Saturday, January 24, 2009

I Have A Question

I get in trouble now and then for making assumptions about men. I say things like "Men do this..." Or, "Men think that..." And when I do, my friend Phillip calls bullshit on me. Maybe I should say, "Men my age think this or say that..." But I am a woman with a considerable amount of experience with men, though unsuccessful and mostly unhappy, this experience does form my impressions of men. I know not all men are alike, and that the men I've loved and lived with do not represent all men, but they do all seem to have something in common with men in general. I can hear Phillip groan clear from San Francisco, since he finds such generalizations absurd. And I do admit, Phillip does not fit neatly into any of my male pigeonholes. So perhaps it's time I stopped making statement about men in general and started asking questions instead. Maybe I can say, "it seems to me that the men I have known..." Or, "Is it true that men...?"

Yesterday I wrote about bipolar disorder from my point of view, as a woman with bipolar disorder, and a visitor who always has something stupid and obnoxious to say, commented that it's only women who get bipolar disorder. I cannot quote him precisely, since I almost always delete his comments as fast as he posts them--I have no time or interest in debating anyone that ignorant. But his assumption that bipolar disorder is a female thing raised a point worth exploring. It isn't that bipolar disorder is more prevalent in women than men, (it's an equal opportunity genetic crap shoot) but it is true that men are reluctant to admit to needing help. It is obvious in my group therapy experiences that it's mostly women who are seeking help. It might be that their families have forced this help upon them, and it might be that women are more comfortable than men sharing their feelings in a group, since women are more open about their feelings with their own friends and family than men seem to be--especially men my age.

These men were raised in a time of rigid roles for men and women. Men my age had trouble finding solid footing during the early years of the women's movement, and feminism is still mostly a dirty word to them. Feminism forced many changes on these men. And they did not like what seemed to them a loss of power and control. Rigid rolls are easy to understand. The shifting ground of new ways of thinking and feeling made them uncomfortable, left them off balance, and pissed off about it. Often women in an attempt to rescue a marriage that isn't keeping pace with her needs suggests couples therapy (I've done it myself) and often the answer is a loud and emphatic "NO! You're the crazy one, not me." The reasoning is usually that if a woman is unhappy in the marriage the problem is hers, not his. If therapy can "fix" her, no harm. But if therapy leads her to the conclusion that her marriage is stifling and not meeting her needs, she will probably decide to bail on the marriage. So to a lot of men, therapy ruined their marriages. The fault is not theirs, but the therapists.

So why then do so few men with bipolar disorder seek help? Why are the waiting rooms of psychiatrists around the country filled with women and not men? My theory is that for a man to admit that he is ill or needs help is still seen as weak by other men. Especially if the illness is considered a mental illness. And there is still a large part of the population that has this stereotype about men. Men are still supposed to be strong and stoic, impervious to pain of any kind--physical or emotional.

So tell me you men, what is your reason for not seeking therapeutic help? Are you without problems, without psychic pain, mentally healthy? If you have sought help, has it helped? Inquiring minds want to know.

28 comments:

Kulkuri said...

Men are more reluctant than women to see a doctor for anything.

Utah Savage said...

We know that Kulkuri, but why? Why are men reluctant to seek medical help?

Comrade Kevin said...

I think it stems from societal conditioning, Utah.

My Grandfather, my mother's father, suffered from bipolar disorder but that fact was considered a family secret and he himself never admitted to anyone. In fact, it was my Grandmother who told me of his illness, years and years after his death---after I'd I had my first major episode. This was news to my mother because he never even told even one of his children.

Back in April I was hospitalized with a man who I guessed to be in his early seventies who simply refused to tell any of us fellow patients that he had been suffering from depression. I forget the exact euphemisms he used, but if you listened to him talk you'd think he was just in a hospital to treat some problem like high blood pressure. Of course, no one goes to a psychiatric hospital to treat hypertension, but...

Nowadays, it's not as big of an issue, and I think with the Baby Boomer generation forward it's become less of a social stigma for a person to admit to having mental illness.

Yet, even though it's okay for men to be more sensitive, we're still expected to be strong and completely independent. We're expected to be Captain Ahab fighting the White Whale alone---being a man can be a very lonely experience because we're expected to do it by ourselves and not reach out to friends.

