A Little Food for Thought

Roseburg, Newtown, Columbine… who will be next?

As we endure the next few days of TV pundits chattering about this and that on the media, two issues dominate the current news cycle: a) women’s health (Planned Parenthood), and b) another mass shooting – always by males who, in the course of revealing the facts, will be mentally ill and not receiving care.

As a topical issue, Planned Parenthood will go away.  Mass shootings will not.

Why?

Because it is only a matter of time until we experience another one.

Untreated mentally ill young men are not going away.  They live all around us in our communities and on our college campuses.  Most will never be violent toward others, but thousands will be violent toward themselves. Yet their brain disorders appear not to matter to us.  Until, as always, it is too late.

Any Google search will find plenty of male health disparities, one of which is that death by suicide ranks near the top of causes of death, especially in Native American communities.

Where is men’s health?

Where is Planned Fatherhood?

Where is the federal funding for helping young men?   Obama has offered some through his My Brother’s Keeper Program, but this a fledgling still in its nest.

The Movember men’s health movement – not a spelling error – came from Down Under and is starting up here in the US.  It has a long way to go but does focus on mental health.

In the meantime, where do young men find mentors, seniors, elders, and adult male role-models to help them grow in healthy young men sound of body and mind?

I submit for consideration that all the pundit talk about enhancing access to mental health services will not address a fundamental piece of male psychology, and that is that “Call us for help” is a failed strategy, especially for those at risk of suicide and homicide.

I try to imagine 007 calling a crisis line.  Or this young man in Oregon picking up the phone to call a mental health center instead of picking up a magazine of ammo. Except as a Saturday Night Live skit, neither of these images compute.

Currently, when young men turn 18 we toss them out.  We defund them.  We pull any safety net from under them.  Fend for yourself, we say.  Find a job we advise.  Join the Army. Make yourself useful.

And if you don’t?  Then you are a burden on the rest of us.

Did you say burden?  A young suicidal patient of mine who had suffered a crushed foot in a mining accident and had to have an amputation said to me, “If a man can’t work he might as well be dead.”

How many “mass murder shooters” had jobs, girlfriends, children they were providing for, or a duty to others in any form whatever?

If you are not “burdened” as a male with a day job, bills to pay, helping a friend put on a new roof – you are, as men often say, “As useless as a bicycle for a fish.”

Useless men are dangerous men. Just look at Jihadist recruits.

Consider that 30,000 men die from prostate cancer every year in the US and that the same number kill themselves.

Now consider that from 2007 to 2015 the American Journal of Men’s Health published roughly 4 articles with the word “suicide” in the title, and more than 1,000 with the words “prostate cancer” in the title.

In my parallax view of the world something is wrong with this picture.

If we really want to help young at-risk males feel good about themselves and stop shooting up our communities and themselves, we’re going to have to rethink a) our funding for male suicide research, b) our attitudes toward young men, c) our mental health delivery system, and d) how we are going to get on the ground and do something different to enlist young men and boys into their own development and positive growth.

But most of all, we need to put them to work.  We need to burden them with adult male responsibilities.  We need to begin – again – a Civilian Conservation Corps.

In the depths of the Great Depression, the CCC put three million unemployed young men at labor doing important work to help build a young country.  (If you are not familiar with the CCC see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilian_Conservation_Corps.)

That same beloved country is falling apart.  It is in disrepair. Bridges collapse. Forests need thinning.  Blue highways and city streets crumble under our tires.  The trails through the mountains those young men built are now tangles of vines and alder brush.

That country needs its young men.

Oh, and I am writing this from a 75-year-old CCC-built supervisor’s log cabin in the mountains of Northern Idaho.  The 800 young men who built this place and miles upon miles of nearby roads and trails and tunnels in this forest came from New York, New Jersey, and Arkansas.  Everyone a volunteer, they came with a willing heart.

Their stories abound hereabouts and are full of the pride of accomplishment. Travel to a far place.  Becoming a part of something bigger than themselves.  With ax, shovel, and sweat, they grew into men.  

