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Book review: ‘Helping Male Survivors of Sexual Violation to Recover’ by Sarah Van Gogh

‘Helping Male Survivors of Sexual Violation to Recover: An integrative approach – stories from therapy’  by Sarah Van Gogh, published by Jessica Kingsley.

Book review by Dr John Barry

Women who are using statutory mental health services are far more likely than men to be asked if they have ever experienced childhood abuse. This adds to the general lack of knowledge of male victims of child sexual abuse (CSA), and makes Sarah Van Gogh’s book on the topic all the more important.

The book describes in an engaging way Van Gogh’s approach to helping men to overcome the impact of CSA. The storytelling style covers a range of different clients and types of violation, and describes how, using an integrative approach, she has helped male clients for almost 20 years.

The book begins with a description of her therapeutic approach, and an illustration of how to understand and work with the rage often seen in male CSA clients. Subsequent chapters describe the use of music in therapy, dismantling defence mechanisms, using childhood toys therapeutically, overcoming the narrative that the abuse was love, helping survivors of organised abuse, and PTSD. Clients of a variety of demographics are described, including a trans client.

The fictionalised accounts of her cases are written engagingly and with sensitivity. To someone with a background purely in CBT or IAPT the range of techniques used and the duration of therapy (hard to tell, but seemed to be around two years) will seem like a different world. Also the storytelling approach might seem less thorough to someone used to learning techniques from a manual. However this only means that the book might be especially appealing to those who find a more systematic style of learning to be something of a straightjacket, and this more intuitive approach a breath of fresh air. Although eclectic, the book is always coherent and moves skilfully between neurobiology, classic psychodynamic techniques, and innovative approaches.

It is worth noting that this approach, while being successful with male clients, are likely to work with women too, but those who know about male psychology will recognise sometimes techniques that don’t overtly focus on the sharing of feelings appeal particularly to men. Also it is clear that there Van Gogh makes room for the client’s maleness to be part of the therapy, for example, in respecting the male-typical defence mechanism of suppressing emotions.

Sarah Van Gogh has worked as a counsellor in private practice for many years and is on the training staff at the Re.Vision Centre for Integrative Transpersonal Counselling and Psychotherapy in North London. She also worked for seven years as a counsellor and trainer for Survivors UK, a London charity that provides support to men who have experienced sexual violation. She studied English at Cambridge University, worked in the fields of theatre, community health and adult education, and has written about the vital connection between the expressive arts and therapy for a number of journals. She writes a regular column in the BACP Private Practice Journal. Here book ‘Helping Male Survivors of Sexual Violation to Recover, can be considered a valuable asset to therapists of any school who want to learn effective approaches to help men to overcome the trauma of child sexual abuse.

 

‘Helping Male Survivors of Sexual Violation to Recover: An integrative approach – stories from therapy’  by Sarah Van Gogh is published by Jessica Kingsley. The book is available at a 20% discount from the regular price of £22.99  for readers of the Male Psychology Network blog from www.jkp.com/uk/products using reader offer code ‘9956400012’.

 

About the reviewer

Dr John A. Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London, clinical hypnotherapist, and author of over 60 peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in psychology and medicine. John is a professional researcher and has taken an interest in improving the teaching of research methods and statistics. He has practiced clinical hypnosis for several years and is a member of the British Association of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. His Ph.D. was awarded by City University London, on the topic of the Psychological Aspects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which is also the topic of his forthcoming book (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is co-founder of both the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS), lead organiser of the Male Psychology Conference, and co-editor of The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (London: Palgrave Macmillan IBSN 978-3-030-04384-1   DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1).

 

 

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A Service Desk Manager’s Tale: Part Two

by Jamie Bell, Service Desk Specialist

Earlier this year I wrote a blog detailing my personal experience with workplace stress and emotional wellbeing. It’s now seven months since that blog was published and I’d like to reflect on the impact of putting that article together and some more general observations and advice to organisations wishing to promote positive wellbeing in the workplace.

One thing that I was particularly apprehensive about prior to the blog being published, was that many of my friends and family would be learning about my experience with stress and adverse wellbeing for the first time.

I needn’t have worried. The compassion, support and understanding that friends, family and colleagues (old and new) showed me was overwhelming. What has been even more heart warming is that, on numerous occasions in the last seven months, people that I have met for the first time have commented on how the blog has resonated with them, how it was a brave thing to share and in a couple of instances how it has actually helped. There is no greater compliment. Knowing that by simply sharing my story, it has helped others, has left me wanting to do more.

What other initiatives are there?

At the Service Desk Institute’s annual conference in March this year, myself and other lead contributors to version 8 of the Global Best Practice Standard for Service Desk, discussed how to encourage the right behaviours, professionally and morally, through our interpretation of best practice. That’s why we put more emphasis on Social Corporate Responsibility in version 8 and added criteria specifically for Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing.

Mental health in the workplace is touted as being the biggest non-technology related talking point in the IT industry.

No single person is immune to adverse wellbeing. At some point a person will feel low, upset or stressed. Sometimes, unavoidable life events can have a significant unexpected impact too. Common events that may affect negatively impact wellbeing include;

  • Loneliness
  • Relationship issues
  • Problems at work
  • Problems with finances
  • Bereavement

These types of events are typically easier to identify and therefore recover from, than those where there is no clear outward reason for why a person may be experiencing adverse wellbeing.