Women might not understand that fact because it's so expected that women will reach out to each other for all reasons. I find if a woman has a problem or is seeking clarity she'll call a fellow female friend on the phone almost instantly, without a second thought.

While I'm thinking about it---bipolar strikes men and women about the same, though oddly schizophrenia strikes far more men than women.

And you're right. For men, being weak is seen as being feminine and being seen as feminine is probably the worst epithet you can hear a man hurl at another. At least most men, anyway. This is changing with time, but there's a long way to go.

So long as there are rigid gender roles in place, every man will be secretly afraid of not being man enough or conversely afraid of being too feminine.

It's getting better, but there is still considerable work to do to change it.

Suzi Riot said...

Oh my gawd. I actually have known TWO bipolar men and no women. One was a friend of a friend, the other was a former boss. Both were in denial of the severity of the problem and thought that each symptom was an isolated and separate issue. They both thought that they were managing any problems brilliantly on their own. Both were absolute disasters and left a lot of damage in their wake.

Utah Savage said...

Kevin, thank you for the sensitivity of that explanation. I so hope that change come soon for you men. How lonely it must be. I isolate myself but if I need to talk to a close friend, I pick up the phone and call. And we share an honest that I doubt any of them share with their male mates. And I have heard men groan when a woman says, "We need to talk." This seems so odd to me. But maybe there is something in that Y chromosome. Maybe there is something in the differences in our hormones that explains some of this.

Suzi, thanks for that. I have a girl friend who has a guy friend who is bipolar and he suffers year long depressions and year long manias. I have been around him during his manias and I could only take it for a couple of minutes. His mouth never stopped moving, his thoughts were so chaotic and disordered it was very difficult to understand what he was getting at. He knows he's bipolar but refuses to take the drugs that would allow him to function and communicate with others. This sure seems strange to me.

Beach Bum said...

This is a rather tough question to answer. As far as men having bipolar disorder in the previous post I wrote that one of my male cousins has a very bad case of it that even with treatment keeps him homebound.

As for seeking therapeutic help I can only answer for myself. But most of the time that I have either a physical or mental issue I figure that the issue will one way or the other resolve itself on its own and that getting help, like counseling or seeing a doctor for some cold just isn't worth the hassle.

Nothing really stoic or "tough guy" about it. Making an appointment, dealing with the work issues about getting time to go, and cost. Seriously, I went to the doctor to have a minor mold removed and I started getting all sorts of bills for at least six months. All told a simple procedure that was done in 30 minutes cost me about $250.00!

But I finally did have to seek mental counseling earlier this year. After all the deaths in my family, my already zombie-like marriage getting worse, and a couple of other issues I felt like I was sinking in quicksand.

I had four sessions in which the counselor pretty much said all I needed was someone to talk with over my abundance of grief. He recommended marriage counseling but as usual my wife just doesn't feel she has the time.

The counseling helped a lot and if I get close to that way again I won't hesitate to go again.

Lisa said...

These are great questions and great observations. MathMan and I saw the comment you referring to last night and it sparked a brief conversation of the veracity of the statement. I think you're quite right, older men, in particular, were raised in a society that frowned on seeking help for anything.

The people I now know who are diagnosed bi-polar are mostly men. Being younger than 50, they are both in therapy and taking medication. I think their generation is more open to that help.

Utah Savage said...

Beach, you always deliver the goods. I wanted honesty and a serious consideration of the question. You've done better than that. You've told me what I hoped to learn about younger men.

Lisa, you too have reassured me that we might not be passing on the crap from one generation to another. That makes me hopeful that your son has a better chance for close relationships where he can safely express himself and talk about things that might be helped by merely honest talk about feelings.

pidomon said...

i cant speak to the bipolar part of the post.
i can speak as a middle age (47) year old male not for all males but just for me
I hate to admit I need help I hate to admit that maybe I'm not the crown prince of the world.
I'm not sure where it comes from for me but if I had to guess it would be admitting being mortal is not the fun everyone makes it out to be

Gail said...

Hi Utah-

excellent questions and wise thoughts. I just thought I would mention that I work in addiction services. In this treatment arena it is always more men than woman seeking help. We usually have upwards of 24 men and around 12 women at any given time. Women are more reluctant than men to seek help for the disease of addiction. The reasoning is about the stereotype of the alcoholic and or addict all intertwined with motherhood. Women keep it a secret much longer than men. On the other side with mental health clients it is always more women than men because it is more accepted by society for women to seek help for mental health.

