men. When a celebrity tragically dies by suicide, social media is flooded with condolences and prayers. But how often in our daily lives do we think of the average man whose grief has killed his will to live?

Suicide in men is a complex problem, and we know that depression is closely related, especially untreated or poorly treated depression (a leading cause of disability worldwide), which contributes to the high suicide rate.

In addition, men's unwillingness to seek professional psychological help is cited as a contributing factor to the high suicide rate. Therefore, to reduce these rates, men must seek help.

HeadsUpGuys was founded to combat the alarming suicide rates among men. The organization recognizes that depression is a risk factor for suicide and sees it as a way to prevent suicide in men.

Our goal is to help men better understand their mental health, to know that they are not alone when they feel depressed or have suicidal thoughts, and to recognize that asking for help when they need it is a sign of strength and determination, not weakness.

Our commitment to excellence is based on decades of clinical and scientific experience with men, so HeadsUpGuys has become a trusted resource for men around the world. In doing so, we have created a community of men committed to being better partners, fathers, sons, and members of society.

2. What services and resources do HUG offer, to men, with mental health issues?

HeadsUpGuys is a simple and pragmatic online tool that offers men the tools to address their needs and promote growth and change by reframing depression as a common health problem. It also offers helpful tips for living a healthy life. By offering counseling, resources, and information on professional services, as well as success stories, HeadsUpGuys provides men with a friendly environment where they can begin to seek help, thereby reducing the risk of suicide.

We receive over 60,000 visits per month. On Google, the top five keywords that lead people to our site are related to suicidal thoughts, including "I want to kill myself," "How can I kill myself," and "How can I suppress my suicidal thoughts." More than 200,000 men have used our tool to check if they have depression. The results were that 76% of the respondents were depressed and 13% had daily suicidal thoughts. These figures clearly show that there is a need to know our resources.

We are proud to say that HeadsUpGuys has become a very valuable tool to raise awareness, share, and change. While suicide and depression live in isolation and despair, HeadsUpGuys offers millions of men a safe and accessible space to express their feelings, motivate the pursuit of health and develop sustainable self-care habits.

3. What advice or tips can you give to men stigmatized by mental health issues?

Men and women develop gender-related attitudes and behaviors based on cultural values, norms, and ideologies. Typically, male norms emphasize personal qualities such as intolerance, competitiveness, and autonomy. These characteristics, which can be both helpful and harmful, often significantly limit the recognition of mental health problems and the developmental processes of help-seeking, mainly due to fear of stigma and shame (i.e., violating masculine norms of autonomy and aloofness, thus showing weakness and vulnerability).

In fact, it is important to realize that many aspects of masculinity are not negative in themselves and can even be positive. Take the example of autonomy: autonomy is not generally considered a major personal limitation, nor is it associated with inappropriate dependence. In fact, a moderate level of autonomy is necessary to develop various skills and self-esteem. However, in extreme cases, self-efficacy can pose a threat to a person's well-being, as a truly autonomous attitude (making one's thoughts and feelings inaccessible) is a strong predictor of suicidal ideation.

Asking for help is not a loss of control, a sign of weakness or failure. Many men suffer from depression: it is perfectly normal when our coping strategies are overloaded. We limit our coping strategies, such as asking for help when we need it, to protect ourselves from embarrassment. The irony is that the longer we wait to ask for help, the bigger our problems become and the deeper we sink into shame. The real power lies in facing our fears and doing what it takes to get on the path to happiness and health. Almost every man I meet in my private practice ends up saying, "I should have sought help a long time ago."

4. The COVID-19 pandemic has put mental health issues in the spotlight. Can you tell us how HUG is responding to the crisis and what are the main challenges it faces?

In addition to the impact on physical health, there is growing evidence that the pandemic could have serious long-term consequences on mental health because of the uncertainty of health and socioeconomic consequences. People's lives have changed dramatically in all respects (e.g., daily routines, working conditions, family income, leisure activities, and social life), leading to serious mental health problems worldwide. Recent studies confirm these concerns and report high levels of depression, anxiety, fear, and stress.

Early in the pandemic, HeadsUpGuys created a COVID 19 hub with helpful blogs and other important information to help people cope with the difficulties of the ongoing pandemic. More generally, however, we have stepped up our efforts to raise awareness about depression and suicidal thoughts and to refer people to potentially helpful resources like ours.

We also recently launched a month-long campaign on loneliness, which is one of the serious problems resulting from the pandemic and the measures taken to combat the spread of the virus. I believe that loneliness-and how to deal with it-is one of the biggest challenges of pandemic COVID 19.

5. The Public Health Agency of Canada has just released a study on the impact of the pandemic on the increase in addictions, including opioids and alcohol. What do you think needs to be done to slow this increase, especially in men?

The pandemic has brought several stressors into everyone's lives, which can be addressed through several coping skills and strategies. Addiction is a common but inappropriate coping strategy. As the PHAC report shows, abuse and addiction increased during the pandemic as a range of health, social and economic stressors overwhelmed our ability to adapt flexibly. Addiction is particularly prevalent among men.

Understanding how our society teaches our men to behave helps to understand some of the attractions of addiction. As boys grow and develop, they learn the masculine roles that society imposes. Studies show that certain masculine ideals prohibit emotional awareness, expression of emotions, and visible signs of discomfort, such as tears. As a result, boys and men are taught to distance themselves from emotions (especially sensitive ones such as fear and pain) and not to ask for help in times of need, not to deviate from "appropriate" social norms of behavior. To free themselves from painful emotions, some men try to anesthetize the pain, and sometimes even forget it, by resorting to substance abuse.

This information can lead men to more appropriate solutions to stress and despair. Eventually, they will confide their feelings to others and seek help in dealing with them. No one feels better or gets better by using drugs to anesthetize the pain, no one. Instead, we must acknowledge our pain, overcome the fear that we are not "good enough" to deal with it on our own, and seek help to achieve the healthier, happier life we each deserve.

We delude ourselves into that we can solve our problems with alcohol or drugs. Worse, we enter a destructive spiral in which our problems get worse, our addiction increases and our shame grows. Simply confiding our feelings to others and being willing to accept their care and support frees us from shame.


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