By David Geselbracht on December 10, 2013
Mahony & Sons pub was packed with people, but not for your typical pub event. Throughout the night on November 4th several talks were given and discussions had on an oft-neglected subject: men’s mental health.
“There’s stigma around mental health in general,” said UBC’s Geoff Soloway, one of the night’s organizers, “But there are some additional and different types of stigmas for men, and being willing to talk about them, and overcoming the different stereotypes, expectations and barriers to reaching out, is important.”
Mental health awareness is something UBC has made a priority. The event – ‘Movember at Mahony’s’ – was a collaboration between the Men’s Depression and Suicide Network, Human Resources, and Thrive, which itself is a week long campaign that promotes mental health on the UBC campus. And since it was November, the event coincided perfectly with the men’s mental health awareness initiative of Movember.
Dr. Marvin Westwood is a professor of counseling psychology and co-founder of the Veterans Transition Program, a group-based therapy program that helps Canadian veterans manage symptoms related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He described how the stigma around words like depression and suicide often scare men from seeking help when they need it. By approaching the subject differently, he said, his team has achieved incredible results.
Dr. Westwood has found that men just want successful lives with their kids and partners, but when clinical language is used that distances them, or makes them feel like there is something wrong with them – they just won’t seek help.
“What we tend to focus on here is how to help men be successful, and get resources when they need them,” said Dr. Westwood, “Without putting them in a box.”
Tim Laidlaw is a graduate student in psychology at UBC, as well as a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who participated in the Veterans Transition Program. He talked about his experiences in Afghanistan, and his difficulty transitioning back to Canadian society, after spending so much time in a military environment.
“When I came home I didn’t have the tools,” he said. “I didn’t know how to ask for help, and I didn’t even know the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist.”
Laidlaw said this lack of knowledge doesn’t just extend to military men, but men in general. And if there is anything he learned from his time at the Veterans Transition Program – which is applicable to all men – it’s that getting men to start asking for help is the first step to solving their mental health issues.
In between each speaker, the audience was given around ten minutes to discuss mental health issues, sharing their own experiences and listening to each other’s stories.
Soloway heard many positive conversations and believes the event was an excellent step in the right direction.
“This event at Mahony’s is a real mark of the integration and collaboration between students, staff, and faculty here at UBC,” he said, “as we work together to create an initiative around mental health.”