Why Telling Men to Simply Talk about it Simply isn’t Enough

Written by by Rogers Behavioral Health with insights from Dr. Rachel Leonard, clinical supervisor at Rogers

Man up. Boys don’t cry. Feelings are for the weak. What happens when for generations, men are held to unhealthy and, as it’s becoming increasingly clear, dangerous stereotypes of masculinity?

More than 76% of all suicide deaths in the U.S. today are male. And of them, 84% did not have a diagnosed mental health condition.

Yet this does not mean that men aren’t living with mental health issues. In fact, each year:

  • More than 6 million men suffer from depression.
  • 3 million struggle with anxiety.
  • 1 in 5 develop alcohol dependency during their lives.
  • 10 million will be affected by an eating disorder.

So why are so many men suffering in silence?

“Stigma plays a role in many individuals not seeking treatment even if they realize that they are struggling with mental illness,” explains Dr. Rachel Leonard, clinical supervisor at Rogers Behavioral Health.

“This can especially impact men, who may hold beliefs about masculinity and gender roles that indicate that they should not express vulnerability or show certain emotions. They may view their struggles as a sign of weakness instead of a common, yet serious issue that can be successfully treated.”

As Aaron, a former patient at Rogers, explains, “Being a male who has dealt with an eating disorder, I was hesitant to disclose details of my struggles because of the widespread stigma and perceived femininity of the disease. Opening up about my personal battles was certainly not an easy task. I felt doing so would risk others viewing me in a different, unfavorable light.”

“Research demonstrates that peoples’ attitudes improve when they have direct contact with others with mental illness,” says Dr. Leonard. “Increasing dialogue about our own experiences with mental illness or mental health treatment can be helpful to normalize these experiences.”

She adds that men are often less likely than women to discuss their struggles with mental illness or their experiences seeking treatment with friends, family members, and coworkers, which can contribute to mental illness being viewed as more uncommon than it actually is.

Changing future conversations by changing perception

A tide seems to be changing as more and more men in the public spotlight are coming forward with their own experiences with mental health.

A tide that may be redefining what it means to be a healthy, strong, powerful man.

Whereas it may have once been inconceivable to imagine John Wayne or Steve McQueen address their mental health, today’s headlines include men from nearly every walk of life including The Rock, Larry Sanders, Prince Harry, Ryan Reynolds, and Kanye West.

“I’m very encouraged to see increasing awareness of mental illness among men and more open dialogue about this, especially among individuals who may be viewed as masculine role models,” says Dr. Leonard.

“I especially appreciate the conversations men are having regarding their own experiences in treatment, and I’m hopeful they inspire others to seek help and to talk more openly about their feelings and struggles.”

As Aaron attests to, “Addressing my issues openly has been a positive thing for me, and the reaction I received was overwhelmingly encouraging. Now I believe that opening up about struggles is more an act of courage, rather than weakness.”


This blog was originally published at https://rogersbh.org/about-us/newsroom/blog/why-telling-men-simply-talk-about-it-simply-isnt-enough on 7/13/2018 and is republished here with permission. 

Supporting Your Adolescent with the Back to School Transition

Written by Clementine Portland Clinical Director Zanita Zody, PhD, LMFT 

Zanita guides her team with warmth and compassion as they provide comprehensive care to the adolescents who entrust their treatment in them. In this week’s blog post, Zanita shares tips on how to support your adolescent as they get ready to make the transition back to school.

Transitions represent points of vulnerability. Imagine breaking down a cardboard box. It is along the points of transition that one focuses. Similarly, life transitions increase vulnerability to a variety of mental health concerns. In fact, most eating disorders develop during transitions. Because your children are still learning to manage the stress and emotions that come with transitions such as returning to school, they are at an increased risk of returning to familiar behaviors.

There are several things you can do to help support success through this transition:

  1. Explore their excitement and this may be met with resistance, especially if there is a history of avoidance. It can be difficult to determine if this is in service of the healthy self (HS) or the eating disorder (ED). Asking them to share the thoughts and feelings of both can help clarify internal conflicts and encourages them to open up by honoring the ED and any fears or grief they may have about letting it go.
  2. Consider the dialectic,which acknowledges two conflicting truths simultaneously (e.g., excited and afraid). Rather than glossing over this by “staying positive,” honor your child’s experience while also emphasizing motivation and skills to support success.
  3. Create a plan for managing potential challenges.
    1. How does wellness class align with their current exercise plan?
    2. Are they hoping to return to competitive sports?
    3. Any concerns about changing in front of peers in the locker room?
    4. Does health class cover nutrition and weight?
    5. Do they feel “left out” after being away?
    6. Do their peers eat lunch? Is this a time they were likely to use behaviors?
    7. How will snacks fit into their schedule?
    8. Do they feel pressure to “catch up” or perform academically?
  4. Help them identify coping skills that encourage mindfulness, distress tolerance, affect regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. These skills are likely challenging for your child and arguably necessary for creating a sense of balance and well-being as they return to school.
  5. Discuss what they may want to share with peers and teachers and role play those conversations.
  6. Consider a 504 plan, which addresses individual needs and can offer critical supports. If potential stigma is a concern, weigh this against the benefits of additional support, recognizing too that these plans can be modified at any point.

While returning to school can be frightening, with your support and open communication the return to “normalcy” can help facilitate a renewed sense of meaning and purpose, moving your child further towards recovery.

For more information about Clementine adolescent treatment programs, please call 855.900.2221, subscribe to our blog, and connect with us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

This blog was originally published at http://clementineprograms.com/supporting-your-adolescent-with-the-back-to-school-transition/ on August 21, 2018 and republished here with permission. 


