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Finding honey in the shitstorm: personal crisis, faith, and mental health.

by author and journalist, Neil Lyndon.

Recent research has suggested that men who have some religious faith are less likely to suffer depression and less likely to commit suicide.

The researchers said they were surprised to find that religious observance is, for men, a significant predictor of having mental positivity. Moreover, people who have religious faith are not put off taking their lives simply because they think it’s immoral; it seems to be more that they find resilience in their belief and from a sense of community.

Those findings came as no surprise to me. As one who suffered frequently from depression and anxiety for decades and was sometimes perilously close to suicide, I can positively affirm that the regular religious observances of the second half of my life (praying and meditating twice a day, going to church every Sunday) have immeasurably helped to heal me of that foul curse. Moreover, my religious routines have unquestionably helped to free me from lifelong addictions to self-polluting poisons and compulsive, damaging habits. Those benefits genuinely feel miraculous. I reverently give thanks for them every day.

The story of my religious odyssey crosses many way-points that are common to my generation.

Born in 1946, I was baptised into the Church of England. My parents were not churchgoers but I became a devout little boy who sang in the church choir and – like Bertie Wooster – won Religious Knowledge prizes at school. For some years, I felt called to become a priest until around the age of 13, when a moment of blinding revelation came to me in school prayers. “I don’t believe a word of this pious twaddle,” I realised, “and I am certain that the teachers who are ritualistically doling it out don’t believe a word themselves.” That epiphany – very much like the experiences recorded by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens – led me, like them, to atheism and Marxism. By the age of 16, I was carrying a membership card for the Young Communist League, though I never actually signed it.

Also, around that same time, while still at school, I first consulted a GP for depression and anxiety and was prescribed anti-depressants. She knew that my father was serving a long term in prison for serious crimes and she knew that my family life at home was chaotic, making it extraordinarily difficult for me to find my way through exams to university. And already, by that age, I was habitually drinking, smoking, taking daredevil risks, living in financial chaos and messing around with half a dozen girls at a time. Drugs followed automatically.

That was to be largely the story of my early 20s until – propelled out of control by LSD, marijuana, speed, drink and some touches of heroin – I crashed into a suicidal breakdown when I was 24. A carving knife in my own hand had been pointed at my heart before a friend dragged me to the local mental hospital where – thanks to the NHS – I began my first sessions of counselling and psychotherapy and started to take trycyclic antidepressants.

While making disordered efforts to heal myself – running, swimming and progressively quitting drugs – I began, to my profound perplexity, to experience undeniable, Wordsworthian intimations of the divine – in nature, in landscape and in love. As a hardened atheist, I was at a loss to come to terms with these apprehensions of a spiritual dimension beyond the materialistic and the worldly. The birth of my first child, when I was 36, introduced me to the miracle of unconditional love – that certainty that you would give your own life for another person in a heartbeat if necessary – which itself appeared to open a doorway to the divine, though I had no clue where it might take me.

In my later thirties, I lived and worked for five years in California, where spirituality flows out of the taps. Still ensnared in the toxic coils of addiction to drink, tobacco and promiscuous sex, I sought help in expensive therapy and with Alcoholics Anonymous. My counsellor was the first person I ever met to suggest that the poetic stories of the Bible might be interpreted allegorically and that the father in heaven, the virgin birth, the miracles, the resurrection could all be seen as figurative expressions, enabling us to domesticate and anthropomorphise the incomprehensible divinity of the universe. Made sense to me.

A bookshop round the corner from my office in Los Angeles was packed with spiritual texts – many of which are now on my shelves at home. They introduced me to Unitarian, Jewish, Gnostic, pantheist, Buddhist and Taoist perspectives on divinity which roughly synthesised in my mind (much in the way, I later discovered, they had synthesised in Wagner’s thoughts). These diverse scraps of understanding were nailed into place with a resounding clang when, standing in an aisle of that shop one afternoon, I opened a Bible at random and came across the words of John, who said “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” That simple declaration rooted me to the spot in that shop and has rooted my life ever since

It then followed, in my early forties, that I found my way back to my spiritual home, the Church of England – not least because that devout little choirboy knew the Anglican liturgy in his bones. Because the CoE was and remains theologically derelict, I felt free to interpret its hymns, psalms, prayers and rituals in my own terms, rather than according to the precepts of an unchallengeable authority. No Pope; no heresy. By coincidence, I was confirmed in the CoE and declared my faith in a father in heaven (“metaphorically speaking”, as I would mutter under my breath) within days of the death of my own father on earth. No doubt Professor Dawkins would smirk knowingly and question the coincidence. My LA counsellor, however, would unreservedly have approved.

That confirmation took place 30 years ago next month. During those decades my religious adherence has grown ever stronger and my religious observances ever more regular and nourishing, despite a succession of Job-like trials in the 1990s.

In 1992, after building a comprehensive intellectual case for 20 years, I published No More Sex War: the Failures of Feminism – the world’s first critique of that ideology from an egalitarian, non-sexist point of view.

That book and its author were then subjected to more sustained philistine abuse than any work and any writer in our own time. Socially and professionally ostracised, I lost my income, my home and most of my friends – while the shitstorm also provided cover for the legalised abduction of my only child by his alcoholic mother.

During the 1990s, I also buried a baby who was afflicted with one of the world’s rarest malformations; was nearly killed in an accident of surreal horror; endured the breakdown of a cherished relationship in a tawdry triangle that could have been scripted for The Archers; and then became sole parent to a teenager who had run away from his hopelessly unfit mother.

Somebody who takes the Bible to be the literal truth might suppose that God was testing me (and who knows? as a beekeeper and a gardener, I do sometimes admit the possibility that a supernatural power may stand in a similar relationship to our world as I occupy in relation to my plants and insects). I would rather say that my religious devotions strengthened me to endure those trials.