Men are "supposed to be" the providers and such so it is seen as a weakness which goes against the grain, so to speak.

I could go on but I will stop now. Phew.
Really Utah - you pose great questions and wisdom.
Gail
peace

Utah Savage said...

Oh Pidomon is a god. Merely mortal, merely human, not good enough? Humm. Food for thought there, Pidomon. Shall we start a new religion. I could as easily worship you as any other if worship were my style.

Utah Savage said...

Gail, that stat on addiction is very interesting. Is addiction counseling connected to some form of coercion, like DUI or work related? This is food for though--that it's OK for women to be thought crazy, but not alcoholic? I'm very curious about that.

Gail said...

Hi Utah-

Only three or four at any given time are mandated to treatment for alcohol or drug related offenses. All other admissions are voluntary. It is an interesting statistic/study for sure. Even in the treatment setting - and I counsel and facilitate groups in both programs - men are much more verbal about how much they drink or use - it even appears competitive, women more often than not down play their using especially if they have children.

Also, men are less forthcoming about their mental health issues while in treatment as opposed to the women who always speak about their depression, ansiety, etc.

The differences in the themes and flavor of the male and female programs are extreme.

Gail
peace.....

Utah Savage said...

What do these statistics suggest? Is this some hardwired thing?

Gail said...

In my opinion I think it is learned behavior. Eventually I guess 'hard-wired' is the result. It is a tough societal norm to change.

Even in the family's response and involvement, the husbands and parents of the women are far less forgiving of the women especially if they are Mom's, and the wives and parents of the men are much more forgiving even if they are Dad's.

Just the opposite is true with mental health diagnosis. More understanding of women, less for the men.

Hard wiring for sure.
amazing huh?

yellowdog granny said...

don't pay any attention to what BBC says..he's a sad old man and stupid on top of it..
see how i automatically assume it was BBC?

Utah Savage said...

YDG, you nailed that landing. The Utah judge just gave you a perfect 10.

D.K. Raed said...

Excellent post, excellent comments! I assumed the same thing as yellowdog.

I only know about my brother's BP. He absolutely refuses to seek medical help because 1) he thinks he cannot afford it, 2) he mistrusts everyone and everything, most especially doctors, and 3) he thinks he can work it out himself. He is in his mid-50's & from our shared youth, I cannot see that he was raised to hide his feelings or put on a macho-front. 15-yrs ago he abruptly changed personalities. He was a heavy drug-user in his youth, so naturally I have nagging thoughts that he f*cked up his brain chemistry somehow. Does anyone ever claim that as a trigger?

Utah Savage said...

Yes, DK, but usually drug use is the sufferers way of self-medicating. He's in pain and sought to relieve it, I suspect. Alcoholism is often a faulty coping mechanism. And almost all bipolar patients come into treatment with a substance abuse problem.

Paul C said...

Since 1982 I have had psychiatrists tell me I've had bi-polar alone, or schizo-affective disorder (which includes bi-polar).

I have episodes of severe moods swings obviously.

Also, I have a shocking drink problem. I am only alive I believe because of the amount of time I've spent in various institutions where I could not drink.

I have more success fighting depression than mania. For example, When manic I find it almost impossible not to go mad with alcohol etc. How can someone with zero insight during the manic phase be expected to be making rational decisions about anything even small let alone stuff re alcohol and drugs?

During a sever bi-polar episode when younger I did an armed robbery, got away with it, and then rang the police several hours later and told them to come and get me. Before that I had never in any sense been a criminal or had a history of violence.

But I went to jail; not for too long and I was scarred and changed by that......but I will not go into that. I had to do 10 months in a strict "dual-diagnosis" rehab on release.

BTW 2 weeks before the ten months were up, I went into town. Got drunk; committed a small crime. Waited for the cops and said "I want to go back to jail."

I could write pages on the euphoria of mania but simultaneously it can be terrifying when paranoia is mixed with the insane grandiosity.........

I wonder why for some people epilim and/or lithium can work like magic and not for others so much? Similar to how some schizophrenics can be 100% compliant with meds yet still hear voices.

Bi-polar? One VERY serious illness.

PS I had Australian psychiatrist tell me something like that in the USA in SOME circles it is almost trendy and fashionable to claim bi-polar.

Utah Savage said...

