The Myth of Mental Illness and the Truth About Mental Health: A Man’s Journey to Freedom

Part 6 – The Future of Mental Health for Men

            This is the 6th part of the seven-part series. You can check out Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 4,  and Part 5 if you’d like to read any you have missed. As a mental health professional over the last fifty-plus years I’ve observed that men, as a group, have been more resistant to getting help than women as a group. Many people have blamed men for their reluctance to seek help, implying that males are less interested in their mental, emotional, and relational health than are females.

            Another reason for men’s reluctance to seek professional help may be that the mental health system has gotten out of touch with the needs of men and the services they provide are not adequate to meet men’s deeper desires for health and wellbeing.  My father didn’t escape from the mental hospital because he was resistant to getting help for his despair and depression. He escaped because the treatment he was receiving was making him worse rather than better.

            Mental health treatments had improved greatly since my father was hospitalized in 1949 and I began my own graduate training in 1965. But from 1970 to 1990, three developments came together that resulted in a “Mental-Illness-Industrial-Complex” that has limited our ability to provide high level mental health services for men and their families. These included:

  1. Pharmaceutical companies gradual escalation of the use of drugs for treating “mental” problems, direct to patient marketing, eventually resulting in huge financial profits.
  2. Emergence of neuroscience and resultant view that “mental illness” was a brain disease treatable with drugs.
  3. The transition of modern psychiatry from a then-eclectic field that included psychodynamic psychotherapy, social interventions, and drug treatment, into one that focused heavily on the biological aspects of health and disorders, which turned out to mean using drugs almost exclusively for treatment.

New Understandings of Trauma and Gender-Specific Health Care

            The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) studies which began in 1995, which I described in Part 4 of this series, demonstrated that abuse, neglect, and abandonment suffered in childhood contributed to later physical, emotional, and mental health problems in adulthood. Subsequent studies built upon these studies and opened the doors to a more comprehensive and effective healthcare options that helped everyone, but particularly men.

            A few of the leaders in this emerging field of gender-specific health care and a more expanded understanding of mental health include the following:

            In her book, Eve’s Rib: The New Science of Gender-Specific Medicine and How It Can Save Your Life, she says,

“Until now, we’ve acted as though men and women were essentially identical except for the differences in their reproductive function. In fact, information we’ve been gathering over the past ten years tells us that this is anything but true, and that everywhere we look, the two sexes are startlingly and unexpectedly different not only in their normal function but in the ways they experience illness.”

Dr. Page examines the genetic differences between males and females — and how they play out in disease, development, and evolution. In his TED talk, “Why Sex Matters,” he says,

“There are 10 trillion cells in the human body and every one of them is sex specific.  We’ve had a unisex vision of the human genome. Men and women are not equal in our genome and men and women are not equal in the face of disease.”

In looking at the future of healthcare Dr. Page concludes,

“We need to build a better tool kit for researchers that is XX and XY informed rather than our current gender-neutral stance.  We need a tool kit that recognizes the fundamental difference on a cellular, organ, system, and person level between XY and XX. I believe that if we do this, we will arrive at a fundamentally new paradigm for understanding and treating human disease.”

  • Bruce D. Perry, M.D, PhD and Oprah Winfrey.

Dr. Perry is a neuroscientist and child psychiatrist. Oprah Winfrey is a global media leader and philanthropist. In their book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, they discuss the impact of trauma and adversity and how healing must begin with a shift to asking, “What happened to you?” rather than “What’s wrong with you?”

It is true that understanding neuroscience and how the brain functions is important in understanding mental illness and mental health, but we now know that brain structure and function can be changed do to our experiences.

“Not only is ‘What happened to you?’ the key question if you want to understand someone, it is the key question if you want to understand the brain. In other words, your personal history—the people and places in your life—influences your brain’s development.”

  • Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.

Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. is founder and medical director of the trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts. He is also a professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine. In his book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, he says,

“One does not have to be a combat soldier, or visit a refugee camp in Syria or the Congo to encounter trauma. Trauma happens to us, our friends, our families, and our neighbors.”