However, my perception of divinity was never that of an intervening, providential Father Christmas figure who would sort out your mortgage and fix the holes in your roof if you uttered the correct magical spells and incantations. Instead, my daily prayers and meditations and weekly attendance at church are all devoted towards the same purpose as a musician might achieve by playing Bach every day. The reward for these exercises is to secure a perspective and a place in the universe – both as a being who is no more than a blade of grass or a bee and as one who, like all humans, shares in divinity through our great high priest, Jesus Christ.

That happy perspective does prove to be a sure defence against depression and suicidal feelings, to which I have been largely immune for almost 20 years. During those decades – when I have been entirely free of anti-depressant medicines – I created not just a new life but new life. I built a house; created a garden out of an acre of rough pasture; married a good woman and fathered two daughters whom we brought up as equal parents in the family set-up I had sought since I was in my twenties.

In my old age, I also – praise God Almighty – became free at last (Free At Last! Hallelujah!) of all addictions and all debt. Secure in marriage, family and faith, I now face my end with gratitude and in good heart.

As a state of mind and a state of being, we can probably agree that this is rather more desirable than facing your end at your own hand, sobbing uncontrollably in misery and despair, with a carving knife pointed at your heart.

 

About the author

Neil Lyndon is best known for his book No More Sex War (Sinclair-Stevenson 1992), described as “the world’s first egalitarian, progressive, non-sexist critique of feminism in its own terms”. Neil has also written articles for The Sunday Times, The Times, The Independent, the Evening Standard, the Daily Mail and The Telegraph.

 

 

 

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A guide to counselling male military personnel and veterans

By Professor Duncan Shields and Professor Marvin Westwood

[Author’s note: Marv Westwood has gained a huge amount of respect from the MPN following his conference presentations at the Male Psychology Conference at UCL since 2016. Follow this lead, Duncan Shields captivated our attention with his presentation on therapy for veterans in 2018. If we want to consult with experts from overseas on ‘combat stress’, we look immediately to Marv and Duncan. In the brief blog below they outline their chapter in the recently published Palgrave Handbookof Male Psychology and Mental Health].

The nature of military operations requires that men learn to suppress certain emotional responses (fear, disgust, etc.) in order to stay engaged in difficult or dangerous circumstances until the job has been completed. To prepare personnel for such service, values and behaviours associated with a traditional hyper-masculine gender role are reinforced for members in a stoic warrior culture of the military.

This enculturation, although useful under operational conditions, can inadvertently reinforce help seeking avoidance and fear of stigmatization for military personnel coping with operational stress injuries or other mental health challenges.  The need to maintain the appearance of stoic competence may make it more difficult for these clients to enter counselling.

Making counselling culturally safe for military clients calls for clinicians to embrace the strengths inherent in traditional masculine gender roles and military cultural norms, while helping clients break free of the code of silent stoicism that isolates them when they are in pain.  Therapists are in an ideal position to help Veteran clients rewrite the rules of military masculinity, to recognize the “battle for the heart and mind” through therapy is valid, courageous and a sign of strength. 

In order to sensitize professionals for practice with this population, our chapter in the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health presents case examples to contrast military masculine gender role norms, with how mental health challenges are framed as disorder.  It further considers how traditional masculine role narratives may influence the experience of mental health challenges, as well as treatment uptake and engagement. Our handbook chapter is intended to expand a practitioner’s cultural competencies by examining the role of gender in informing therapeutic work with military-connected clients.

Of prominence is that hyper-masculine gender norms are typically embedded within military institutions, and while adherence to these norms can contribute to combat and military success, they conversely make clinical work challenging.

Veterans may possess values and beliefs that run contrary to typical therapeutic models that rely on emotional self-disclosure and self-reflection. Thus, even though practitioners may be well-intentioned and seek to address the burdens veterans can assume with respect to their experiences, there may be an immediate realization that traditional therapeutic approaches are not well-suited, and fail to work. Consequently, help-seeking veterans remain more likely to drop-out or to not engage with the usual therapeutic process.

Different approaches and interventions are needed in order to address this issue, and developing an effective model for practitioners to navigate these challenges ensures veterans seeking support receive adequate and appropriate therapeutic help.

By capitalizing on adopted characteristics, such as the courage to engage in therapeutic work and mastery of one’s emotional experiences, practitioners can begin to engage and to promote change for veteran clients.

It is evident that working with military-connected clients requires cultural sensitivities, which can subsequently be applied to individual or group counselling contexts.

 

About the authors

Duncan M. Shields, PhD, RCC. Adjunct Professor, University of British Columbia, Faculty of Medicine, The Men’s Initiative: Military and First Responder Resiliency Project. Duncan is a clinician and Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia.  His work focuses on culturally relevant initiatives to assist first responder and military personnel maintain or regain well-being while coping with operational stress and trauma. He is co-founder of The Men’s Initiative that mobilizes men in projects that benefit families, communities and the world, and developed a First Responder Resiliency Program that catalyzes a more inclusive and supportive work culture. Dr. Shields previously served as an infantry reservist where he developed a lifelong appreciation for the contribution of those in uniform.

Marvin Westwood, Professor Emeritus, Counselling Psychology Program, University of British Columbia.Professor Westwood’s major areas of teaching and research focus on development, teaching and delivery of group-based approaches for counselling clients, and men’s psychological health. How counselling and psychotherapy approaches can be adapted to be congruent with the “cultures of masculinity” is a core interest area.  He developed the UBC Veterans Transition Program to help promote recovery from war related stress injuries for which he received both the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee Medals in 2005 and 2013. In 2012 he established the Centre for Group Counselling and Trauma, and is currently Senior Advisor to the Centre.

 

The new chapter outlined above is:

Shields, D., and Westwood, M. (2019). Counselling Male Military Personnel and Veterans: Addressing Challenges and Enhancing Engagement, in Barry JA, Kingerlee R, Seager MJ and Sullivan L (Eds.) (2019). The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health. London: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

 

 

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Does having religious faith reduce the risk of suicide?

