Men’s Health: Its Serious (for your) Business

According to the latest data, every year there are approximately 800,000 deaths by suicide. Of those, 75% of them are men. In the time it will take you to read this article approximately 10 men will have died by suicide.

And that was before the added uncertainty, stress and anxiety that has swept over us with the arrival of COVID-19.

Understanding the role gender is playing in the COVID-19 outbreak as well as building cross-sectoral responses to serious pandemic effects on men’s health should be of utmost interest to public health officials and business leaders. According to Sarah Hawkes, Professor of Global Public Health at University College London, “the pandemic has finally opened our eyes to the fact that health is not driven just by biology, but by the social environment in which we all find ourselves and gender is a major part of that.” (Soundcloud, 2020). This is concerning for all sectors of society but it should be an acute concern for businesses from productivity, culture and leadership, and social responsibility perspectives.

The coronavirus second wave statistics show that globally men are more at risk of dying from the virus than women (Global Health, 2020).

Compounding the vulnerability to the virus itself, men are at risk to the rising mental health challenges that are on the increase since the pandemic started including depression, stress, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide (Khan, Ratelle, Arendse, 2020). As many professional and social environments become more restricted and isolating, men are at particular risk for unique reasons:

  • They are statistically more reluctant to seek help, report mental health concerns, and can tend toward more social isolation.
  • For men in provider roles, economic hardship and job security unpredictability caused by COVID-19 has added increased stress.
  • Men, as is well documented, process and experience stress, anxiety, depression and other issues differently (Mayo Clinic, 2020).
  • As many workplaces limit capacity and restrict social contact and other restrictions are implemented on social activities, recreational programming and clubs, gyms, and entertainment venues, men become more vulnerable as a result of reduced physical outlets and increase in negative mental health triggers.

A recently published research report on mental health among Canadians by Morneau Shepell shows a consistent trend of negative overall mental health among Canadians at the six-month mark of the pandemic (Morneau Shepell, 2020). The message is clear: businesses can and should support men and women for their own benefit and the benefit of families, the community and economic recovery. This will, of course, also benefit the organizations themselves as corporate culture has been disrupted, leaving employees, including corporate executives and managers, struggling to maintain motivation and connection to each other and to a shared purpose. Companies who proactively lean in to maintaining the mental well-being of their teams can develop resiliency, which in turn positions them far better for a future that remains largely unclear.

As we move into heightened restrictions in many regions of Canada, the United States and globally we need to consider not only new perspectives to cope and grow through these work conditions but also what we can do as community and organizational leaders to strengthen the resiliency of men, women and families. What we have seen in our professional roles as community and organizational facilitators of men’s leadership and health is that businesses have an opportunity to do far more to support the unique challenges men face in this time. To not do so is to miss an opportunity for significant learning, community resiliency and leadership growth.

Now more than ever companies of all types and sizes also have the opportunity to demonstrate an oft-forgotten element of their role with their employees — the “duty of care” towards their staff, both as it relates to their professional aspects but also by indirectly fostering healthy personal lives, as well. Properly supported, these changes can actually be used to create a healthier relationship between organization, their employees, and the lives we all lead outside of work. Our futures as individuals, parents, professionals, communities and organizations are so interrelated at this time that we need to look for innovative ways to support the resilience of our public health systems, and businesses should take more responsibility and get creative.
We are encouraging organizations to support men and women uniquely and at times separately given the conditions we are facing. Men and women, as already noted, process and experience stress, anxiety, depression and other issues very differently. In our own experience as coaches and facilitators, working with men separately has proven to provide more honest conversations and humble learning realizations regarding all aspects of a healthy relationship to the new power and role dynamics in the home and at work. This approach also provides consistent accountability and support in areas of self-care, emotional maturation, resilience, creativity and leadership.

In the past seven months men, women and families have undergone an unexpected initiation with a new way of living and working. This new lifestyle has and likely will continue to put new demands on parents, couples, families and single people whose daily routines have been disrupted, challenged and restricted in ways that diminish living conditions and will adversely affect public health and quality of life in families, communities and businesses. Business and community leaders must address the challenges that COVID-19 present, however we believe the shorter and long-term mental health effects of pandemic life are not to be overlooked. The pandemic is affecting and will continue to affect the mental and general health of everybody. However, the health of men should be of concern not only given the higher rates of mortality and social factors contributing to mental health issues, but to ensure the recovery and flourishing of our families, communities, organizations and economy.

If you would like to discuss how you can better leverage your own organizational potential through helping men we are available to work with you to develop the right program for your company.