“Research by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has shown that one in five Americans was sexually molested as a child; one in four was beaten by a parent to a point where a mark being left on their body; and one in three couples engages in physical violence. A quarter of us grew up with alcoholic relatives, and one out of eight witnessed their mother being beaten or hit. Trauma affects not only those who are directly exposed to it, but also those around them.”

  • Gabor Maté

Gabor Maté,  is a renowned addiction expert. He calls for a compassionate approach toward addiction, whether in ourselves or in others. Dr. Maté believes that the source of addictions is not to be found in genes but in the early childhood environment. In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts, one of his best-selling books, draws on cutting-edge science and real-life stories to show that all addictions originate in trauma and emotional loss.

In his book, The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture, he says,

“The current medical paradigm, owing to an ostensibly scientific bend that in some ways bears more resemblance to an ideology than to empirical knowledge, commits a double fault. It reduces complex events to their biology, and it separates the mind from body, concerning itself exclusively with one or the other without appreciating their essential unity. This shortcoming does not invalidate medicine’s indisputably miraculous achievements, nor sully the good intentions of so many people practicing it, but it does seriously constrain the good that medical science could be doing.”

The Future of Mental Health: Deconstructing the Mental Disorder Paradigm

            Eric Maisel, PhD is the author of more than 50 books. His interests include creativity, the creative life, and the profession of creativity coaching, which he founded; issues of life purpose and meaning; mental health and critical psychology (also known as critical psychiatry and anti-psychiatry); and parenting in a “mental disorder” age.

            In his book, The Future of Mental Health: Deconstructing the Mental Disorder Paradigm Dr. Maisel deconstructs the “mental disorder” paradigm that is still at the foundation of much current mental health practices. He presents an alternative “human experience” paradigm that sheds light on the differences between so-called

“psychiatric medication and chemicals with powerful effects, explains why the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is silent on causes, silent on treatment, and wedded to illegitimate “symptom pictures.”

            Dr. Maisel describes powerful helping alternatives like communities of care and explains why one day “human experience specialists” may replace current mental health professionals.  

Sensitive Men Rising and Men’s Mental, Emotional, and Relational Heath.

            In his book, The Myth of Normal, Gabor Maté talks about the connection between the trait of emotional sensitivity and emotional health or illness. He says,

“Genetic vulnerabilities do not code for illness, but they may confer sensitivity for a person being more impacted by life’s vicissitudes than someone else with a hardier disposition—a far from trivial effect. Sensitive people feel more, feel deeply, and are more easily overwhelmed by stress, just jut subjectively but physiologically.”

            In an interview, “Are You a Highly Sensitive Person,” he says,

“The word for sensitivity comes from the Latin word for feeling. The more you sense, the more you get in tune with the environment. That’s what artists and creative people of all types do which promotes the superpower of creativity.”

A new documentary film, Sensitive Men Rising, the filmmakers tell us that from the time when large animals evolved, biologists agree that individuals in most species have been born with one of two survival strategies. The aggressive majority use speed first at all cost. The sensitive minority, who make up 20% to 30% of the population, take their time and  “watch before acting.”

Both ways of being in the world can be successful and exist side by side. In humans both can be hunters, warriors, protectors of the family, but with different styles. However, as nations have replaced tribes and guns have replaced arrows, some of the majority have used aggression to amass power and abuse the weak. The sensitive minority, ignored, and sometimes bullied, have receded further into their quiet watching. This has to change. This must change.

Dr. Tracy Cooper, one of the film’s producers, is an International Consultant on Highly Sensitive People and author of a number of books including Empowering The Sensitive Male Soul. He says,

“Variety in survival strategies are evolutionary adaptations that enabled our ancestors to exhibit a wider reaction norm, as a group, to survival threats and opportunities.”

We need more highly sensitive men to arise in support of humanity.

Our Moonshot for Mankind believes that healthy, sensitive, men are needed for the survival and wellbeing of humanity. We invite you to join us.

I will continue the story in Part 7 of this series. 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.

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