By Dr John Barry

“Where is God? At the end of your tether”. (Source unknown)

One of the most unexpected findings of the Harry’s Masculinity Report of 2000 men in the British Isles was that religious observance was one of the significant predictors of having mental positivity (Barry & Daubney, 2017). This was surprising to me because I had formed the assumption that men in the UK don’t got to church very much any more. This assumption was based on my own observations that churchgoing was mainly done by people who are (a) older (b) female (c) not from Britain. However when I discussed this with a pastor in a London Hospital, I was surprised to find that men in other faiths were still regularly observed their religion, partly because it was more firmly rooted in their community life.

This made me wonder whether non-practicing Christian men in the UK are missing out on an important source of psychological support, one that might help them through crises, and might even reduce the risk of them taking their own lives.

A brief look at the research literature suggests that religious belief does indeed have a protective effect when it comes to suicide. For example, a US study of around 1500 people found that suicide rates were strongly correlated (r = -.85) with church attendance in the 1970s regardless of the sex or the churchgoer, or whether they were black or white (Martin, 1984). A US study of 1,098 black and white adolescents found that commitment to beliefs was correlated with lower scores on measures of depression and suicidality (Greening & Stoppelbein, 2011). In a cross-cultural study, Sisak et al (2010) found that people who attempted suicide (n = 2819) were less likely to be religious than non-attempters (n = 5484). This was a significant effect in Estonia, Brazil, Iran, Sri Lanka, and South Africa, though not in India or Vietnam. These findings don’t seem to suggest that people are put off taking their lives because they think it’s immoral, it seems to be more that people often find resilience in a set of beliefs and a sense of community.

The idea that religion is protective against suicide isn’t new – Durkheim had written about this in his classic 1897 book – so why do we hear so little about the mental health benefits of religion in the UK? I am going to engage in some speculation during the rest of this article, and welcome feedback from any readers who have answers, comments or suggestions.

Perhaps in the UK there is not a strong tradition of religious observance compared to other European countries, which means that religion is simply not a salient option to British people who are distressed. I would have thought that scandals since the 1980s over sexual abuse by Catholic priests has had an impact into how willing people are to accept orthodox religion, but the decline of religion in the UK since the 1980s has impacted the Church of England (down from 40% to 15%) rather than the Catholic church (down from 10% to 9%).

I wonder if part of the problem could be that traditional Christianity in the UK is, for many people, a relatively passive experience: you go to church for baptisms, weddings and funerals, where you might go through the motions of saying prayers or perhaps singing hymns… and that’s about it. No real discussion about what it all means to you, no putting the teachings into any tangible action, no real connection with other churchgoers. Some churches have clearly taken this on board, and engage more in community mental health or do practical social outreach activities (e.g. with homeless people). Given that when dealing with stress men tend to look for practical solutions rather than talking about their feelings, compared to women, it isn’t a stretch to guess that distressed men might find action-orientated activities a welcome adjunct to traditional prayer.

In any case, I’d like to suggest that in the UK today the church is a lost opportunity for many distressed men, and that perhaps churches can look at ways that they might make themselves more appealing to younger people, especially men.

 

Do you have any comments on this article? Please post them – we would love to hear from you.

 

About the author

Dr John Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Network and Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. He is one of the editors of, and contributors to, The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An evolutionary perspective on opposition to the BPS Male Psychology Section

by Dr Rebecca Owens & Dr Helen Driscoll, University of Sunderland

[Editor’s note: in our support of men and masculinity, the Male Psychology Section has occasionally been criticised for not being feminist enough e.g. a website discussed in a previous blog].

 

We find that a lot of people do not really understand evolutionary approaches to studying human behaviour – often people are absolutely against it. Evolutionary psychology is an approach to understanding human behaviour – not an area of study, therefore it does not take away anything from any other area of study – it only seeks to enlighten that area.

We believe that the crux of some of the points raised by those who opposed the Male Psychology Section comes from a failure to consider the ultimate (evolutionary) perspective, leading to a skewed perspective on the relative importance of the Section, and its potential impact.

The benefit of incorporating evolutionary approaches has been seen in research on aggression. Typically, men are seen as more aggressive than women. However, an evolutionary perspective allows us to see that sex differences in aggression depend on the form of aggression and the target. For example, decades of research from a family conflict perspective suggests sex symmetry in perpetration of intimate partner violence, and some research indicates that women are more likely to engage in indirect aggression, whereas men are more likely to engage in direct aggression. This is not to say that all women engage in indirect aggression, and all men engage in direct aggression, but an evolutionary perspective has enabled us to understand sex differences in aggression in terms of selection for the male taste for risk (enabling competition for reproductive resources) and female desistance from direct aggression due to the risk posed to offspring in the ancestral environment as a result of maternal injury or death.

Another comment made by the opponents of a Male Psychology Section is that a feminist approach to masculinity will help men more, and therefore the Male Psychology Section is not needed. To us, this seems to entirely overlook an evolutionary perspective. We have evolved cognitive architecture that predisposes us to act in certain ways, directs our attention to certain things and promotes us to behave in particular ways. That is not to say that we are biologically determined to behave in these ways – only that we are influenced to in culturally sensitive ways. A feminist approach may well be helpful, but it seems to us that it would be like fighting against the tide in many ways. Men and women, generally, show some differences in the way we think and behave, therefore any solutions or interventions cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ for men and women. Undoubtedly for some people a feminist approach will work best – but for many others the approach advocated by the Male Psychology Section will work best, and these people are no less deserving or in need of help and intervention. People are diverse, and we need diverse approaches to helping them.

