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Saturday, June 29, 2013

What men actually need to be stress-free?

A space to talk with peers and address the silence that surrounds their stress and mental health, say experts

Earlier this month, British comedian Stephen Fry spoke of his suicidal impulses and bipolar disorder. "I am the victim of my own moods," Fry said in an interview, and admitted to attempting suicide last year.

"You may ask how is that someone who has it all would want to end it all. That's the point. There is no 'why'," Fry, also the president of UK-based mental health charity Mind, said. The 55-year-old actor's admission throws light on a neglected area of mental health — no one's asking if the average urban man is okay.

For 36-year-old financial consultant Rajiv Singh (name changed to protect identity), this silence nearly cost him his marriage of 12 years. Singh wed his college sweetheart and moved from New Delhi to Mumbai six years later. His work pressures increased as annual targets reached crores. He began to display traits of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), an anxiety disorder characterised by irrational fears and repetitive behaviour. At one point, Singh worried that he had contracted an STD and underwent a blood test every month for nearly a year to confirm that he was safe. He refused to meet a therapist — no one knew what Singh or his wife was going through for more than a year-and-a-half. It was only when his wife told him that she wanted to end their marriage that Singh visited a psychiatrist to seek treatment, and was prescribed medication. He refused to visit a counsellor. "I can handle this," he said. The two-year silence had taken a toll on his wife, who slipped into clinical depression, but unlike him, chose to seek a counsellor's help.

Strong men can cry too
For Kenny D'Cruz, founder of a UK-based men's support group and active participant in the Men's Health Week held in the UK last week, Singh's assertion indicates a larger social issue — men aren't brought up to talk about their mental well being. To admit to a problem then is a sign of vulnerability and shame. "Men have a paranoia of abandonment and humiliation. They are used to internalising their emotions, as society doesn't 'allow' them to be ill or weak. As a result, mental health concerns of men are not caught fast enough."

Dr M Manjula, associate professor at the department of clinical psychology, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, specialises in youth mental health would trace the imbalanc to 'gendered' upbringing. "To feel sad or scared is considered 'womanly'. The messages we give our boys — 'Why are you crying like a girl?', 'Be only serve to increase their distress. In psychiatric hospitals, more men are treated for social anxiety than women," she says.

D'Cruz would agree. After his father, who worked in the Ugandan postal service, was declared an enemy of the state by Idi Amin in 1972, the family from Goa fled to the UK. Before they were separated, his father told D'Cruz, then eight, "You may never see me again." Though his father joined them nine months later, D'Cruz took it upon himself to look after his family. Before long he began to develop symptoms of Tourette's Syndrome with spontaneous, uncontrollable tics, depression, paranoia and eating disorders. "My mental health issues felt like my dirty secret," he says.

In 1999, he started Menspeak to create a space where men could talk. "I feel the way forward is talking. Telling the truth and moving on," adds D'Cruz, who will be visiting India to start a similar support group here.

Greater awareness needed in India
If reports are to be believed, such initiatives are needed in India, a country with more than two crore citizens in need of attention for mental health issues, 35 lakh in need of hospitalisation. In a recent article, a volunteer from suicide prevention helpline Samaritans Mumbai said of the 1,800 calls they received in 2011-12, 1,000 were from men.

But India has less than 3,500 registered psychiatrists in the country. Dr Soumitra Pathare, a Pune-based consultant psychiatrist and member of a policy group appointed by the Union health ministry to frame a national mental health policy, says that the need of the hour is to have a "buffet of services" that encompass peer support groups, district mental health centres, and more institutions. "The two headline mental health issues that affect young men is a high rate of suicide and alcohol abuse." Peer support groups have worked wonders in both instances, Dr Pathare points out.

Vandana Gopikumar, founder of The Banyan, a Chennai-based mental health NGO, says she'd like to see more people engage with each other. "We're becoming increasingly 'I-me centric' and moving away from a culture that looked at itself as a community."
Source : The Times of India

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