A League of Ordinary Gentlemen: Discussing Mental Health With Men

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Become a fan, Phillip Murray is board certified in adult psychiatry and currently in training for child and adolescent psychiatry at New York Presbyterian

After several years of psychiatry residency I felt pretty comfortable doing group therapy sessions. Whether depressed, manic, or psychotic — most patients could benefit from “Dr Phil’s” budding expertise. Some colleagues caught wind of this and asked me to facilitate a group discussion with people outside of the mental health system. Leading a group didn’t throw me, but the setting was a bit outside of my comfort zone.

The group would consist of men of color at risk for cardiovascular diseases and diabetes who were enrolled in a 12-week health program to promote fitness, nutrition and life style changes. This brought images to my mind of a locker room or barbershop, which weren’t exactly the best places to conduct therapy sessions. And my chromosomal kinship reminded me how painful the idea of a group of men sitting around “talking about feelings,” could be. With these thoughts fresh in mind, my job seemed impossible: In one session, I was supposed to talk to a bunch of regular guys about the importance of mental and emotional health.

The topic of men’s physical and mental health has been steadily gaining attention. From stalled men’s health legislation in 2001 to the “Movember” movement, awareness of the health challenges men face now seems to be reaching a fever pitch. National studies and anecdotal evidence show men bringing up the rear in outcomes for chronic medical conditions, and leading the pack in deaths from suicides and homicides. When pundits try to explain why, they often use social narratives about how men have lower rates of health care seeking behaviors and poorer coping mechanisms. The idea of the stoic loner has been ingrained and reinforced through contemporary culture and the media. For men the message has been, “Be in charge, be strong, resourceful and unfazed in every situation.” This may work in movies and books, but is quite a tall order to fill in everyday life. Men are crumbling under the heavy weight of trying to “take it like a man.”