Another complaint raised is the concern that women have been disproportionately disadvantaged in comparison to men throughout history. Again, we would encourage  consideration of this claim through an evolutionary lens. History is told by ‘the winners’ – those who are dominant at the time. We think back through history and we think of powerful male rulers, and the sometimes despicable ways women have been treated throughout history, often in times of male monarchs. However, if we dig a little deeper, we see that, consistent with an evolutionary perspective, it is actually a minority of men who have ruled this way, and a lot of men have also been treated despicably. Throughout history, it is men who have fought in wars, usually under the orders of ruling men, and men still outnumber women in the army.

A related point here is gender stereotypes. Undoubtedly, sociocultural factors have contributed to gender stereotypical roles, for example, strong, dominant men and weak, passive women. However, we rarely stop to consider the origin of these stereotypes. If we look at gender stereotypes through an evolutionary lens, we can see their origins in terms of the sex-specific selection pressures acting on men and women – even if they have been impacted by sociocultural factors. However, what we must avoid is the assumption that areas where sex differences exist must be made equal – this is a fallacy. Should we prevent men who want to join the army from doing so and force women to join who do not want to do so? Do we stop incarcerating men and push the incarceration of women, just to even up the numbers? These are proximate solutions to ultimate problems, which need to be managed equitably – not equally. Acknowledging and understanding sex differences does not divert resources away from helping women, or undermine their suffering – highlighting the sex difference and adjusting the base point of enquiry so it is equitable can only serve to enhance the research, support, and interventions put in place.

Thirty years ago the Psychology of Women Section was founded. Promoting research into and awareness of male psychology in no way deflects resources or attention from women’s psychology – both areas deserve to be fully explored. We are all essentially a community of researchers chipping away at our own little sections to try and understand the bigger picture of the human condition. We could never incorporate all of the variation and perspectives into every piece of research completely – that is research design basics – but we can be mindful of the bigger picture. Stepping back and appreciating the ultimate perspective will help all of us.

 

About the authors

Dr Becci Owens is a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sunderland, a Chartered Psychologist, and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She is an evolutionary psychologist with a research focus on male psychology and mental health, sex differences in mating behaviours and mating strategies, and body image and modifications.
Email: rebecca.owens@sunderland.ac.uk ; Twitter: @DrBecciOwens
Becci’s chapter in the Handbook of Male Psychology was published recently: 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. London: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

Dr Helen Driscoll is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sunderland. She gained her BSc (Hons) Psychology degree from Newcastle University and PhD in Psychology from Durham University. Helen is a Chartered Psychologist and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Her PhD examined sex differences in intrasexual aggression and intimate partner violence from an evolutionary perspective. Helen’s current research interests include sexual behaviour and sexuality, male psychology, dark personality and adult play.

Email: helen.driscoll@sunderland.ac.uk ; Twitter: @mirapiform

 

 

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Who is best placed to help male victims of domestic violence?

By Paul Apreda, Manager of Both Parents Matter.

According to new data from the Mankind Initiative charity, 41% of men who experience domestic violence suffer from mental or emotional problems as a result. Male victims of domestic violence have been largely invisible of the years, but a change is in the air: finally there is recognition that not only do men experience abuse, but also that their needs should be supported. The BBC documentary about the life of Alex Skeel cannot be underestimated in terms of its impact in the corridors of power and on the frontline in Police and Local Authority offices. Real investment in developing services for men is on the agenda, yet the favoured groups to secure this new cash are perhaps surprising, because they hold the view that domestic violence is caused mainly by patriarchy, and that the most important victims are female.

The past 10 years have been a roller-coaster experience for male victims of domestic violence. Back in 2007/8 the British Crime survey found that as many as 15% of victims of abuse were men. Ten years on that has grown to more than 37% in the latest Crime Survey of England and Wales.  The Mankind Initiative – the UK’s leading specialist support service for male victims remind us that for every 3 victims of DV – 2 will be women and 1 will be a man.

In a survey of 728 male victims of abuse undertaken by our charity we asked ‘How important is it that services for male victims should be grounded in the experience of men and separated from services primarily designed for women?’ More than 84% though it essential or important. We agree.

You might be forgiven for assuming that support services, strategies and funding would have mirrored this meteoric rise in the number of men suffering abuse. But that wouldn’t be entirely true.

In Wales new legislation to combat domestic abuse was introduced in 2015. It’s called the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act. There is a clue in the title. It has spawned a range of programmes, initiatives and strategies such as Ask & Act – delivered by Welsh Women’s Aid – where public sector workers are trained to understand the ‘Violence against Women’ agenda. Welsh Government also fund a helpline for ALL victims of abuse called ‘Live Fear Free’ – also delivered by Welsh Women’s Aid. Sadly just 2% of callers to the service are men.

The Welsh Government’s National Strategy emphasizes that:

’…violence against women is a violation of human rights and both a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men, and it happens to women because they are women and that women are disproportionately impacted by all forms of violence.’

Male victims get a somewhat less significant statement about their experience

‘Whilst it is important that this Strategy acknowledges and communicates the disproportionate experience of women and girls this does not negate violence and abuse directed towards men and boys or perpetrated by women’

That will be little comfort to the 1 in 3 victims who experience abuse and have the misfortune of being male.

In terms of practical help there is a chasm between need and provision for men. In Gwent, the official data shows that 36% of victims – over 8,000 in total – recorded by the Police were male – yet support services helped just 69 men compared to 2678 women in 2015/16 across the five local authorities. In North Wales it’s even worse –2,401 women were supported and just 32 men.

There have been some important changes, and surprising ones at that. You’ll struggle to find many organisations called ‘Women’s Aid’ across huge swathes of Wales. Whilst some have retained the clue in the title many have changed their name – Cyfannol, Threshold, Calan, Atal Y Fro, DASU, Thrive and many more.  Almost all are still member organisations of Welsh Women’s Aid and retain their commitment to a gendered view of domestic abuse that emphasizes the role of the patriarchy, and mirrors the Welsh Government strategy’s statement about this happening to women BECAUSE they are women.  To be clear, these organisations are powerful advocates for the women who experience domestic violence and abuse, who undeniably make up a majority by all ways of calculation in the UK.  If you were a woman you’d want these people on your side. But what if you’re a man?

