Healthy Living in the North

Tales from the Man Cave: We men can help each other cope with life

Numbers are funny creatures – or at least the way we react to them is funny.

Take prostate cancer mortality rates, for example. Roughly 4,000 men die each year from prostate cancer in Canada. Most are well over 50 years of age and each and every case is undoubtedly a tragedy. There are walks and talks about it and the message is getting out, which is great. There is a Movember fundraising event as well as Ride for Dad and Big Blue Ball. I have many friends who are currently being treated for prostate cancer and, as far as I am concerned, we cannot do enough to raise awareness and raise funds for research to improve their chances.

But there are other statistics about men and mortality, too, and they get less attention. Some 2,700 males commit suicide every year in this country. Some estimate that this figure actually hides the true number, in part because some motor vehicle accident fatalities, for example, are probably suicides. This number has remained more or less stable throughout the past several years.

In British Columbia, suicide is one of the top three causes of mortality among men aged 15 and 44. In Canada, suicide ranked as the seventh leading cause of male death in 2007.

It’s a tragedy that is hidden and taboo. Families who have lost loved ones in this way understandably don’t want to shout it from the rooftops but as a society, we should.

Culturally, men are at a great disadvantage for depression and suicide. We are not encouraged to talk about our “feelings” and, in fact, doing so is actively discouraged. It makes the guys feel a little awkward when someone starts going on about feelings. Most feel inadequate at dealing with it. What do we hear all the time? Boys need to “man up” and “suck it up” and “stay strong.” Vulnerability will not be tolerated!

This was probably an OK strategy when it came to the need to keep the tribe strong and fearless. In survival and war, there is not much room for talking about feelings. But in our modern world, it is a hindrance to health at best and a tragedy of enormous proportions at worst. Compared to women, fewer men report feelings of depression or suicidality but more men are likely to kill themselves, though women actually make more suicide attempts. The methods that men use are more lethal, resulting in 4 times more deaths. It is, therefore, really important that we change the way we think about men and talking about our feelings.

We men pay a heavy toll for silence and society as a whole suffers much from male mental health issues. It starts very early with alienation and isolation. The use of drugs and alcohol to “cope” compounds the issue and may result in addiction, violence, absenteeism, and increased road traffic accidents, to mention just a few.

Getting help is actually a sign of strength. The Crisis Centre is a wonderful resource.

We sometimes think that we need permission to seek help and support when things are tough. If that’s you, consider this your permission. May we men enable each other to seek the help we need. May we be the shoulder that supports a friend or workmate when needed.

Stay well!

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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The Grizzly Truth: Getting help early on

Men and depression: learning to get help early on“Hey man, I’ve got this thing, and I don’t know what it is…”

How many times has a conversation with a buddy started like this? How many times is the advice you give, “You should really get that checked out”? Speaking personally, I know I’ve been given that advice many times and then proceeded to ignore it completely.

Studies have shown that men think denying weakness and rejecting help is a sign of masculinity. I can recall incidents where my wife, out of genuine concern, would point out a cut or injury and ask me, “Why are you bleeding?” to which I would respond, proudly, “I don’t know.” The silliness of that approach might be apparent, but it doesn’t stop us from capitalizing on the opportunity to show how “manly” we are. However, that approach does stop us from getting assistance before it becomes a crisis or before it has significantly affected our quality of life.

I’m not speaking solely about medical issues either. We do this with our mental wellness, too. Not only do we put ourselves through more stress when we don’t get help on board early on, we potentially miss out on putting some protective factors in place that might save us lots of trouble in the long run. Maybe it’s an undiagnosed thyroid problem that is causing the lack of energy and the fluctuation in weight. Maybe taking a look at lifestyle balance and adding some exercise or dedicated social time might make all the difference. The research shows that, when it comes to mental health, the earlier we get some assistance, the better the outcomes are (and the less time we end up spending sick).

There are a number of things you can do now that could help if you feel that something isn’t right. You can try self-help from reliable places like Here to Help. If you’ve got a friend or a family member you can trust, have a conversation about how you’re feeling. Rather talk to a stranger? Many people have access to Employee Family Assistance Programs (EFAP) that they may not even be aware of as part of their employment benefits. If this isn’t a possibility, your local Mental Health and Addictions office or your doctor would be able to connect you to resources and/or offer some options to you. If you’re worried about confidentiality, I’d encourage you to ask the agency you’re talking to what their policy is about confidentiality before you make your appointment. That way you know your information is secure.