Oher common, but often overlooked contributors to adverse wellbeing include;

  • Stress
  • Inactivity
  • Sleep disturbance

Delving a little deeper in to causes of adverse wellbeing in the workplace, specifically causes that can often be overlooked. It doesn’t just have to be bad managers or a toxic culture that can bring about adverse wellbeing, it’s possible that advancements in technology, whilst bringing increased productivity and other benefits to the organisation, can have a negative impact on employee wellbeing. For example: being unable to ‘switch-off’ due to being constantly connected or relying on IT or devices to an extent where their failure results in increased frustration. It’s paramount that organisations consider the impact that technology can have, both good and bad.

There is often a level of stigma associated with adverse wellbeing. You have probably heard stories and many of us may have even witnessed people being made to feel bad for taking time off work for legitimate reasons, perhaps even stress related.

Regardless of the reason for suffering from adverse wellbeing, there are steps that people and organisations can take to improve and maintain a state of positive wellbeing.

Tips for Promoting Positive Wellbeing in the Workplace

Earlier this year I wrote an article, published on the SDI blog, covering the topic of employee satisfaction. It may come as a surprise that the number one contributing factor to the satisfaction of employees within the workplace is the organisation’s culture and values.

Organisations that demonstrate a clear, positive culture and values typically provide the following for their workforce:

Training

This may seem a little obvious to many but ensuring that staff receive training related to wellbeing and stress management will empower everyone to be able to recognise the signs of adverse wellbeing in themselves and others. Furthermore, training will help develop skills for managers and staff to be able to have supportive conversations.

Physical health

One of the main contributors to adverse wellbeing is poor physical health. Organisations can offer support and even incentives to help people reach and maintain good physical health. This could include providing healthy meal options and encouraging more movement through exercise. A simple example of this would be where an organisation subsidizes a gym membership.

Community

Many people achieve a feel-good factor by helping within their local community. Forward-thinking organisations will engage with the local community and afford time for staff to get involved with fundraising events, regeneration initiatives and charitable activities.

Honesty and transparency

Another organisational trait that can deliver great results for employee wellbeing and satisfaction is creating a culture that promotes openness, transparency and honesty. An open-door environment that enables staff to talk to all levels of leadership encourages communication and collaboration.

Wellbeing at work should be a top priority for every organisation. One of the most widely repeated phrases on LinkedIn, I believe coined by Richard Branson, is that if you look after your staff, your staff will look after your customers. Whilst the topic of ‘looking after the staff’ is quite a broad one, there is clear data which demonstrates that a positive, happy, motivated, satisfied and healthy workforce can bring tangible benefits to the organisation. Although, in my opinion, this should be a secondary reason for wanting to promote positive wellbeing.

It would be impossible to cover everything that an organisation could to do help ensure they create and maintain a workforce with positive wellbeing, and neither could you expect every organisation to get it right 100% of the time, especially as every individual person is different. I think the key thing is awareness. Awareness and training. Awareness to increase understanding and training focused on encouraging supportive conversations. As my original wellbeing blog demonstrated, just talking and sharing experiences can have a wide-reaching positive impact.

 

About the author

Jamie Bell is a Service Desk Specialist with the Service Desk Institute (SDI), London, UK.

 

 

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Job satisfaction is key to men’s mental health

by Dr John Barry

Work can be a key aspect of a man’s life, so when I was asked to talk about men’s work-related mental health to a Senior Research Analyst from the Service Desk Institute for International Men’s Day, I was very happy to do so (see the podcast here).

 

Is work a blessing or a curse?

It can be both. In general, men get a great deal out of having a job they enjoy. The key predictor of mental positivity in men is job satisfaction, according to survey of 2000 men in the UK and 5000 men in the US. The flip side of this is that men take unemployment and job stress badly.

 

Men and work-related stress

About a third of men say they always or frequently feel stressed because of their work, according to a large survey of men in the UK, US, Australia and Canada. Around half of men surveyed felt they couldn’t take time off work if stressed, and worried about what colleagues would say about them if they did. About a third worried that discussing their mental health could have a negative impact on their career.

 

Therapy for work-related stress

Although many companies have Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), there is a question over whether the help available to men is adequate. Recent research has highlighted that men and women may have different preferences for aspects of therapy, for example, in general men are less inclined than women to want to discuss their feelings as a method of dealing with stress.

A large study in the UK found that both male and female employees showed significant benefits immediately following brief counselling. However, although at 6-month follow-up the women had maintained their gains, the male participants had fallen back to baseline levels of mental health. Usually studies of psychological therapies don’t take the client’s gender into account, and many don’t do follow-up assessments, so this rare study demonstrates the importance of making sure that the treatments available to male employees are male-friendly.

 

Men and help-seeking

It is often assumed that men don’t seek help because they see it as a sign of weakness. This might be part of the problem, but recent evidence suggests that there are other, more practical reasons. For example, some men find that the help on offer doesn’t appeal to them for various reasons e.g. the emphasis on talking about feelings, and in generaal male-friendly options aren’t available. It makes sense that men are less likely to seek therapy if they expect that they won’t be listened to, or won’t find empathy if they admit they use sex or pornography as a way of dealing with stress. In some cases men don’t seek help because they fear they will be blamed for their problem,

 

So how should men deal with stress?