The question that will come before local politicians in 2019 will be – ‘Should ‘Women’s Aid’ organisations receive public funding to provide support to men as well?’ There is also a question about potential conflicts of interest where both parties are supposedly being supported by ‘women’s aid’ as victims / survivors of abuse? We think that’s another important reason for separate services delivered by separate organisations.

It has never been more important for men’s voices to be heard.

 

About the author

Paul Apreda is National Manager of Both Parents Matter (BPM) in Wales. BPM is a service of FNF Both Parents Matter Cymru – a registered charity that provides information, advice and assistance to parents and grandparents with child contact problems. Since 2017 the charity has responded to the growing number of service users who identified as male victims of domestic violence and has developed a service to provide drop-in support as well as helping men (and some women) to access Legal Aid for Family Court proceedings.

Website www.fnf-bpm.org.uk

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/Families-Need-Fathers-Both-Parents-Matter-Cymru-263187500387675/

Twitter:  @fnf_bpm_cymru

Paul Apreda
National Manager – 07947 135864

Open post

Men’s Mental Health in South Korea

by Alaric Naudé EdD PhD

In the third of our occasional series of blogs about views of Male Psychology and masculinity around the world, Professor of linguistics, Alaric Naudé, tells us about men’s mental health in the South Korea today.

Korea is a land of contrasts and beauty in many ways. However, just as many beautiful creatures have harsh toxins, Korea has several elements that can make it a harsh environment for men. Many of the difficulties that surround males are driven by the recent events in history including the Korean War and the hyper-military dictatorships that followed. These difficulties in pressure on men have also translated into unhappiness for the family unit.

The hierarchical structure of Korean society is based on Neo-Confucianism principles and this is reflected in the built in honorifics system of the Korean language. Korean grammar structure changes depending on the hierarchical position of the speaker relative to the person being addressed. Both men and women are under strict social pressure to behave to a certain standard and while this can be beneficial to social harmony, an unbalanced approach can lead to friction and disadvantage.

Fortunately in Korea the concept of feminism is not taken very seriously, ironically, strongest opposition come from women who view the movement as an affront to tradition, patronising and their extreme behaviour to be against the greater social good. With that said, there are specific inequalities that men have faced and are facing in Korea.

The hyper-militaristic dictatorship under Chung Hee Park forced conscription of men onto the whole country. His personal ideology was highly influenced by Bushido philosophy and he spearheaded his own particular brand. Men were to behave in the predefined manner as stipulated by the party policy. Unfortunately for groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, their men were specifically targeted. Their refusal of military conscription and desire to do non-military alternative service was viewed with great ire and many were beaten, tortured and killed.  Collectively they served prison sentences amounting to 37,800 years and this human rights abuse was only recently rectified.

Men in general have pressure to be of a certain socio-economic status before marriage and to have elaborate weddings, this has resulted in the marriage rate plummeting, the birth rate plummeting and the suicide rate significantly increasing. Many of my male students worry about their future work and possibility of marriage with several expressing a desire to search for work abroad.

Mental health in Korea is somewhat of a taboo subject and the stigma attached to men is significant. Having been diagnosed with a mental health issue may affect the type of work that can be gained and the ability to move up the socio-economic ranks, which in turn leads to more unhappiness and more suicide.

The Korean suicide rate is of special concern because the inability to access counselling in correlation to the stigma attached for even receiving counselling means that there is no easy remedy to the problem. Culturally men may also be hesitant to turn to their friends for assistance lest they be viewed as weak.

In school, boys are being out performed by girls. Demographically, teaching is a female dominated field and some of my female student teachers have commented that they feel unfair focus is given by other female teachers to their female students. Male students are becoming less motivated due to disinterest in studying based on the pressure of future expectations. This is likely to cause a large shift in future demographics. Females generally marry across the same socioeconomic level or upwards. Men generally marry on the same socioeconomic level or downwards. However, the current flip in academic results and the ever widening gap means that the future marriage rate will likely only continue to decrease, to the detriment of society and a catastrophe for population levels.

Like any other country, the issues facing Korea are highly complex and compounded by biological factors as well as the cultural damage caused by the Korean War. There are no easy answers, yet, psychological outreach and awareness of male mental health issues are an imperative beginning to resolving many of these conundrums.

 

About the author

Alaric Naudé EdD PhD is Professor of Linguistics at the Department of Nursing, Suwon Science College & Seoul National University of Education, South Korea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open post

The psychological impact of androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) in prostate cancer

By Dr Kenneth Gannon and Dr John Barry

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men and has become the third most common cause of cancer death in the UK, with almost 12,000 men dying from it every year (Prostate Cancer UK, 2018), slightly more than the number of women who die from breast cancer. Compared to White men, African Caribbean men are three times more likely to develop the disease and tend to do so at a younger age and in a more aggressive form.

Similarly to estrogen in some types of breast cancer, testosterone is associated with the development and course of prostate cancer. Androgen Deprivation Therapy (ADT) is a commonly used treatment for advanced prostate cancer, although it may also be used to treat disease confined to the prostate. Up to 50% of men being treated for prostate cancer may receive ADT.  It reduces symptoms and increases survival times by stopping testosterone production (Connolly et al, 2012). However this causes a range of serious side effects, including erectile dysfunction, genital shrinkage, loss of libido, hot flashes, osteoporosis, loss of muscle mass, breast enlargement, anaemia, fatigue, risk of diabetes, risk of cardiovascular disease and of potentially fatal cardiac events (Holzbeierlein, Castle & Thrasherl, 2004; Thompson, Shanafelt, Loprinzi 2003). ADT has also been linked with an increased risk of developing some types of dementias, though findings are inconsistent and the increased risk appears to be small.