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The Authors

William Walker is a leadership and men’s coach with 18 years of experience working with professionals, executives, inmates, men and adolescent boys. He has coached hundreds of executives and leadership teams from organizations including Standard Chartered First Bank, The Royal Bank of Canada, McGill University, ACASS, St. Royal Entertainment, Blue Rush, GC Biotherapeutics, Emergent Biosolutions and Keyturn Public Benefit Corporation. He has written articles on men’s health, organizational learning and leadership, appeared on the Fully Integrated Leadership Podcast and presented at international conferences on leadership and organizational learning. He has an MBA in Sports Management is a certified Integral Therapist and teaches in the department of communication at the University of Ottawa.

Paul Simard is the founder of huMENity, a peer-driven support community that encourages men to connect more deeply with their emotional and physical selves, as well as a facilitator and men’s coach. His work focuses on men of all ages, in small group work as well as one-on-one coaching. He has worked with and participated in men’s circles and organizations from around the world, has written multiple articles on men, masculinity and leadership, has been a guest on several podcasts, and is a TEDx Speaker (The Mythical Man). Paul has held senior leadership roles in a wide range of organizations for the past 12 years, with a primary focus on the not-for-profit sector.

 

References

Soundcloud (2020) retrieved from interview https://soundcloud.com/gocommonthread/gender-and-covid-counting-the-uncounted
Global Health (2020) retrieved from https://globalhealth5050.org/the-sex-gender-and-covid-19-project/
Khan, Ratelle, Arendse (2020) retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s42438-020-00152-1
Mayo Clinic (2020) retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/male-depression/art-20046216
Morneau Shepell (2020) retrieved from https://morneaushepell.mediaroom.com/2020-10-14-Almost-4-in-10-employees-are-less-motivated-at-work-since-the-pandemic

If You Do Not Transform Your Pain, You Will Transmit It

On Men’s Pain, Healing and Transformation

“There is no coming to consciousness without pain.”
– Carl Jung

 

GI Joe

This article is about pain, its healing, and its transformative importance for men, particularly men in Western, secular culture. It’s not to say that this topic isn’t important for woman or that the challenges I outline don’t translate to woman, but I’m exploring this from a male perspective to attempt to isolate some key hindrances to – and opportunities for – men’s transformation. Specifically I’m speaking here of the deep psychosomatic and at times existential pain that comes in moments of personal crisis, loss, identity dismantling, and emotional breakdown – the pain experience that can open us to profound new ways of seeing and being in the world as men.

Since my earliest memories as a child, I remember stuffing emotional pain and hurt out of my awareness – either simply unconsciously as a pattern already set in my individual psyche and the male condition or by external influence from parents, family, father figures, and the pain avoidant Western culture at large. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I vividly remember the all too common lines, “suck it up!” and “don’t be a cry baby!“, “boys don’t cry“, among many others. As a child I swallowed up and began to emulate many of the masculine personifications in television, movies, and play. You know them: Rocky Balboa, The Terminator, Hee Man, Gi Joe, and all other things masculine. At a very young age I learned how (or at least tried my darned best) to be strong, tough, and stoic. I don’t mean to say there’s anything wrong with these qualities, it’s just that my environment and the culture around me provided very little encouragement to experience other essential qualities to healthy development such as vulnerability, openness, and emotional awareness. I know I’m not the only one here. After recently going through a life crisis with probably the most significant emotional pain of my own life I realized that I was very unfamiliar with pain, what do with it, and how to process it in general. After talking with other men during this experience I began to realize that this is a general immaturity among us. Several men I talked to in fact advised me to “just keep busy and keep your mind off it“. I began to realize that in our secular, pain-avoidant culture men simply don’t have an understanding of the importance of pain nor wisdom or contexts for making meaning out of pain and using it as a catalyst for their emotional and spiritual development.

A Pain Avoidant Culture

pain avoidance

Our Western, secular society doesn’t acknowledge or talk about the importance of experiencing pain as a means to further opening one’s heart and mind towards further development. In fact, we are more pain-avoidant than we know. Pain is considered to be unnatural and is avoided at all costs. And we avoid and numb pain in a whole lot of ways, including repression, distraction through self-medication, entertainment, sex, consumerism, and through medical and psychological treatment. And this pain avoidance is deeply embedded in our institutions, particularly medicine.

Consider these facts: antidepressants are the most prescribed drug in the United States and use of psychotropics has tripled between 1998-1994 and 1999-2000 (CNN Health, July 09, 2007); preschoolers are the fastest-growing market for antidepressants – at least four percent of preschoolers (over one million children) have been diagnosed as clinically depressed (Depression Facts and Stats, Murray & Fortinberry, 2005); depression is Canada’s fastest-rising diagnoses; and although twice as many women as men are diagnosed with depression, most psychologists agree that is because men are less likely to seek help out of fear and depression in men often manifests itself as a substance abuse problem.

The fact is most men (and many women too) have a tremendous amount of unresolved pain and we don’t know what to do with it. In our secular culture we don’t have a way of making meaning out of pain and suffering. In my good friend Olen’s words, “we don’t see pain as a corridor out of which new maturing can happen”, we see it as an obstacle to get out of the way so we can get on with our lives.