Eating Disorders in the Asian American Community: A Call for Cultural Consciousness

Written by MEDA Undergraduate Intern, Lauren Kim 

If you’re Asian American, you know that there is nothing good about hunger. Many of our parents, whether they came to the country as immigrants or refugees, know real hunger. They make sure that we never leave the house without full bellies and greet us when we return with heaps of warm homemade food. Food is our love language – the one thing that transcends the language barriers, the cultural differences, the generation gaps, and all the other things that keep us from saying “I love you” out loud.

But by twisted logic, food is also the enemy. If you’re Asian American, you also know that being fat in an Asian family is tantamount to falling short of making the honor roll. It is understood as an indication of personal weakness – a lack of discipline, laziness, failure. When you’re “fat” by Asian standards, it can be hard not to feel like a burden to your family because you’re told, either implicitly or explicitly, that the shame is not only carried by you, but by your family as well. And so, the burden of shame begins to feel even heavier.

What makes things exponentially more complicated is this idea of familial duty. Because so many Asian Americans are commonly raised on the rhetoric of hard work and sacrifice, we are ingrained with a deep desire to express our gratitude to our parents by fulfilling their hopes and dreams for us. For some, that might mean becoming a doctor or a lawyer. But for others, it could mean losing weight to get closer to the ideal Asian body – small, pale, and willowy thin.

One thing that sets Asian culture apart from others is the level of brutal honesty with which people speak. Time and time again, I’ve noticed that there is a general willingness to make comments, especially on other people’s appearances, which can be so abrasive that they sometimes err on the side of cruelty. When you are taught that being thin is a virtue, and that being heavy and being happy cannot be feasibly reconciled in one body, “fat” becomes the worst thing you can be called. So whether we want to or not, Asian Americans cannot help but internalize our culture’s guidelines on what a desirable body looks like, and by default, what its converse looks like.

Growing up, I resented the unreasonable expectations placed on me by my family and my culture and I looked to every family gathering with anxiety and dread. Being around extended family always meant one thing: that I’d have to bear hours of being force-fed excessive amounts of food by the same people who would tell me to my face that I had gained weight since the last time they saw me. And through it all, I would force a tight-lipped smile and try to maintain my composure. If I was ever so bold as to politely refuse the food that was offered, I’d be urged by my mother to “just be polite” and eat. And if I did accept the food and finished it, more would immediately be piled onto my plate, pressuring me to eat way past the point of fullness.

As my fellow Asian Americans know all too well, there is no winning when you grow up in this contradictory culture. The only thing that never seems to change is our culture’s steadfast commitment to a singular definition of beauty. In a world that has begun to promote loving yourself and finding beauty in your flaws, Asian culture has not managed to keep up. There’s an overbearing pressure to be perfect naturally, or to constantly be improving yourself if you’re not. This mentality helps to make sense of why plastic surgery is so prevalent and even normalized in Asian countries. Why love your flaws, when you can remove them, right?

It’s easy to see how these dangerous messages can encourage body dissatisfaction in the Asian American community and eventually manifest as an eating disorder. According to a statistic cited on the National Eating Disorders Association’s website, Asian, Black, Hispanic, and Caucasian youth have all reported attempting to lose weight at similar rates [1].

But there’s no way that you would know that, judging by what is commonly portrayed in the media. Eating disorders continue to be an issue that is typically attributed to white, straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied women of high-income backgrounds. Though we are slowly making progress in challenging this narrow-minded view of what someone with an eating disorder looks like, there is far more work to do. The lack of Asian Americans represented in the national discussion on eating disorders seems to indicate that many are still suffering in silence. According to Dr. Szu-Hui Lee, a clinical psychologist and director of training at the McLean Hospital at Harvard Medical School, Asian Americans tend to under-report mental health issues. She explains: “There’s a big stigma with seeing a psychologist. [Asian American] parents are more likely to send their kids to an academic counselor than a psychologist.” [2]

In a culture where optics matter so much, it is not hard to see why individuals with eating disorders struggle to speak up and ask for help. The stigma attached to mental illness is so severe in our culture that our parents are likely to respond to our pleas for help with fear, denial, blame, and anger.

As someone who has struggled with and recovered from my own eating disorder, I am familiar with this kind of reaction. When I found that I could no longer keep my suffering at bay, I rehearsed the words I wanted to say before mustering up the courage to tell my parents. Their response was dismissive at first, eventually evolving into frustration and then hopelessness. As much as they wanted me to get better, they didn’t understand why I was doing this to myself, and had no clue where to go for help. And when I tried to learn more about treatment and recovery on my own, I found that my background bore little resemblance to the movies I watched and the stories I read online. For a long time, it seemed like nobody understood quite how I felt.

While eating disorders certainly span all cultures, the way they are experienced can differ drastically depending on the culture in which an individual is raised. For me, being Asian felt like an obstacle to my recovery because I had trouble overcoming my shame and locating the resources I needed to get better. It is evident that the Asian American community is in desperate need of greater awareness and more resources catered to our experiences. Hiring people of different backgrounds and making efforts to provide intercultural awareness trainings for clinicians is a good place to start.

And to those who are recovered from or currently struggling with an eating disorder, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable with someone you trust could be the first step to healing. It was for me. Uprooting a stigma that is so deeply entrenched in our culture can’t be done overnight, but we can start to chip away at it by exposing our suffering and finding strength in our shared experiences.

Like what you read? Check out Lauren’s final MEDA project, an E-Zine on the topic of eating disorders and body image in the Asian American community: https://issuu.com/kimlauren97/docs/eating_disorders_in_asian_america

[1] https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/people-color-and-eating-disorders
[2] http://www.mochimag.com/article/diagnosing-the-asian-american-eating-disorder/