Lastly, another way to stay healthy ourselves is to take the opportunity to help others. If a buddy comes to you with an issue, take the opportunity to listen without feeling the need to solve the problem. Being an empathetic ear goes a long way, and it really takes the pressure off if you realize you don’t have to have all the answers either. If it seems appropriate, share some of the resources above, and if you’re worried about safety or feel like the problem is out of your league, get some help! Call the local agency that provides mental health services and get some support or information.

More resources:

Nick Rempel

About Nick Rempel

Nick Rempel is the clinical educator for Mental Health and Addictions, northwest B.C. Nick has lived in northern B.C. his entire life and received his education from the University of Northern BC with a degree in nursing. He enjoys playing music, going to the gym, and watching movies in his spare time.

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It’s more than the blues

A snow man slumps over.

For some, the holidays were less than a joyous occasion.

Christmas is finally over.  The tree is down, the last carols have been sung and, finally, all of those Christmas displays have been taken out of the stores. Yes, it’s true that Christmas can be a great time of year – we eat too much and exercise too little while we enjoy the company of family and friends; at least for most people.

For others, the holiday season and the start of the new year can be something completely different. It can be a time of loneliness and sadness, filled with anything but good will and hope. It can be a time where the blues turn into something much deeper.  It can be the start of depression.

While there are many mental illnesses that can have an effect on your mental health, mood disorders, particularly depression, affects 11% of men and 16% of women over their lifetimes, according to Health Canada. Depression can have a profound effect on a person’s life, taking a toll on relationships, productivity at work, and quality of life. Serious depression can lead to other health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or, in some cases, it can lead to suicide.

Although a person may be genetically predisposed to depression, there are usually other risk factors, such as stress, family issues, work issues, or personal losses. However, just because someone has a history of depression in their family doesn’t necessarily mean that they will suffer from it. Depression is usually the result of a few risk factors that are working together rather than a single root cause.

Depression is treatable, usually through a combination of medications and counseling. It’s important to remember that no two depressions are alike and there can be different options for recovery.

Recognizing depression and seeking help for the person who is suffering is key. Some common signs of depression are:

  • A loss of interest or a lack of pleasure in activities.
  • Withdrawing from social situations and a tendency to isolate.
  • Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, worthlessness, or guilt.
  • Change in appetite.
  • Change is sleep pattern.
  • Loss of focus, increasing forgetfulness, or difficulty concentrating.
  • Thoughts of committing suicide.

Remember, it’s possible to experience some of these things and not be depressed. We all go through times when we’re a bit down and gloomy; however, if several of these signs are present and persist for several weeks then you should talk to your physician. If you have thought of suicide, or someone you know has expressed thoughts of suicide, take it seriously and seek medical help.

Depression can present itself in other forms as well. It can present itself as anger or irritability, particularly in men. Children suffering from depression may complain of being sick, attempt to avoid school, or not want to be separated from their parents.

You can make an appointment with your physician or contact mental health and addictions services.  If you don’t want to speak with someone in person, then call 8-1-1 and speak with someone at HealthLink BC.  It doesn’t matter what route you take as long as the person who may be depressed gets the help they need.

What depression is not:

  • It is not simply a case of the blues; telling someone to “cheer up” is not going to get them out of a major depression.
  • It is not a sign of weakness.
  • It is not something to be ashamed of.
  • It is not something to be ignored.

If you want more information about depression or other mental health issues, then check out the Canadian Mental Health Association for more information.

Reg Wulff

About Reg Wulff

Reg is a licensing officer with Northern Health and has his BA in Health Science. Previously, he worked as a Recreation Therapist with Mental Health and Addictions Services in Terrace as well as a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator. Originally from Revelstoke, Reg enjoys the outdoor activities that Terrace offers, like mountain biking and fishing. Reg also likes playing hockey, working out, and creative writing. He is married and has two sons and believes strongly in a work/life balance as family time is important to him.

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The age of stress

The sun shines behind dark clouds

The sun shines behind dark clouds

Stress is a big ticket issue these days. Billions are spent on stress-related illnesses like depression and anxiety. This does not count the amount spent on physical illnesses, in which stress is a major factor, or the substance abuse issues which are troublesome for society at large, as well as for the individual. There are smoking-related deaths, alcohol-related deaths and more. Need I go on?