ADT can impact mental health too. For example, it may increase mood swings (Cary, Singla, Cowan, Carroll, Cooperberg, 2014) and tearfulness (Ng, Woo, Turner, Leong, Jackson and Spry, 2012).  Depression may also occur as a result of testosterone reduction and the associated problems (Lee, Jim, Fishman, et al., 2015).

Understandably, some of these physical and mental symptoms can impact a man’s sense of his masculinity (Oliffe, 2006). Compared to patients having what might sound like more radical treatments (e.g. prostatectomy or radiotherapy), patients on therapy with hormones have relatively low HRQoL scores (Bacon et al, 2001).

Not all studies are in agreement (perhaps due to differences in methodology), but there is evidence that ADT is also linked to impairment to executive cognitive functioning, causing problems in planning, initiating and sequencing goal-directed behaviours, and memory issues. Further research is required on this issue. There is also some evidence that because of the reduction in testosterone, men on ADT perform less well in spatial cognitive abilities (Cherrier, Aubin & Higano, 2009).

In conclusion, prostate cancer treatment with ADT has a range of psychological implications for men and their partners. Some of these implications are in need of further research, especially treatment-related decision making, survivorship and the experiences of men from ethnic and sexual minorities.

If you have concerns about prostate cancer, contact https://www.prostatecanceruk.org/

About the authors

Dr Kenneth Gannon is the Clinical Research Director and Research Degree Leader at the University of East London. His chapter ‘Men’s Health and Cancer—The Case of Prostate Cancer’ covers various topics, including sexuality and ethnicity, and appears in the new book The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health

Dr John Barry is a Chartered Psychologist and co-founder of the Male Psychology Network and Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. He is one of the editors of, and contributors to, The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

From the back cover of the Handbook of Male Psychology:

“This handbook brings together experts from across the world to discuss men’s mental health, from prenatal development, through childhood, adolescence, and fatherhood. Men and masculinity are explored from multiple perspectives including evolutionary, cross-cultural, cognitive, biological, developmental, and existential viewpoints, with a focus on practical suggestions and demonstrations of successful clinical work with men”.

References
Bacon, C. G., Giovannucci, E., Testa, M., & Kawachi, I. (2001). The impact of cancer treatment on quality of life outcomes for patients with localized prostate cancer. The Journal of urology, 166(5), 1804-1810.

Cary, K.C., Singla, N., Cowan, J.E., Carroll, P.R., and Cooperberg, M.R. (2014). Impact of androgen deprivation therapy on mental and emotional well being in men with prostate cancer: analysis from the CaPSURE registry. Journal of Urology, 191, 964-970.

Cherrier, M. M., Aubin, S., & Higano, C. S. (2009). Cognitive and mood changes in men undergoing intermittent combined androgen blockade for non‐metastatic prostate cancer. Psycho‐Oncology, 18(3), 237-247.

Connolly, R.M, Carducci, M.A. & Antonarakis, E.S., (2012) Use of androgen deprivation therapy in prostate cancer: indications and prevalence. Asian Journal of Andrology 14:2, 177-186

Holzbeierlein, J.M., Castle, E. & Thrasher, J.B. (2004). Complications of androgen

Lee, M., Jim, H.S., Fishman, M., et al. (2015). Depressive symptomatology in
men receiving androgen deprivation therapy for prostate cancer: a controlled comparison. Psychooncology, 24, 472-477.

Ng, E., Woo, H.H., Turner, S., Leong, E., Jackson, M. and Spry N. (2012). The influence of testosterone suppression and recovery on sexual function in men with prostate cancer: observations from a prospective study in men undergoing intermittent androgen suppression. Journal of Urology, 187, 2162-2166.

Oliffe, J. (2006). Embodied masculinity and androgen deprivation therapy. Sociology of Health and Illness, 28, 410-432.

Prostate Cancer UK (2018). We call on UK to step up as new figures show prostate cancer now a bigger killer than breast cancer. Accessed online 7th May 2018 on the internet [here]

Soloway, C. T., Soloway, M. S., Kim, S. S., & Kava, B. R. (2005). Sexual, psychological and dyadic qualities of the prostate cancer ‘couple’. BJU international, 95(6), 780-785.

Thompson CA, Shanafelt TD, Loprinzi CL (2003) Andropause: symptom management for prostate cancer patients treated with hormonal ablation. Oncologist, 8, 474-487

 

Open post

The provider role indicates that masculinity is prosocial

by Belinda Brown

For decades now, masculinity has been under assault – largely by visionaries who anticipate a new gender-free social order. Creation of the new involves destruction of the old, so ‘new man’ can arise phoenix like from the patriarchal dust.

And masculinity is, after all, an easy target. Men appear to be more physically violent than women, they are more likely to kill themselves and they are much more likely to commit crime. All this has provided ballast for the concept of toxic masculinity, and has had potentially damaging consequences for male self-understanding by drawing attention to stereotypes of dysfunctional male behaviour and treating them as if they are the true nature of all men

My chapter From Hegemonic to Responsive Masculinity; the transformative power of the provider role  for The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental health takes a different approach.

In the chapter I ask why it is that since the beginning of recorded history men have, by and large, done the hardest most gruelling labour, given the proceeds of their labour to women and children, usually deriving little benefit for themselves. I also ask why it is that, despite earning less than men, women have extensive control over resources and, why even welfare is largely spent on women and children while the taxes to pay it are earned by men.

All this points to extraordinarily altruistic behaviour by men and this, I argue, is mystery which we should explore.

A clue to male motivations lies in men’s family role. A rich seam of data has shown that partnered men earn more than unpartnered men, married men earn more than those who are cohabiting and married men living with their own children trump the lot. And this is not simply a case of female selectivity. The data show that men appear to be responding to female preferences and need.

In order to understand why men should do this I turn to the vineyards of evolutionary psychology. This field explores how our psychological adaptations are rooted in genetic and neuroendocrine systems, which have evolved in ways that help to ensure that our descendants survive.

