Shutting the door on men’s health

Paul Hopkins – Talking the Talk

MY father spent most of his life suffering “with his nerves”. He had electroconvulsive treatment when aged only 18, and never got over the shock of it, he told me in latter years when, he said, he had “come to terms with his own inadequacies and shortcomings”. People thought him “odd” and he had few, if any,  friends. My dad, however, was very clever and lovable, though he never saw himself like that.

Fifty years on, we may be able to speak of mental health more openly, like a cancer, say, or dementia, but we are still a far cry from treating people with such issues in any truly committed way, in terms of the resources and money we invest in such.

‘There is just €15m additional funding in 2018, whereas up to €65m is needed…’

You  go to your GP  because you have a pain in your big toe, but feeling down, anxious, detached, emotionally abused  – suicidal even  – and many are reluctant to seek help, or simply don’t know who to turn to. Or they just seek out prescribed pills, legal or otherwise, which are at best a band-aid and no cure for an underlying mental illness.

My view is not to devalue the Trojan work being done by agencies like the Samaritans and Pieta House, or the, thankfully, enlightened views of those working tirelessly within the HSE,  against impossible odds such as inadequate or no – for 14 to 18-year-olds – beds and a shortage of professionals.

A new international study criticises Ireland for its lack of reform in the mental health sector. “Austerity measures and lack of clear policy guidance has resulted in very little progress. Staff shortages and lack of funding imposes boundaries even for existing services,” the study says.

The Mapping and Understanding Exclusion in Europe report finds the number of involuntary admissions to psychiatric care  has risen from 46.5 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013 to 52.6 per 100,000 in 2016. “Staff in mental health services has dropped from 10,476 in 2008 to 8,967 in 2014 – putting even existing services at risk,” it says.

Director of Mental Health Reform Shari McDaid has said there is just €15m additional funding in 2018, whereas up to €65m is needed “just to maintain existing levels of service”.

Women can be good at securing emotional succour amongst women, or often just “get on with it”, even though they have real pain with post-natal depression or menopause or a myriad other issues that lay them low. Men are a different.

Historically, men do not talk about their feelings or emotions, burying their dark thoughts instead in alcohol or manic work overload. That may arguably be changing, though young male suicide statistics or a trawl through social media posts suggests otherwise.

Few organisations actively supports men only.There’s not enough brownie points in supporting men: it can’t be touted  around for votes.

The Men’s Sheds Association is an exception, allowing men to come together in an environment of mutual support and encouragement, other than the bar stool. More than 380 men sheds nationwide offer respite from a daily grind and a chance for men to talk amongst men about their emotions; men wrestling with anything from bipolarism to sexual ostricisation to just downright abject loneliness. Men who just need other men to talk to.

The announced seven percent cut in Government funding to the Irish Men’s Sheds Association will hamper the organisation’s ability to support. But it is no small indictment of how we, as a society, care about those among us who find it difficult to cope with life.

Those who are different.  Odd, like my dad.