By Judith Fales
Historically, men have been taught that it is not “manly” to talk about physical or mental health issues. Matthew Cross, Wellness Coordinator for the Buffalo Police Department, couldn’t agree more. Cross and his team of volunteer peers reach out to police officers experiencing emotional stress.
“The media only shows a small part of what law officers deal with. The average person will see two traumatic events in a lifetime. During an officer’s lengthy career, they may see hundreds. Men have traditionally been raised to bury the bad things they see and keep moving forward. They are supposed to be the strong, dependable, tough guys. This works until it doesn’t. We all need to have an avenue to relieve us of the weight that’s holding us down,” says Cross.
This is especially important because, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, law enforcement officers, who are still mostly male, are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. Panelists of a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health program, “Ending the Stigma: Empowering Men to Prioritize Mental Health,” say men are taught to hide their fears and feelings and keep them bottled up. They say fixing this will require a shift in our culture in how we raise boys, and in redefining masculinity. The panel also discussed the need for culturally responsive treatment, noting that therapists need to understand the language and culture of the individuals they treat, and the role systemic racism plays in the therapeutic process.
The panelists also highlighted a campaign called “Kicking the Stigma,” which features public service announcements recorded by football players discussing their own mental health struggles. Since football players are often considered among the most “masculine” of men, the campaign’s goal is to encourage men to seek help for their anxiety and mental health issues. The campaign features Darius Leonard of the Indianapolis Colts; Hayden Hurst formerly of the Atlanta Falcons, now with the Carolina Panthers; and former Las Vegas Raiders teammates Solomon Thomas (now with the New York Jets), and Darren Waller (now with the New York Giants). The rock group R.E.M. contributed to the campaign with their song, Everybody Hurts. Mike Mills, one of R.E.M.’s founding members says, “If we can reduce the stigma around mental illness, more people will seek and receive treatment.”
The Harvard T.H. Chan program was moderated by Bryce Spencer-Jones, host of Unstuck Yourself, a podcast that addresses mental health struggles and overcoming trauma. Panelists included Kevin Simon, City of Boston Chief Behavioral Health Officer, Martin Pierre, Psychologist at Brandeis University Counseling Center; and Kalen Jackson, vice chair and owner of the Indianapolis Colts, and founder of Kicking the Stigma campaign. Listen to the program at youtu.be/WM2PUV9mj00. Check out Kicking the Stigma at www.colts.com/community/kicking-the-stigma/.
For a comprehensive list of local mental health resources, visit www.mhawny.org, or call 716-886-1242. Information and referral specialists are available M-F, 8:30am-4:30pm to help link individuals to community resources, providers, or treatment services.
Judith Fales MS is a writer and editor for Buffalo Healthy Living.