Paul C, Thanks for you comment. Your story was harrowing. I'm so sorry that you've been afflicted this way. Bipolar Disorder is such an awful disease if your medical professionals can't get your medications just perfectly tuned.

As to the chic factor for bipolar disorder in America--not so much. Almost every family has a crazy uncle or grandfather or mother who had moments when they were fun and entertaining, but within the next few seconds, turned mean, and full of rage.

I am at my most charming with just pinch of mania, add a teaspoon and I'm a fast talking, too loud, ready to take on anyone in a verbal joust. And the teaspoon of mania can easily become a tablespoon of psychosis, the kind with voices and visual hallucinations.

Thank you for sharing your story with us. I can only offer my deepest sympathies and hope for a treatment that makes a healthy, happy life possible.

an average patriot said...

Utah
Not socializing with women I find a lot of guys seem to be Bipolar. It most definitely is not a gender thing.
I find the majority in both sex's to have more than their share of mental issues!
I would start with "it has been my experience what are your thoughts?"
I never back myself into a corner unless giving a defend able opinion of which I would not debate anyway!

I find your discussions of your past sexual or otherwise very interesting. Think about this Hon!
I know after researching Thomas Jefferson I do not think like others. That said, the many bad choices of men in your life tells me a lot about you. What do you think! You know I love you so just ponder that, take care!

Cart said...

I read your bi polar post and it has had me thinking the past few day lazing on a sunny beach. There were insights I had never considered, but your post came on top of a controversy which relates bi polar to schizophrenia. The controversy largely being the differences in treating the two aeemingly diverse issues.
Now on men, of any age - including myself, I accept there are barriers to dealing with life issues. My personal preference is always for the female, but with a recogniti0on of those limitations as well.
All I know is that none of us are even close to perfect and the old 'mean average' means jack shit as well. You seem to cope well, as most of us do. If I could work out a better than coping life would truly be magic.
Thank you for giving me something to ponder on.

Utah Savage said...

Cart, in the past most men with bipolar disorder were diagnosed as schizophrenic. My biological father was one such case. I think is was more prevalent to diagnose men because their manic swings were often aggressive and violent. This is the psychotic phase of mania at its most extreme. I looks like schizophrenia or it did in the old days.

Women tend to turn their violent impulses inward. There are, like Beach's mother those who turned their violent impulses on their children. I think thats why my mother was so cruel to me. I believe she was able to escape diagnosis by refusing to fully participate in therapy. And these statements with a ...tend to...means that most, or a large preponderance of the data suggests... And a teenager who is bipolar is often just though of as moody and rebellious.

Lynda Lippin said...

Between misdiagnosis and the fact that a lot of times men with erratic behavior will end up in prison or on the street before ever seeking treatment, less men end up in the psychiatrist's office for treatment.

Then there is also the issue of self medication. How many alcoholic or drug addicted men are bipolar but untreated?

Lynda
Lynda's Great Adventure

Utah Savage said...

Linda, welcome to the ongoing discussion. So glad you left a comment. Please feel free to contribute your voice to whatever we're talking about.

Cart said...

Well you have my attention. I’m currently living with an older brother who has always been extremely creative but equally difficult. Now past retirement age it strikes me he is the oldest adolescent I’ve ever known.
By all standard measures he is now a serious alcoholic, but I’m starting to believe the from researching behaviour that he suffers narcissistic personality disorder. The alcoholism seems to be subsidiary to the underlying issues.
To misquote the lyrics, for him ‘even the good times are bad…’ He consistently enters relationships doomed to failure because he believes he can save the other person. But beyond that and his current subject the world is peopled by – well even I find his use of words offensive. The offense coming from the coming from the venom invested in the words.
Depression is certainly a big part of it, but so is psychotic episodes, given the insights here the condition is possible part of the conditions being discussed. Of course he won’t allow assessment, and is clever enough to play games with that anyway.
It this time of life I don’t see myself as a potential saviour, in fact I can only make his condition worse by trying. I don’t want to be around as he sinks further. The bottle might well save him, but only as an easy exit.

Utah Savage said...

Cart, I'm so sorry about your friend. I actually do know what that's like, to love a person who seems bent on self destruction using the bottle as the way either to mask the underlying illness, or as anesthesia. Self-degradation is a terrible thing to watch, especially if you truly love the person it's unbeabable, and you can not make him care enough about himself to seek professional help.