Add to this the money spent on dieting due to our society’s obesity issues (in which stress also plays a part), and you almost feel that we are missing something as a society.

The bills for pills, therapy, self-help resources, wellness and other treatments to alleviate stress keep going up. YouTube is full of alternative videos, quick-fix remedies and relaxation music for those who can’t sleep and for those with post-traumatic stress disorder and other severe conditions.

So, what the heck is going on? Let me tell you what I think.

Stress is a normal reaction and there is, most likely, nothing fundamentally wrong with you.

I believe in the idea that stress is a normal reaction to a life that is out of whack. But fortunately, there are ways that we can bring balance back into our daily lives and, subsequently, our mental wellness.

Don’t rule out those relaxation tapes, wellness training or yoga. These are being shown to have good, lasting effects for some people.

The very important role that diet and exercise play in mental wellness cannot be understated. Nor can the equally important role of awareness of your daily routine. Ask yourself: What is unnecessary and anxiety producing? Are you drinking too much caffeine? Consuming alcohol for the effect? Talk about it with a loved one.

Get involved in community activities and be a part of something. The old adage “it is better to give than receive” still rings true – volunteering does lift the spirits. Spending time in nature or a walk in the park among the trees can help too.

Finally, if there is something major in your life causing anxiety and strain there is a prescribed course of action to reduce fear and anxiety. Face it, fix it, forget it. Sounds easy, but it could take a long time to fix and you may need some help to do that. Thankfully, there are many online resources that don’t cost anything.

Here are some resources for leading a happier life (note: If fear and depression are overwhelming, you should speak to your doctor):

Enter to win a $300 GC to help support your healthy habits for the new year by entering our photo caption contest.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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Shine a light on men’s mental wellness (and win a prize!)

Nick's Movember facial hair

Nick’s Movember effort!

Alright, so who would like to win a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 or a 16 GB iPod Touch? I am calling on the creative forces in the north to christen a monthly blog I’m writing about men’s mental wellness. See, the thing is, northern men are some of the most resilient and hardy folk out there. We have a habit of not going to the doctor until things start turning green and falling off. And we don’t use words like “anxiety” or “depression.” A lot of the time we might not have a word for it. Feeling tired all the time, chronic pain, not being able to remember things, lacking a sense of satisfaction. In our culture, we might shrug it off and joke about fist fighting too many grizzly bears or say if a man isn’t irate about something he’s not doing his job.

The reality is that depression affects 840,000 men in Canada each year. That’s a lot of us. Furthermore, 2800 men in Canada commit suicide every year. Now, I don’t want to spend time mired in the problem. I’m starting a monthly blog update, with contributions from men living in the north, about how we stay well mentally. You don’t just walk up and bare knuckle box the bear. You spend time training. You curl some weights, you take some boxing lessons, you eat three chickens a day. Maybe you box a couple of smaller animals like a goat or a bobcat with a limp. Then, when the time comes, you have the tools you need to tackle that bear to the ground and make him tap out with a flawlessly executed guillotine choke hold.

The bear is a metaphor.

I’m calling on you to help me name the blog. Something you think encapsulates northern men’s mental wellness. Send in your submissions to menshealth@northernhealth.ca.

My goal is to be able to share some info and resources in a fun and positive way so that we, the men in the north, can stay as well as possible and have the tools we need to do it. Which brings me back to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 and the 16 GB iPod Touch. I’m calling on you to help me name the blog. Something you think encapsulates northern men’s mental wellness. Send in your submissions to menshealth@northernhealth.ca, and on January 9, 2014, a committee consisting of myself, two men working in the field of mental health and addictions in the north, and two community members will announce a winner, a runner-up, and a name for the blog. The winner will receive the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the runner-up gets the iPod Touch.

I’m looking forward to your submissions, make sure to include your name and contact information! Please share with your friends and colleagues and let’s have some fun!

 

References:

http://ca.movember.com/mens-health/mental-health

http://www.cmha.ca/public_policy/men-and-mental-illness/

 

Nick Rempel

About Nick Rempel

Nick Rempel is the clinical educator for Mental Health and Addictions, northwest B.C. Nick has lived in northern B.C. his entire life and received his education from the University of Northern BC with a degree in nursing. He enjoys playing music, going to the gym, and watching movies in his spare time.

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