This question isn’t often asked, partly because it has become somewhat indelicate in the social sciences to talk about sex differences (due probably to the popularity of the ‘gender similarities hypothesis’), and partly because we are inclined to overlook problems when they impact men compared to women (‘male gender blindness’).

If the stress is related to work, practical solutions should be assessed first e.g. a change in work practice, such as reduction in hours. Everyday ways of unwinding should be considered too e.g. exercise. Presuming these avenues have been explored already and the stress remains a problem for the man, then a male-friendly intervention should be considered.

The Handbook of Male Psychology & Mental Health describes male-friendly ways of dealing with a range of issues, and the final chapter of the book summaries how to make any therapy more male-friendly. To this end, three key points to consider are:

  • Firstly that it’s important to empathise with men. For example, don’t presume that a man’s problem is caused by masculinity in some way; listen instead to the man as a person who has views and feelings that make sense of his experience.
  • Secondly, respect the fact that a male client might be more interested in taking practical steps to fixing the problem rather than talking about his feelings. Be open to offering solution-focused therapy rather than emotion focused therapy.
  • Thirdly, respect the fact that men might use language and communicate differently to the average female client. For example, if a client uses ‘banter’, it’s important that the therapist doesn’t dismiss the male client as someone who isn’t serious about therapy.

These are just three simple pointers in the direction of creating a male-friendly therapy, but ones that can make a difference to a man who is finding his work a burden rather than a blessing, and needs your help to improve his life.

 

About the author

Dr John A. Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London, clinical hypnotherapist, and author of over 60 peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in psychology and medicine. John is a professional researcher and has taken an interest in improving the teaching of research methods and statistics. He has practiced clinical hypnosis for several years and is a member of the British Association of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. His Ph.D. was awarded by City University London, on the topic of the Psychological Aspects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which is also the topic of his new book (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is co-founder of both the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS), lead organiser of the Male Psychology Conference, and co-editor of The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (London: Palgrave Macmillan IBSN 978-3-030-04384-1   DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1).

 

 

 

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World Mental Health day: what does it mean for men?

by Dr John Barry

If gender is just a social construct, then men’s mental health issues would vary considerably according to the culture. In fact if you look at the suicide statistics, there is some variation in the gender difference in different countries, but in almost every country the suicide rate is higher in men. What does this tell us? I think it tells us that although there is an influence of each culture on the expression of suicidality, there is something deeper than culture that leads to men killing themselves.

There are many other examples of mental health differences between men and women that transcend culture. Here are two from a list of dozens of sex differences in cognition and behaviour identified by Ellis (2011) that occur worldwide. These are:

It is important that these behaviours are recognised as being within the remit of psychologists, not something delegated to the criminal justice system. Part of the problem with understanding male psychology is that we tend to notice less when men are having problems than when women are. However these problem behaviours suggest that when men have emotional problems, they are less likely than women to want to talk about their feelings, but will prefer to fix the problem, or if not, act out in problematic ways.

The fact that these differences are global will probably be interpreted by some people as a sign that patriarchy is everywhere, polluting masculinity in every country throughout history. But for others I hope the message is that trying to change male-typical ways of dealing with emotional issues is not the approach that is likely to yield the best results.

There is plenty of evidence that men in general cope with stress differently to women, and have different preferences for therapy. Perhaps we should start to accept that asking the male client to adapt to a standard talking therapy which asks them to talk about their feelings is not the path of least resistance.

The real take-home message on World Mental Health day for men’s health is: therapists are best advised to be ready to accommodate their therapy to men, not expect men to adapt to therapy. After all, this is simply doing what most therapists are trained to do – adopt a client-centred approach and adapt therapy to the client. It just so happens that when the client is male, he is more likely to benefit from a male-centric way of doing therapy. We have described, in Chapter 32 of our handbook, various ways in which this can be achieved, and we hope that therapists worldwide begin to adopt these practices soon.

Of course not all men are the same, and of course men and women are not completely different. However mental health is a good example of how it is sometimes very important – a matter of life or death in some cases – to be sensitive to sex differences.

 

About the author

Dr John A. Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London, clinical hypnotherapist, and author of over 60 peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in psychology and medicine. John is a professional researcher and has taken an interest in improving the teaching of research methods and statistics. He has practiced clinical hypnosis for several years and is a member of the British Association of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. His Ph.D. was awarded by City University London, on the topic of the Psychological Aspects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which is also the topic of his forthcoming book (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is co-founder of both the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS), lead organiser of the Male Psychology Conference, and co-editor of The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (London: Palgrave Macmillan IBSN 978-3-030-04384-1   DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1).

 

 

 

 

 

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Helping veterans with hearing loss and tinnitus can improve mental health

by Alicia Rennoll

There are around 300,000 veterans living with hearing loss in the UK, according to The Royal British Legion. In addition to being at a greater risk of PTSD, depression, and anxiety, many vets are also battling psychological distress from hearing problems.

“Hearing loss is one of the hidden injuries of conflict which is often forgotten about, and consequently many veterans don’t seek support. I would urge anyone affected from a Service-related hearing problem, however big or small, to contact the Legion for help,” said Steven Baynes, Head of Grants and Social Policy at The Royal British Legion. Getting help quickly is key, because hearing loss can have a big effect on our vets’ quality of life and mental health.

What are the key psychological issues faced by veterans in the UK and how can they be overcome?