One of the mysteries for evolutionary psychologists is paternal investment – why do human males invest so much time and effort in women and children, when the majority of primate males do little for their own offspring. This has spawned a great deal of creative thinking about the benefits of paternal investment to evolutionary fitness, and theories have focussed on mechanisms which have brought this investment about.

My own explanation is that males have evolved to be responsive to human females. As human females choose mates who can provide for them, the corresponding desire to provide may have become biologically embedded in males. Males then become deeply attached to those infants, who they help to socialise and provide with food. The result is that men are in hock to potentially self-sacrificial behaviour because this is what ensures the survival of their genes.

If men are impelled to be responsive to females and possibly to provide for and even become attached to their children, we would expect some accompanying biological scaffolding to have evolved. My paper is only exploratory but some clues point us in directions to look.

Firstly, there is evidence to suggest that little boys start out in life more sensitive and responsive than little girls. Later, men and women experience emotion to the same depth and in similar ways. So why is it that when it comes to emotional literacy or emotional awareness women tend to assume men are second best?

The key difference is emotional expressiveness; this is the domain in which women have the upper hand. When we think of men as stoical this is only in contrast to female emotional expressivity – the other side of the coin. Female emotional expressiveness is ultimately evolutionarily adaptive. It involves the rapid translation of cognitive information into a form of behaviour which will spur others into a response.

It is not just that this female emotional expressiveness appears inbuilt. So does the male capacity to respond. Men have been found to have higher levels of empathy for women than they do for other men. If male empathic responsiveness is particularly honed to female need, then males are likely to be vulnerable to female emotional expressiveness in ways that elicit altruistic behaviour. Even where this incurs a cost.

If masculinity is essentially responsive, what underlies male providing is not the desire for status or dominance but rather to be desired by women themselves.

And this too is supported by the data. Some of the most extensive studies conducted in the social sciences are on mating preferences. And what these incontrovertibly show is that women are looking for men who will be a good financial prospect. Men respond to female cues by providing them with resources because this will further their own genetic fitness.

But what I suggest is that the value of male provisioning does not necessarily lie in its nutritional content. Male provisioning stimulates paternal attachment in the same way maternal attachment is stimulated; through the experience of having others dependent on you. Male provisioning is the cornerstone on which fathering work is built. It is linked with paternal care and having a father in the home.

That men are primed to develop paternal attachment is again suggested by the male physiological response. As men marry and have children their levels of testosterone drop which is thought to facilitate a nurturant behaviour. Research on couvade has shown that men experience many of the symptoms of pregnancy as well. Men are primed to respond to infants. Not only is there evidence they experience hormonal changes in response to the cries of their infant but they can also recognise their infant by touch.

Research from the animal kingdom has found links between provisioning behaviour and reductions in testosterone. If this was found in humans, it would provide a biological link between the act of provisioning and a nurturant response. Although such evidence may not yet exist,  there is evidence to show that when it comes to childcare it is those men who have more traditional attitudes, or those men who are actually engaged in providing for their families, who are more likely to be involved.

There are a number of hypotheses in my handbook chapter which need to be explored further and tested. They raise the possibililty that the male provider role is not simply a social construction belonging to a bygone age. Rather the provider role may be not only socially, but psychologically acting as a trigger for nurturing behaviour. It may even, as I suggest in my chapter, play a vital role in transforming a more immature and potentially ‘hegemonic’ dimension of masculinity into a more socially responsible, co-operative and nurturing form.

For these reasons, the provider role – as an important dimension of masculinity – deserves further investigation. If it emerges that it is not only socially but also psychologically salient, then perhaps we need to start encouraging provisioning in men.

 

About the author

Belinda Brown is a Social Anthropologist who writes about family and gender issues.

Belinda’s chapter, From Hegemonic to Responsive Masculinity; the transformative power of the provider role, appears in The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental health, is available here https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9783030043834#aboutBook

DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

 

 

Open post

Myths of Manhood: Breaking Dad, Fracking Fatherhood

by Dr Robin Hadley, author of the ‘Breaking Dad’ chapter in the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

 

“Men can have children at any time in their lives.”

“Men aren’t bothered about being a dad.”

 

These statements are often made, without really considering how much truth there is in them.

These statements are often overheard by myself and many other men who are childless-but-wanted-to-be-dads.

Unfortunately, the belief that men are not interested in reproduction is widely held in the public and across the social sciences.  Marcia Inhorn et al (2009) argue that men have become the ‘second sex’, in all areas of scholarship because of the ‘widely held but largely untested assumption’ that men are not interested and disengaged from, reproductive intentions and outcomes’ (Inhorn 2012: 6).

The reality for men who don’t conform to the ideal of fatherhood is very different than many people realise.

The majority of men are fertile from puberty onwards typically with sperm in constant production. However, there is increasing evidence that sperm is affected by the day-to-day environment – diet, heat, and stress all adversely affect sperm  (Li, Lin et al. 2011). Moreover, sperm declines in efficacy from about the age of 35 years onward with a positive correlation between age and genetic issues (Yatsenko and Turek 2018).

In addition to biological pressures, there are socio-cultural normatives to contend with. Most societies have expectations of when the most appropriate time to be a parent is. In Europe the maximum age to become a parent is commonly thought to be 40 for women and 45 for men (Billari, Goisis et al. 2011). When an older rock star or famous actor becomes a father there is widespread media praise. However, few men become older fathers, with less than 2% of men in England and Wales, registered as fathers aged 50 or over (Office for National Statistics 2017).

Men have reported a ‘biological urge’ or ‘societal duty’ or ‘personal desire’ as factors in their wanting to be a dad (Hadley 2009). Childless men indicate a sense of time running out to become a father deepened from their mid-30s onwards (Hadley and Hanley 2011). Consequently, men described feeling being ‘off-track’ compared to peers and anxious with regards how age would affect the quality of their interactions with their (potential) future children (Hadley and Hanley 2011, Goldberg 2014, Hadley 2018).

