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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

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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

 

 

 

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Men are boxing their way back to mental fitness

An interview by Dr John Barry with boxing coach Paddy Benson of Birmingham’s Pat Benson Boxing Academy.

It’s a familiar story. A young rebellious man seems out of control, always getting into conflict and looking destined for prison. Somehow he finds out about the local boxing club. Maybe it’s his last chance, or maybe it’s just a challenge he won’t refuse. But one thing leads to another and he suddenly finds that he has got something that is more important in his life than getting into trouble. Somehow or other, boxing has saved him from wasting his life.

If the NHS clinical psychology or forensic psychology services could replicate this kind of success story they would quickly recognise it as a breakthrough treatment programme. In fact some people outside boxing are starting to recognise the mental health benefits of this activity, and it just so happens that an old-school boxing club in Birmingham is leading the way. When I found out a few months ago that something called the Mind-Fit programme had won a mental health prize, I tracked down Paddy Benson of the Pat Benson Boxing Academy as quick as I could to find out more:

Barry: Congratulations Paddy on getting a prize for your wellbeing programme. What are your thoughts on your programme, and on the impact of boxing on men’s mental health?

Benson: It started after we had a guy who was from a substance abuse background. He used to train a lot, but sometimes he would go missing. We knew when he went missing he was on a relapse. One day we started chatting with him, and he opened up and said he really valued the structure and routine of the boxing training, which is why he kept coming back. That’s what he was really looking for and that kept him on the right track, away from drugs. We realised that we hadn’t given him any special treatment, but the boxing environment and routine had helped him deal with drugs. In fact of course training is a natural high, a release of endorphins.

Within about 30 mins radius there are lots of charities where we are in Birmingham, so we talked to them and put together a basic mental health package. We think that men’s mental health is a taboo subject at present, but one that will explode soon.

We evolved this programme due to feedback. We try to get the best out of everyone. Our strategy is inclusive – it’s not just for the top half-percent of boxers to win national titles. The programme is one hour per week doing bags and pads in a traditional boxing club, and participants like being coached in this real environment.

We have some specialist mentor staff, we have a social group – basically getting men to talk – and the feedback has been fantastic. We’ve had a national sporting award, and started getting funding. This is social prescribing. These guys are going to their GP but don’t necessarily need a clinical psychologist. For some people who have been using drugs or homeless, just eating fresh fruit is a new thing. The routine is the main thing.

We have worked with Nottingham Trent for a case study, but more with Brunel. Street Games provided free mental health first aid. Some of the participants get back on the straight and narrow, become mentors themselves, and even go on to university.

Barry: Are other things like martial arts just as good, or is boxing special?

Benson: Getting fit and building trust is key. Anyone will feel better. And staying away from drugs. Maybe boxing is more old school so there is a special sort of traditional aura. Our trainers have been around. This does help build trust. It’s hard to explain, but over time participants start to talk. They even start to trust themselves more when they feel more confident and healthy.

Barry: Do you think gaining meaning in life is important?

Benson: Yes, if you have been homeless or on drugs you know you are on the wrong path. When they meet us they mostly right away want to get their lives back on track. Finding an identity and purpose in life is a real achievement. They also learn to help others and give something back.

[Interview ends].

Some of the findings of my research in male psychology are things that are fairly unsurprising to most people who haven’t been steeped in the ideology of gender studies. However in these strange days when traditional masculinity is misunderstood even by psychologists in the US and UK, finding ways to help men’s mental health can sometimes be best done outside of mainstream mental health services. Important understandings about gender aren’t yet part of the psychology syllabus, for example, that when distressed, women often want to talk about their feelings whereas men would rather fix their problems. With men more likely than women to kill themselves, but less likely to seek help from a therapist, it’s my prediction that rediscovering how men have, for generations, been taking care of their mental health might benefit modern psychology. Activities like boxing might not appeal to everyone, but a pilot study by Brunel found it worked for the 24 participants on Benson’s Mind-Fit programme. Without a doubt the merit of this approach is worth further investigation.

 

About Paddy Benson

Paddy Benson trains in the Pat Benson Boxing Academy, a club based Birmingham’s Irish Quarter – produced the likes of champion Matthew Macklin and is currently training future world class boxers. The Academy was created to honour legendary trainer from Mayo in Ireland, Pat Benson, after he was crowned BBC Unsung Hero 2010. Pat and his grandson Paddy, a University business graduate who has also boxed for England Youth, work together in the family run club. Paddy will be giving a short presentation at the Male Psychology Conference at University College London in June.

 

About John Barry

Dr John 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. He is co-founder of the Male Psychology Network, and co-founder of the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. He is one of the authors of the new Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health  DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

John has blogged previously on the mental health benefits of boxing.

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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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