The Effect of Hearing Loss on Mental Health

Hearing injuries are the most common service-related medical issue for vets – more so than traumatic brain injuries or PTSD. It is easy to see how failing to get help can exacerbate the isolation that many vets already feel when coming home after a long tour or mission. Many vets who have hearing loss do not seek help. Research undertaken by the American Psychological Society has found that those who battle hearing loss without help are around 50% more likely to face sadness or depression, than those who receive treatment. The case is particularly dire for older vets, since sensorial decline in seniors is common irrespective of age. In their case, normal hearing loss is exacerbated by tinnitus due to noise exposure. The latter can arise from exposure to aircraft, gunfire, bombs etc.

What Help is Available for Vets?

The Veterans Hearing Fund (VHF), launched in 2015, is an excellent option for vets facing hearing loss. Staff at the VHF report that less than 2,000 veterans have applied for help. This means there are hundreds of thousands who are missing out an opportunity to improve their quality of life and ability to interact with friends and family.

The VHF specialises in the type of hearing loss that is common among vets and offers unique solutions to this group. In the case of tinnitus, a treatment called ‘Levo’ relies on an iPod device to treat a patient while they are sleeping – since the sleeping brain is more responsive to this treatment. ‘Levo’ essentially mimics the specific tinnitus sound heard by a patient. Over time, the brain learns to ‘ignore’ the tinnitus sound, significantly improving a patient’s quality of life.

Hearing Loss and Stress

Veterans may need psychological help to deal with the stress of hearing loss and tinnitus. Vets and their partners or spouses can obtain expert help from the NHS Veterans’ Mental Health Transition, Intervention and Liaison Service, or the NHS Veterans’ Mental Health Complex Treatment Service. Both these services are available throughout the UK and are provided by mental health specialists who know about the specific challenges faced by veterans and their families. Not only do these services help with psychological symptoms, but they also provide other needs that can affect mental health and wellbeing, such as social support, housing, substance abuse, etc. Treatment for stress caused by hearing loss and the veteran experience as a whole, ranges from psychotherapy, right through to group therapy for specific needs, such as including anger management and stress.

Stress Relief

Studies have shown that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) alongside standard therapy can help patients with tinnitus. An integrative approach that also includes stress reduction has shown to be useful. The British charity Help for Heroes, which provides facilities for British servicemen and women who have been injured, notes the importance of holistic practices such as yoga for stress relief. Veterans receiving treatment for tinnitus and other hearing conditions may find that treatment takes time; in the meanwhile, they can lower stress levels by taking part in natural mindfulness-based practices. Help for Heroes has recovery centres throughout the UK, where veterans can inquire about yoga, found in several studies to reduce symptoms of depression and PTSD.

Where do I start?

Contact details are shown below for services that can help veterans deal with the physical and psychological symptoms of work-related hearing loss. Men aren’t notoriously fantastic at seeking help, but taking control of hearing loss and tinnitus offers so many benefits to veterans, their families, and anyone around them, it seems like taking a risk and taking the first step is a small price to pay for what could be a significant uplift in overall wellbeing.

For further information and help with this issue, contact:

Help for Heroes

Phone 0300 303 9888 – Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm (calls to this number are charged at your standard network rate)

email getsupport@helpforheroes.org.uk

Contact information for recovery centres around the UK can be found here

 

NHS Veterans’ Mental Health Transition, Intervention and Liaison Service

North of England TIL: phone 0303 123 1145 or email vwals@nhs.net

For other parts of the UK, see contact details here

 

Veterans Hearing Fund (VHF)

For further information on VHF services, call 0808 802 8080 or email medicalfunds@britishlegion.org.uk

 

 

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Male help-seeking behaviour and suicide – stereotypes or archetypes?

On World Suicide Prevention Day, the following is a summary of the main thoughts behind Consultant Clinical Psychologist Martin Seager’s chapter on male suicide in The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health.

 

Suicide is universally a gender issue, with male deaths outnumbering female by a large percentage in virtually every country, in very age group and in every year since records began.

Research into suicide however has largely been gender-neutral, and is only now even beginning to show any curiosity about male gender experience of suicide. Many books on suicide don’t consider male gender at all as a theme, meaning that the male gender experience is usually invisible.

This vast disparity between the magnitude of male suicide and our lack of curiosity about the male lives behind the statistics is, in fact, the biggest clue to the causes of male suicide: the gender empathy gap. A lack of empathy for men and masculinity reflects the fact that human gender behaviour has an evolutionary basis.

 

An evolutionary basis

Sex differences are the basis for reproduction and evolution not just in the human species but in many others. In every culture, the evolved male archetype is about “strength”: to take risks, to provide, protect, fight, win and control emotions in order to focus on the successful performance of dangerous tasks. Because of the ‘male protector’ archetype we are all implicitly more tolerant of male death and suffering for the simple reason that we expect the male gender to offer protection rather than receive it.  The statistics on deaths and protective behaviours across the world prove this. Even the survival figures from the Titanic, where most of the women survived and most of the men died, show men were trying to protect women and children by getting them into the life boats.

 

Male shame

Male suicide is linked quite clearly to shame about weakness and failure, but this shame mirrors a societal lack of empathy for the male experience – this is why men don’t value their own vulnerability or seek help because they don’t expect to receive help and this is actually reflected in a lack of services for male victims and resistance to seeing men as a group with needs of their own.