The concept that men are unaffected and not interested in reproduction are ‘false and reflect out-dated and unhelpful gender stereotypes (Fisher and Hammarberg 2017: 1307). Moreover, the psychological impact of male infertility is on a par with suffering from heart complaints and cancer (Saleh, Ranga et al. 2003). . Fathers feel more happiness (Nelson-Coffey, Killingsworth et al. 2019) and less isolation (Hadley, 2009) than men who want children, but don’t have any.

Some men and some women do not want to be parents. However, to label all men as ‘not interested’ is to do a disservice to both men and women. In addition to ‘missing out’ in an important element of their identity, involuntary childless men are ‘missing’ from narratives about children and parenting.  Being a dad is rewarding for men, children and families, so maybe let’s think twice before we glibly say that men don’t care about having children.

 

About the author

Dr Robin Hadley specialises in understanding the experiences of involuntarily childless older men. Rob is author of the ‘Breaking Dad’ chapter in the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health and will be speaking at UCL on this topic on 25th April 2019 at 6.30pm

Open post

How can you help men who are falsely accused of sexual abuse? Notes from the FASO helpline.

by Margaret Gardener

Picture: Margaret delivering a talk at University College London (UCL) on 28th Feb 2019 for the Male Psychology Network.

 

Let me ask you to do a thought experiment:

Have you ever considered the possibility that you could be arrested in your own home in front of your family and friends and neighbours, held in a police cell, interviewed under caution, charged and bailed or remanded to appear in court, when you haven’t actually done anything?

and

That your photograph, name and address, might appear in the local and national press and on TV, insinuating what an evil monster you are?

and

That having been released without charge or with all charges dropped, with your good name and integrity still intact (at least in the eyes of the law) you might be subjected to additional investigation by the social services and other agencies, where you may have no right of representation or comment?

and

That social services could force you to break off contact with your family and children?

and

Without proof, evidence, witnesses, or corroboration you could be convicted and sentenced to several years in prison when you haven’t actually done anything?

Having thought about, how would you feel now if one or more of the above scenarios really happened to you?

 

Empathy is key

When trying to understand the psychology of what the falsely accused feel, you have to firstly put yourself in their position. The first step to helping them is to try to understand how people that seek our support feel.

Some contact FASO regularly; others just occasionally. Some understandably feel they cannot cope and sadly feel suicidal. They tell us that sharing their stories with people who understand what they are going through can be cathartic, and they generally feel better because we know what they are going through.

Families who phone for support for those in this situation feel helpless. They tell us that their loved ones withdraw and won’t speak to anyone. They won’t go out, see a doctor, or take up opportunities for support.  The family member is often scared for the sanity of themselves and their loved ones, including children of course.  Children cry. They can’t understand why they can’t see the accused person. We all feel the huge stress that false accusations bring.

The accused person can experience a huge range of emotions and mental health issues: extreme stress; feeling that no-one will listen despite having to repeat themselves constantly; often having a shaky voice which leads to tears of anger, frustration. Crucially they feel utter disbelief: why would someone make such heinous yet untrue accusations?  Some of the thoughts we hear about are:

  • What made them make an allegation that I am such a monster? Where did such a thought come from?
  • My head is whirling; I feel sick; cannot concentrate; I can’t eat or sleep. I am collapsing and feel suicidal!
  • Where do I go? I won’t go out as friends might believe the allegations. Where/who do I turn to? I am isolated from everyone. I have nowhere to live!
  • My family is destroyed. My partner and children are crying for me as I am for them. 
  • Why is it taking so long to be investigated? How am I to manage in the court – what is it like? I don’t understand what the barrister and solicitor are saying. I can’t even get a lawyer as I can’t afford it. Why can’t all my evidence be used in court – I am told it is not allowed?

 

There is no euphoric feeling if a not guilty vote by the jury is returned

It often takes months/years of heartache, maybe losing the family, costing the earth, losing a job forever with the trauma still within the individual. “No, I cannot get on with life”, they say; “it will never be the same again”.

Note that the above issues are the reactions of those who are newly accused. The reactions of the falsely accused who are in prison is another matter. They have ongoing issues to deal with and more to come when they are released from prison.

FASO has been operating now for 17 years. We are volunteers without any funding. We can offer a sympathetic ear, but we can’t give desperate people the answers or practical support they want or need. We are not lawyers and cannot offer legal or counselling services. We can only perform a “sticking plaster” service of being a friendly, supportive ear and try to signpost people to other services that may be able to help. But those services are in very short supply in a broken criminal justice system. The UK government in 2000 estimated that there were around 120,000 false accusations annually. FASO sees just the tip of this very large iceberg, and the number of people who we cannot help is too overwhelming to contemplate.

 

About the author

Margaret Gardener is the founder of the False Allegations Support Organisation (FASO). Her presentation at UCL on this topic will be on the Male Psychology Youtube channel in early March 2019.

Margaret has a background in voluntary emergency nursing and prior to this a career in the civil service, serving abroad during this time, which helped to improve her communication skills. She was a registered foster carer for special needs teenagers and was catapulted through a family experience, as a volunteer, into the False Allegations Support Organisation in 2001. Her fist role at FASO was Secretarial, she then progressed to the helpline (using her empathy skills, and supporting callers in their distress). As the Director of FASO (UK) she addresses parliament and agencies both criminal and family through the medium of consultations and meetings, whilst liaising with Academia and like-minded groups. She addresses in part the issues of the hidden victims, both children/vulnerable adults and the accused parent/individual on safeguarding issues.

The FASO website, with helpline details, is http://www.false-allegations.org.uk/

Email: support@false-allegations.org.uk

Phone: 0844 335 1992

Monday to Friday, 18:00 to 22:00.

 

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