An old timer said to me of his CCC days, “Best time of my life.”

Dr. Paul

8 thoughts on “A Little Food for Thought”

  1. Giving people rewarding work is one major step toward giving them purpose and dignity. No question. Your numbers re: death due to prostate cancer v. suicide among males are clear indications of where our resources must go.

    Horrible news from Roseberg, but, like you, I’m afraid this will come again. I still remember Isla Vista and Aurora and Columbine.

  2. Excellent post Dr. Quinnett! I too have been in very much favor of a CCC re-approach for the health of our country. Politicizing, policy, research and real funding approaches to mental health in the US is critical. Everyone is accountable to these issues.

  3. I had this discussion with my husband last night.
    There has to be a socializing process for men who are
    not jocks and not prom kings, where the lonely, alienated,
    slow to mature boys can learn they are not failures, and
    that others feel as they do. It seems that some of the shooters
    have failed the military, spent time in special ed,, been smaller
    than peers, come from broken homes.
    They have intelligence and sensitivities that are
    not valued, and they end up self-hating and identifying with
    the most notorious elements
    A CCC is a great idea for some of these young men, but
    creating safe places for them earlier in development
    might prevent even more pain and pathology.
    And, I would suggest that we, as a society, have to consider
    how we contribute to an environment that leaves
    so many feeling so invisible and hopeless. It’s
    not just policy.

  4. “Planned Fatherhood.” What a concept!
    The recipe for suicide is 1) being a “burden” in not having a meaningful occupation but plenty of woe; 2) the lack of “belonging,” being valued by people and your society, meaningful relationships; 3) having the means at your fingertips to succumb to suicide and demonstrating “risk-taking behavior” numbing you until you’re ready to act on your anger and desperation; and 4) having a mental health condition, often temporary and ‘justified’ by your life situation, that our culture, and ‘sick-care crisis system,’ will not acknowledge and address in a meaningful way. Some of us know all of this only too well, including how to put a safety plan in place until the person can readjust their thinking and behavior with appropriate therapy and caring, but pundits will keep clamoring for ‘more research’ (or gun laws) instead of training our population and medical care system on how to provide “CPR for the mind,” accepting the ongoing loss as “unavoidable” and therefore tacitly acceptable.

  5. An important, informative, yet touching article. Thank you, dear Paul, for your frustration and resultant wisdom. Joyce

  6. Well written as always and I love the new moniker! I have always believed that to lose yourself in the service of others is a form of therapy. Everyone needs a purpose, a reason to live, to be useful and what better way than as part of a team rebuilding this great nation. I vote for you as next President. Lead the way!

  7. And CCC would also help the 40,000 plus each year who die from overdose of opioids. CCC provides a meaningful work and housing option after detox/treatment!

  8. Paul; Such a beautiful piece on such a tragic issue. We had a new hire male therapist in our office who kept having new patients but no, or very little, continuing care. I started looking at his chart notes and found that he was “curing” in one or two sessions!! One case especially broke my heart and that was of a 50 year old male who had had a shotgun in his mouth 2 weeks prior to seeing this therapist. He saw this “therapist” and had ONE session with him. The therapist wrote in his chart document that the patient,” seemed to be in good spirits and not suicidal. He will call if he needs to talk more.”

    When I brought this therapist into my office, I asked him about this case and he said, “I have never had a patient suicide”. I told him of course he didn’t, he gets rid of them. I suggested to him that he should think about the damage he is doing and that maybe he has more suicide “notches” on his belt than he realizes and that keeping his “record” was a horrible and unethical thing to do. I asked him if he realized how hard it is for a 50 year old man to come and ask for help? He just stared. I told him that in that one meeting he had told that man that his problems were not important. In tears, because of the thought of all the patients in his short employment time he had damaged, I fired him. This was not a young man but a man who had been practicing therapy for over 25 years and taught therapists. As far as I am concerned he might as well have gotten a gun and killed people, given the way he practiced.
    Thank you Paul for insisting on keeping the conversation going and the attention needed for all of our young men.
    Janice

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