However the currently popular social constructionist narratives around gender assume male gender behaviour is a set of stereotypes that can simply be retaught and remoulded.  Efforts are therefore being made – mistakenly – to educate boys and men to change their attitudes and behaviour. Masculinity itself is felt to be harmful and men are blamed for not seeking help and ultimately even for their own suicidality. Paradoxically this of course only reinforces the archetype that men are responsible for sorting all problems out, including themselves.

The shame men feel in seeking help is implicit in all society. Telling men to open up and seek help is a double standard when the actions and attitudes of society are not sympathetic and only reinforce the shame. This only confuses and paralyses men more.

 

Can we change men’s help-seeking behaviour?

In my chapter on male suicide I make it clear that trying to change an archetype as if it were a stereotype is not only mistaken but damaging and counterproductive. However, I argue that it is possible to redefine and reapply what the male archetype means in a modern social context:

  • We can redefine male strength to include help-seeking, because help-seeking involves facing problems, taking control and taking action. These are archetypally masculine attributes. If we tell men that by seeking help they are protecting their families, it plays into the archetype, not against it.
  • Helping any group can also only work if the approach is empathic, yet with men we have constantly tried to change or educate them, rather than accept them as they are or empathise with their world. This means we have not respected male differences in ways of communicating, relating and dealing with emotion. We have tried to fit men into a “counselling” model of what we think they should be, which is ironically closer to the female archetype.
  • The evidence is clear however that where services listen to men and offer help in a way that honours the male archetype, things work much better. This can be achieved through male spaces, doing things together, talking shoulder to shoulder rather than face to face.

Men do talk, if people listen in male-friendly ways. If we can change the language of our message on suicide from “open up, you stubborn men” to “let’s all open up to men” we will get a lot further and save many more lives.

 

About the author

Martin is a consultant clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, currently working with “Change, Grow, Live”. He is a lecturer, author, campaigner, and broadcaster. He worked in the NHS for 30 years, becoming head of psychological services in two mental health Trusts. He has advised government and has regularly broadcast with the BBC on mental health issues. He is co-founder of the Male Psychology Network, and was the original proponent of the Male Psychology Section of the BPS, of which he is the first Chair. He was branch consultant to the Central London Samaritans for over 10 years and has also been an adviser to the College of Medicine and the Royal Foundation.

 

Reference

Seager MJ  (2019). From stereotypes to archetypes: an evolutionary perspective on male help-seeking and suicide, in Barry JA, Kingerlee R, Seager MJ and Sullivan L (Eds.) (2019). The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health. London: Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology & Mental Health IBSN 978-3-030-04384-1 DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1  https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9783030043834

 

 

Open post

The Positive Mindset Index (PMI): a freely available validated measure of mental wellbeing.

by Dr John Barry

Should we measure mental illness, or mental health?

Measures of mental health can be difficult to get right. For example, if you want to measure suicidality, the most obvious thing to do is ask people questions about how much they have been thinking about suicide, have they ever attempted suicide etc. This can make for an uncomfortable time for many participants, and can result in people dropping out of studies.

But what about if you can tap into mental health by asking people about their mental wellbeing? This would make the participant’s experience a lot less awkward, but can it be done in practice? Well, the Positive Mindset Index (PMI) (Barry, Folkard & Ayliffe, 2014), which asks people to rate their level of happiness, confidence etc, has proved to be strongly negatively correlated with suicidality (r = -.539) and strongly positively correlated with the SF-12 measure of mental health quality of life (r = .678). So not only does the PMI give you a sense of a person’s mental positivity, but it also gives you a sense of their mental health.

The PMI has proved it’s worth in several published projects since 2014, with a variety of demographics (people with health problems, men and women of various ages and ethnicities etc). But the PMI also has an advantage for people who interested in men’s mental health: it just so happens to be very male-friendly.

 

A male-friendly measure

What makes the PMI so male-friendly? Well, it is a very short questionnaire, and easy to fill in. Men are notorious in the research world for being difficult to recruit and having little time for research, so brief measures are definitely the way to go. It is also useful for people with limited reading skills, because it uses very few words, and all of them are relatively simple. It also also uses a neutral midpoint, which means participants aren’t under pressure to give strong opinions if they don’t want to. If participants become frustrated or bored, they can drop out of studies.

Because of this male-friendly aspect, the PMI has been used on several of the Male Psychology Network research projects with a total of almost 10,000 participants:

 

So what does the PMI look like?

The Positive Mindset Index scale consists of six items (happiness, confidence, being in control, emotional stability, motivation and optimism) on a 5-point Likert scale.

Participants are asked:

Please select one of the options (e.g. “happy” or “unhappy”) for the words in each row, indicating how you are feeling at this moment.

The response options are selected in each row:

Item 1 Very unhappy Unhappy Moderately happy Happy Very happy
Item 2 Very unconfident Unconfident Moderately confident Confident Very confident
Item 3 Very out of control Out of control Moderately in control In control Very in control
Item 4 Very unstable Unstable Moderately stable Stable Very stable
Item 5 Very unmotivated Unmotivated Moderately motivated Motivated Very motivated
Item 6 Very pessimistic Pessimistic Moderately optimistic Optimistic Very optimistic

The PMI is scored from 1 to 5, with lower scores indicating a less positive mindset. The mean of the 6 scores is used. The average score is around 3.5, with slight variation for age and culture. The scale shows excellent psychometric properties, and further details for researchers can be found here.

 

Is positive mindset related to positive psychology, or positive masculinity?

