Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Canadian Mental Health Week 2018 has come and gone again.

 As the stigma of mental health challenges is addressed through education and some improvements in services,  there really is  hope for many who suffer needlessly. However, in my opinion there is still quite a lot of work to be done to address the needs of students and males. I was left wondering about the different approaches to mental health for genders and why men continue to be more likely than women to kill themselves?

As a school board trustee, school council member and former President of the Federation of School councils, I have long advocated for enhanced mental health services for a student population whose needs are growing in numbers and complexity. Existing resources are stretched to the point that caseloads prevent existing professionals from providing meaningful assistance. More resources are needed.

Currently, the formula provides for one counselor for every 500 students when organizations like the NLTA, NLFSC and the NLCPA have been calling for a ratio of 1:250 for some time now. We obviously need more school-based mental health professionals to ensure that needs are met in timely fashion. The result would be effective interventions.

The provincial governments blueprint Towards Recovery: The Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan for Newfoundland and Labrador is moving in the right direction but at a tortoise pace.

Newfoundland and Labrador is the first province in Canada to launch the MindWell-U 30 Day Mindfulness Challenge, an online e-health technology to support mental health. This is the latest e-health service added to the province’s suite of online mental health and addictions supports for people province-wide, which includes Strongest Families, Bridge the gApp, BreathingRoom™ and Therapy Assistance Online. The government also announced a mobile crisis intervention team will be launched province-wide and $230,000 to plan for enhanced child, youth and young adult services

One of the most significant gaps is the provision of specialized mental health care services is for treating  men. Women with depression are more likely to attempt suicide but men are more likely to die by suicide. Women are also more likely to see their GP and seek treatment. Men are simply not seeking treatment. It remains culturally hard in a society where suicide is considered by many to be  morally and mentally weak. Men are more likely to be arrested because they have behaved badly than go see a doctor and talk about the problems they face. In fact, men are often more intent on dying, they are more prone to "spur-of-the-moment" suicidal behavior and they use more effective means of killing themselves.

Juxtapose this against the fact that men have been culturally predisposed to be the "stronger gender" - we are not supposed to talk about issues the impact us emotionally or negatively. When is the last time you heard someone say "women up?" or to "grow a pair". Is it any surprise that male suicide rates are so high? Add to this that most men who kill themselves are not diagnosed with a condition.

It is obvious that there are still huge gaps in preventing male suicides. Despite acknowledging all of this we do not take a gendered approach which would greatly improve outcomes for young males and middle aged men. Why don't we have Men's Centers where men can go to talk about their challenges without feeling like less of a man for doing so? Why are these resources unavailable to men when they need them? Its time for a plan that talks about gender - and that minority composed of men.

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