Mens mental health: More than a once annual talk fest

It happens once a year. And then its forgotten again, almost completely, until a year later it is time to raise the issue again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

But the very successful hiding of men’s mental health is not something we should be repeating every year at all. On the contrary it is one issue that needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into the spotlight, and then somehow pinned there until such a time comes when men’s mental health issues are not a problem any more.

But what is it going to take for this issue to be plonked in front of the examiner and made to answer for the appalling state of mental health among New Zealand males? Will we have to march on Parliament in huge numbers demanding a Royal Commission of Inquiry? Will there be mass letter writing campaigns that dump huge amounts of correspondence on the desk of the Minister for Health until he acts?

You see, this is a problem that is costing New Zealand horrendously. But few people want to know about this. And many then say “why can’t men just harden up?” – when we would not expect females to harden up over equivalent issues. And politicians seem to be deaf mute to the whole sorry issue – they must be, because if they were tripping over themselves to act, there would have been an inquiry of some sort by now and the recommendations would be well on the way to being implemented.

So, what are these problems that cause men’s mental health to decline in the first place? It could be many things. It could be schizophrenia or bipolar disorder affecting him at the workplace and making him believe that everyone there is evil or out to get him. Maybe there are family issues at work, like a custody battle that he is losing or a marriage that has hit the rocks. Or even a combination thereof.

We hear of women suffering post natal depression and it seems to be accepted that it is natural. They open up and tell us about it. Sometimes it requires admission to hospital or to a specialized clinic, but no one seems to have a problem with her getting the help.

Sometimes the causes are not something that anyone can control such as a major natural disaster with knock on effects on households and relationships. In post-earthquake Christchurch a spike in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder cases are coming through. Whilst these have been in children who might have been traumatized by seeing someone die or the nature of the shaking, it has also appeared in adults. The cases have prompted an increase in funding for the Canterbury District Health Board to deal with the spike.

But what about crises like being the owner of a farm in strife? The farm is ravaged by drought with tens of thousands of dollars worth of live stock that need feeding, little or no rain has fallen or is expected and you are still expected to pay living costs and expenses? It might horrify people to know that farmers are among the most vulnerable in the community because many of them are isolated and do not necessarily want people to know how dire their situation is.

So, lets have those conversations with our men folk. Lets stop denying this is a problem and address the issues around it. The socio-economic gain from the pain of tackling the problem will be well worth the effort.

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