Although not specifically derived from positive psychology, there is some common ground between positive psychology and the PMI. Up until the 1990s, men and masculinity were seen in fairly benign terms in the field of psychology. However the 1990s saw a new deficit model of masculinity, which defined masculinity in negative terms (including misogyny and homophobia) and explored the ways in which masculinity might be damaging to the mental health of men, boys, and everyone around them. It’s been a relief to many people that the past decade has seen the birth of ‘positive masculinity‘. Positive masculinity has it’s roots in positive psychology, so brings not just the return of masculinity as a benign construct, but sees masculinity as something which is potentially an asset. In tandem with positive psychology / positive masculinity (PPPM), we have seen the development of the Male Gender Script (Seager, Sullivan & Barry, 2014), which takes a realistic view of masculinity, rather than the excessively harsh view of the 1990s.

 

Using the PMI in your research

The PMI is free to use and is very handy because it is short and therefore easy to add to a study without adding a burden to the person filling in your study. It is also very easy to score, so is attractive to researchers at all levels of experience. It’s not simply a measure for men’s mental health either, and although it hasn’t been standardised for children or non-English speakers, is perfect for use with adults in general.

For a more detailed description of the scale and it’s properties, see here.

Reference

Barry, J. A., Folkard, A., & Ayliffe, W. (2014). Validation of a brief questionnaire measuring positive mindset in patients with uveitis. Psychology, Community & Health, 3(1), 1-10. Full text available here

About the author

Dr John A. Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London, clinical hypnotherapist, and author of over 60 peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in psychology and medicine. John is a professional researcher and has taken an interest in improving the teaching of research methods and statistics. He has practiced clinical hypnosis for several years and is a member of the British Association of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. His Ph.D. was awarded by City University London, on the topic of the Psychological Aspects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which is also the topic of his forthcoming book (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is co-founder of both the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS), lead organiser of the Male Psychology Conference, and co-editor of the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (2019).

 

 

Open post

You can’t put your arms around a memory (of your absent father).

by Dr John Barry

Johnny Thunders, guitarist with the hugely influential New York Dolls and The Heartbreakers, is a rock & roll icon. His is a story of incredible talent tragically squandered to heroin addiction. This article speculates that the cause of this tragedy was dad deprivation.

His story is depressingly familiar, echoed in the lives of contemporaries of the music scene in the late 70s, such as Sid Vicious and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols. Like Vicious and Jones, Thunders (real name John Anthony Genzale) had a dad-shaped hole in his life. Shortly after he was born into an Italian-American household in Queens, New York, Thunders’ womanising father left home, leaving him to be raised by his mother and older sister.

His sister’s record collection – mainly girl groups like the Shangri-Las – helped fill the void for a time, and we might speculate on how this influenced the cross-dressing of The New York Dolls. But Thunders was also a natural athlete and excelled at baseball. He even got a tryout with the Little League’s Philadelphia Phillies, but he wasn’t allowed to take part because of the requirement of the presence of a father.

But clearly Thunders had spirit and he transfered his energy into guitar playing and fashion. These activities however didn’t fill the dad-shaped void in his life, as suggested by his tendency to take drugs. He and The Dolls became notoriously unreliable due to the influence of drugs and addiction, and his music career was crippled because of the music industry’s lack of willingness to take a risk investing their money there.

Drug-taking wrecked his mental health too. Thunders was sometimes described as appearing depressed. One story tells of him fleeing a hotel room, terrified because he thought Darth Vader was hiding behind his curtains. Psychologists of a psychoanalytic nature might read something into the fact that the Darth Vader character was created as a ‘Dark Father’, which is perhaps what Thunders’ father became due to prolonged absence.

Like his father, Thunders was popular with women. He tried to settle down and had three sons with wife Julie Jordan in the late 70s, but his drug use made his life shambolic and incompatible with family life. In the early 1980s Jordan took the children from him, and he never saw them again. His eldest son Vito, would later be jailed by drug trafficking, perhaps also a victim of dad-deprivation.

There is a rumor that is interesting in regards to Thunders and Sid Vicious, both of whom were victims of dad-deprivation. It is claimed that Thunders introduced Sid Vicious to heroin, waving a syringe in his face and shouting: “Are you a boy or a man?” Perhaps this shows that in the absence of healthy rites-of-passage, men will create unhealthy rites-of-passage.

Thunders’ drug abuse made him hard work for anyone around him and contributed to his notoriety, but it would be naïve to think that it contributed to his talent. In fact his drug use vastly reduced his creativity and output, and who knows how many more great songs he would have recoded had he hadn’t been so addicted and self-destructive.

According to Thunders’ biographer, Nina Antonia: “The thing that was always missing was a father figure”. He could have been a massive success, but he became best known for failure. One of his best known songs is “Born to lose” – clearly that’s how he felt, and that’s how he lived. He died tragically aged 39 in New Orleans in seedy and mysterious – possibly murderous – circumstances. Definitely not the way any father wants their son’s life to end, and something for all fathers to learn from.

 

About the author

Dr John A. Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London, clinical hypnotherapist, and author of over 60 peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in psychology and medicine. John is a professional researcher and has taken an interest in improving the teaching of research methods and statistics. He has practiced clinical hypnosis for several years and is a member of the British Association of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. His Ph.D. was awarded by City University London, on the topic of the Psychological Aspects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which is also the topic of his forthcoming book (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is co-founder of both the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS).

