How Austin’s Mental Health Experts Are Adapting Men’s Treatment
AUSTIN (KXAN) – When it comes to public conversations about mental health, social stigma and taboos can still make the topic difficult to broach – even more so for men. Four men are working to open those conversations to a wider audience this Thursday.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness Central Texas has partnered with Ascension Seton to “REAL CONVERSATION,” a webinar based on candid discussions about mental health and shattering some of the hesitations that surround it. The timing is particularly poignant given that June is recognized as National Men’s Health Month, said Karen Ranus, executive director of NAMI Central Texas.
“I am so happy that this is Men’s Health Month and that we are focusing on mental health because the reality is that at the heart of it all is the understanding and awareness that we need to spark around. of this notion that mental health is health, “she said, adding:” A lot of the work we do is to help our community better understand this and see mental health as a health issue. . “
Beyond the thematic elements of June being Men’s Health Month, Ranus added that the timing was particularly crucial to discuss mental health, against the backdrop of the past 15 months of the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 has helped raise awareness of mental health issues at the forefront of our social consciousness. Ranus said now is the time to move this conversation forward, even as the more difficult parts of the pandemic linger behind us.
“We sort of really see that, that kind of a global message, and a lot of men kind of recognize that they’re not alone. And I think through the media this message really hits home, ”said Simon Niblock, a licensed psychotherapist moderating Thursday’s event. “So I think guys are more and more comfortable saying that I have a problem; I’m really struggling here; I have never spoken to a therapist; I never asked for support. So I’m going to reach out – I’m going to take that first step, I’m going to dip my toe in the water.
The complexities surrounding candid conversations about men’s mental health are often rooted in this notion of shame, said Ranus and Niblock. But an added layer of nuance are the discrepancies in how men of different age groups and racial and ethnic groups discuss mental health issues and access treatment.
Dr Manuel X. Zamarripa, director and co-founder of the Institute of Chicana / o Psychology in Austin, said that when it comes to the stigma surrounding mental health, two-dimensional concepts of masculinity can turn out to be significant obstacles to seeking help. Emotional intuition and expression is often seen as a feminine trait and then correlated as a sign of weakness.
“But I think when we just talk about it as a broad, like, what is it, you know, broad masculinity, then I think, all these kinds of stereotypes and ways of thinking how we should be, tend to be blocks, “he said. “And I think we’re a lot better at getting through those when we talk about specific roles, like I said, that men have in their lives that are important to them.”
Research from the American Psychiatric Association in 2017 found that, for non-white people seeking treatment, cultural barriers and prejudices between patients and providers can exacerbate this feeling of shame in patients and lead to a risk of underdiagnosis and misdiagnosis.
“Lack of cultural understanding on the part of health care providers can contribute to underdiagnosis and / or misdiagnosis of mental illness in people from racially / ethnically diverse populations,” the report states. “Factors that contribute to these types of misdiagnosis include language differences between patient and provider, the stigma of mental illness among minority groups, and the cultural presentation of symptoms. “
While some socio-cultural variation on the acceptance of mental health may exist between different communities of color, Zamarripa said the cultural and ancestral strengths of different racial and ethnic groups should not be overlooked. He added that mental health taboos are rife across the country, not just within specific communities.
“One of the things that’s important in the work that we do for mental health and mental well-being is to always sift through and find these existing and, you know, cultural forces that exist within the individual, family or community, within particular communities of color, because there are always cultural forces that have been transmitted… the field of mental health does not always connect to integrate them ”, he said. he said. “And so I think reconnecting and bringing those two things back together – that’s one of the ways we try to be culturally sensitive so that we’re not just teaching new things, is it? not, but that we recognize that there are already skills that exist with strengths that exist, which we are trying to elevate.
In addition to the gaps in access to care between different racial and ethnic populations, there are also generational differences in openness around mental health. Niblock said that in his nearly 10 years of research and therapeutic work, men in their 30s or older tend to be less open than younger patients.
“I think that’s where you really see the big cultural change, is that the younger generations are very open, very open to talking about mental health and very open to talking about seeking support,” he said. he declares. “I work a lot with guys who – around the age of about 35 and over… that’s kind of what I call the key generation. So, you know, gentlemen who have grown up, from a young age, to be very independent, and we still see a lot of stigma associated with this generation looking for support. “
With all of the mental health issues, Niblock said treatment is not a linear trajectory with a designated start and end date. It’s an evolutionary journey that takes practice and lifelong effort. Thursday’s conference is not designed to be the ultimate conversation about mental health support; However, by asking men to speak candidly about their experiences, he hopes it’s a foot in the door for those who haven’t felt supported enough to seek treatment.
“The beauty of the roundtable is that it’s just a real conversation,” he said. “It is not therapeutic in itself. They’re just real guys talking about the concerns and issues they’re struggling with.