Transforming Pain

phoenix

So what if we have unresolved pain, right? We’ve all been bruised, everyone’s got their scars, so what’s the point in experiencing it or ‘re’-experiencing it? Do we really want to encourage men to embrace pain? Isn’t it one of the strengths of the masculine that he can rise above pain and “hold the ship steady amidst the storm“? Well, I think the answer to these questions lies in what happens to unresolved individual and collective pain. And what happens is that unresolved pain gets disowned (individually and collectively) and gets used up as energy in our shadows as anger, rage, hatred, and resentment and it gets projected onto our partners, family, friends, co-workers and the world at large.

In the words of Father Richard Rohr, “if you do not transform your pain, you will transmit it”. Rohr, has dedicated much of his life to men’s spirituality and understanding the challenges of the male condition today. In a talk called “Men and Grief”, he gives a passionate and compelling speech to a congregation about the importance of men, particularly Western men, to learn how to deal with pain and grief as a means of healing and transformation. He said one thing in this talk that struck me to the core: “the way you can tell the grieving and weeping is over, is when you no longer have the need to blame anybody… including yourself“. I remember when I heard that, I thought, “shit, I have a lot of work to do!” In his book The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine, spiritual teacher Matthew Fox describes the path of transformation through pain so eloquently here:

”This way goes into the darkness, the wounds, the pain, and also the silence and solitude of existence to find what we have to learn there. It is a way of letting go and letting be, of emptying and being emptied, of moving beyond judgment and beyond control, of sinking and learning to breathe, to sit, to be still, to calm the raging monkey brain, to dwell in silence, to taste nothingness without flinching, and ultimately to focus. It is the way of grieving. Without grief we cannot move to the next stage, which is one of giving birth. This, all spiritual warriors need to undergo many times and in many places and on many occasions and under diverse circumstances.“

So how do you transform pain? According to Rohr in his new book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, you do this by “turning wounds into sacred wounds, that heal others.” This does not mean becoming wound ‘identified’. Rather it means being with your pain, owning it, even loving it for where it takes you in your being, and then offering the state of being you’ve been graced with to others.

sacred wounds

The crack in your being that pain inflicts is a sacred gift where openness, love, compassion, vulnerability and new inner wisdom can emerge and connect with the world. Most would agree that these qualities are seriously lacking in the male condition as a whole. Carl Jung once said that so much unnecessary suffering comes into the world because people will not accept the legitimate suffering that comes from being human. It’s hard to say how much of the violence, corruption, and harmful narcissistic behavior in the world today relates to the retarded development of these abovementioned qualities in men. I had a client recently (I work as a life and career coach) who had been going through a mid-life crisis and began to see through his own cracks; he said to me, “you know, I don’t think I ever even knew what compassion was before this happened“. In my professional experience, there are many, many men in the world like this. Granted, this is changing and a minority of men are now embodying, even championing qualities such as empathy, compassion, and an integration of heart and head, but we have a long way to go.

Through my own recent experience with pain I found that, by allowing the pain to be and to work on me, over time, the initial physical and emotion intensity and psychological disorientation of my grieving gave way for something new. I began to see and experience and understand the gifts that the pain was bestowing upon me: a profound openness and intimacy to my essential being, heart-connection, and vulnerability. As I kept this space open and allowed these qualities to be (in fact, I didn’t often have a choice) I was able to connect with others in deeper and more meaningful ways than I had previously. I noticed how the qualities I mentioned above became magnified and took on new meaning. My experience of compassion and empathy, in particular, were heightened as I was able to understand and feel in all of my being, not just my head, the suffering of those around me, my clients, community, and the world. I was tuned in a different way. I was also able to see in this state how disembodied I was from these qualities prior to this experience – unfortunately, that’s how it works sometimes. I realized that part of my own healing needed to involve sharing what I was experiencing with others. That intuition was verified in my experience as several people noticed and thanked me for this new degree of openness. I even started a local men’s group where men could come and learn about different perspectives on pain and it’s importance in their emotional and spiritual growth (I’m still waiting for attendees, lol). Indeed, what had happened is that I allowed my wounds to become ‘sacred wounds’. Now the work is to continue to honor these gifts that my pain opened me to and to cultivate a space for them to be.

My culture has always taught me to transcend pain. Not to descend with pain as a means for my transformation. I was never taught about pain, given a context to fully experience it, process it, and transform it, which is a necessary step in real transformation. So, as a young adult I sought my own answers through reading and exploring different spiritual traditions and connecting with friends and mentors that had more experience than I did in this area. Unfortunately, most men in our culture today don’t have the knowledge, resources, or experience to know how important the pain process is for their transformation. In our evolution as men and as a culture, we need to learn how to be with pain, to own it, and let it crack us wide open before we transcend it. And we need contexts that support men in transforming their pain so that we no longer inflict unnecessary suffering on ourselves and the world.