 

Further reading

Antonia, N. (2000). Johnny Thunders: In Cold Blood. Cherry Red Books.

Barry J (2017). How much empathy do we have for a Lonely Boy? https://malepsychology.org.uk/2017/01/09/how-much-empathy-do-we-have-for-a-lonely-boy/

Barry J (2019). Born to lose: the sad start and tragic end of Sid Vicious https://malepsychology.org.uk/2019/02/02/born-to-lose-the-sad-start-and-tragic-end-of-sid-vicious/

Farrel, W (2018). The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It.

Jones, S. (2016). Lonely Boy: tales from a Sex Pistol. London: William Heinemann. ISBN-10: 1785150677

Open post

The other ‘hidden homeless’: autistic men

by Dr John Barry

Around 85% of rough sleepers are men (St. Mungos, 2016). The reasons for homelessness are many and complex, but the most frequently cited reasons for male homelessness are relationship breakdown, substance misuse, or leaving an institution (e.g. prison, care or hospital) (Brown et al, 2019).

At any one time in the UK there are around 5000 rough sleepers (Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, 2017). This isn’t counting the group often called the ‘hidden homeless’, a much larger number of people – at least 250,000 – with no stable accommodation (Shelter 2016). We know that almost half of rough sleepers have mental health needs (Combined Homelessness and Information Network, 2017), but these figures don’t identify the other type of ‘hidden homeless’ – people with autism.

Autism effects 1% of the population (Brugha et al, 2016). Autism exists on a spectrum of severity (Autistic Spectrum Disorder, or ASD). There are some interesting gender differences that might lead to underestimates of ASD in females (van Wijngaarden-Cremers, 2019), but most estimates suggest that more severe cases are four times more common in males, and the less severe form (Asperger Syndrome) is nine times more common in males (Barry & Owens, 2019).

Given the fact that most homeless people are male, we would expect a larger proportion of homeless people to have autism. In the first study on this topic published in a peer-reviewed journal, Churchard et al (2019) found that autism is at least 12 times more common in homeless people than the general population (or probably more, if it was possible to identify the ‘hardest to reach’ homeless people). This figure far exceeds the rate you would expect if autism in homeless people was simply due to both autism and homelessness being more common in men. So if gender doesn’t fully explain the over-representation of autism in the homeless population, then why are so many autistic people homeless?

Well, substance abuse does not explain it, because people with autism are less likely to have problems with substance abuse than other people (Butwicka et al, 2017). However Churchard et al (2019) suggest that the greater levels of social isolation experienced by people with autism might be the key; autistic people often have fewer people to turn to if things go wrong in their lives, such as their housing being threatened. People with autism are also less likely to be employed, so might slip into the poverty trap more easily (Calsyn & Winter, 2002). Churchard et al also suggest that because people with autism are more likely to experience sensory difficulties (e.g. finding noise distressing), this makes living in shared accommodation or a hostel virtually impossible. Also for those with cognitive impairments to abilities such as planning, everyday independent living might become virtually impossible.

Although the current level of knowledge regarding homelessness and autism is very basic, there has been some progress by a group called Homeless Link (2015), who have created practical guidelines on how to identify autism in homeless people, and how to communicate in a way that best facilitates support for the homeless person.

This article only scratches the surface of mental health issues in homelessness. Other issues that impact the general population of homeless people include a history of childhood abuse and neglect, seen in 80% of homeless people (Torchalla et al. 2012). This type of history creates special problems for housing homeless people, because they may have learned to associate home with abuse and neglect (Duffy & Hutchison, 2019). Trauma prior to homelessness is also common (e.g. military-related PTSD), as is trauma as a result of life on the street (Buhrich et al. 2000).

More research is needed to identify the scale of the problem of autism in homelessness, and to develop evidence-based methods of helping these vulnerable people. There can be little doubt that homeless autistic people should be one of the key issues for anyone interested in Male Psychology.

 

About the author

Dr John A. Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, Honorary Lecturer in Psychology at University College London, clinical hypnotherapist, and author of over 60 peer-reviewed publications on a variety of topics in psychology and medicine. John is a professional researcher and has taken an interest in improving the teaching of research methods and statistics. He has practiced clinical hypnosis for several years and is a member of the British Association of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. His Ph.D. was awarded by City University London, on the topic of the Psychological Aspects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which is also the topic of his forthcoming book (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). He is co-founder of both the Male Psychology Network and the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society (BPS).

 

References

Barry JA and Owens B (2019). From fetuses to boys to men: the impact of testosterone on male lifespan development, in Barry JA, Kingerlee R, Seager MJ and Sullivan L (Eds.) (2019). The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (pp. 3-24). London: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

Brown, J. S., Sagar-Ouriaghli, I., & Sullivan, L. (2019). Help-Seeking Among Men for Mental Health Problems. In The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (pp. 397-415). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

Buhrich, N., Hodder, T., & Teesson, M. (2000). Lifetime prevalence of trauma among homeless people in Sydney. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 34(6), 963–966.

Butwicka, A., Langstrom, N., Larsson, H., Lundstrom, S., Serlachius, E., Almqvist, C., … Lichtenstein, P. (2017). Increased risk for substance use-related problems in autism spectrum disorders: a population-based cohort study. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 47(1), 80-89.

Churchard, A., Ryder, M., Greenhill, A., & Mandy, W. (2019). The prevalence of autistic traits in a homeless population. Autism, 23(3), 665-676.

Combined Homelessness and Information Network. (2017). CHAIN annual report: June 2015. The Greater London Authority.

Duffy, J., & Hutchison, A. (2019). Working with Homeless Men in London: A Mental Health Service Perspective. In The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (pp. 533-556). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

Homeless Link (2015). Autism and Homelessness: Briefing for frontline staff. https://www.homeless.org.uk/sites/default/files/site-attachments/Autism%20&%20HomelessnesOct%202015.pdf

Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government. (2017). Rough Sleeping Statistics, Autumn 2017, England. London: Author.

Shelter. (2016). Green book 50 years on: The reality of homelessness for families today. http://www.shelter.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/1307361/GreenBook_-_A_report_on_homelessness.pdf.

St. Mungos. (2016). Stop the scandal: An investigation into mental health and rough sleeping. http://www.mungos.org/documents/7021/7021.pdf.

Torchalla, I., Strehlau, V., Li, K., Schuetz, C., & Krausz, M. (2012). The association between childhood maltreatment subtypes and current suicide risk among homeless men and women. Child Maltreatment, 17, 132–143.

van Wijngaarden-Cremers, P. (2019). Autism in Boys and Girls, Women and Men Throughout the Lifespan. In The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health (pp. 309-330). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

 

 

 

Open post

Saving the next Steve

By Ben Akers, filmmaker

Kids are screaming. I’m completely skint and my body is achingly tired, but it’s all worth it. Why? Because I saved a life today.

5 years ago I lost a life. The life of my childhood best friend. Steve and I were like brothers. Born only 4 days apart, the decade from 11-21 were inseparable. There wasn’t one without the other.  But all that changed when we got older, got families, moved away. And on the 28th of May 2014 – Steve took his own life. And I was crushed.

A man every 2 hours is taking their own life in the UK.  But Steve wasn’t a statistic. He was a father, a son, a brother and friend.

For 20 years I’ve been an advertising creative. I sell things. And more recently I try to get people to think differently about things – call it behaviour change if you like.  So after a chat with JC (one of the founders of Movember) who told me that men of my age watch documentaries and sport, I thought What if I created a problem-solving documentary? What if I combined my skills and experience and try to help solve this problem?

So in December 2017 I began a journey. A journey of self recovery but one also trying to help men help themselves. And stop them taking their own lives. I began with a crowdfunder (raising just over £20K in the end) to create a documentary to save men from suicide.

In the 18 months that followed, I travelled up and down the country, interviewed 35 people, got over 50 hours of footage, and in the end crafted a feature length documentary.

The goal was to save one life. And we did that on the night of the premiere. A friend told me that when I asked him to do a video diary of his mental health, it forced him to open up and get help. He had written the letters to his wife and kids. He had made plans to kill himself. But me asking him to talk about his mental health made him stop. Made him reconsider and made him open up.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEp5ck-DYzI

And that’s been the amazing thing about this project. What I have learnt. I didn’t even know there was a Male Psychology Network. I didn’t know male psychology was different to female psychology. Off course it is. But I had never thought about it. And my interview with John Barry was enlightening. The way that men think. Why psychology is different. Why men might not go to therapy as much as women do.

It was one of the conversations, that got me thinking that this film had to be more than mental health awareness, it had to be mental health action.

So now, after a premiere in March and 24 screenings up and down the country, many at pubs – going to where the men are – I’ve created a very simple idea called Talk Club. Inspired by Andy’s Man Club and the CALM Best Man project – I thought What if we just help men talk to their mates?

What we do is simply ask men to score their feeling out of 10. You can’t have 7 – everyone says 7. Picking 6.9 or 7.1 is a decision, so that’s what we ask men to do, and then ask them to try to explain that number.

So that’s what we are doing. We show the film. Spark conversation and ask them to talk about their mental health, to take their mental fitness more seriously.

We also created a closed talking group on Facebook, which amazingly in 8 weeks has 715 members. And smaller, local face to face talking groups are popping up off that.

 

So what can you do?

1/ Join the men-only private Talking group https://m.facebook.com/groups/259185324880439

2/ Download the flyer:  https://jmp.sh/SmrlXLk (Print out double sided, fold in half 3 times) https://www.wetalkclub.com/

3/ Come to a screening of Steve: Stevedocumentary.com  The next two are at Brighton 23rd of July, and Bristol 15th July.

 

I can’t bring Steve back, but every day I can stop other families, other friends, other men feeling what I have felt, and save the next Steve.

 

About the author

Creative Director/Writer/Director Daddy of 3. Lover of ideas for good. Co-Founder of @MadeWith_ @GoodfestivalUK @TalkClubUK http://Stevedocumentary.com

 

Further information

Next screenings of Steve:

Brighton 23rd of July:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/steve-screening-platf9rm-hove-tickets-64240866160

Bristol 15th July:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bristolsouthville-screening-of-steve-tickets-63561285516

 

“Making of Steve”

Blog: https://stevethedocumentary.wordpress.com/

FB:             www.facebook.com/STEVEDOCUMENTARY

https://www.facebook.com/WeTalkClubUK/

Insta:          @STEVEDOCUMENTARY @Madewithltd @TalkClubUK

Twit:           @SteveDoco  + @benakers @Madewith_ @TalkClubUK

 

 

 

 

 

 

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