by Michael Bloom~
As a young person, I can remember hearing stories and seeing television shows which displayed the mid-life crisis for men. The stereotypical reaction to reaching middle age for men was to make extravagant purchases like flashy sports cars in an attempt to feel youthful. In addition, these men would grow a bit distant from their families as they desperately clung to the last moments of their perceived youth and carefree days. Once this phase passed, it was thought that these middle-aged men would return to “normal” by accepting the passage into the age of maturity and wisdom.
I am a middle aged man who has already experienced the death of both parents as well as eight other family members and friends within a 3 year period. Also, I transitioned into middle age while in the midst of family caregiving. I do not believe that I experienced a mid-life crisis but spent a period of time on the brink of a mental health crisis. Fortunately, I reached out for support and openly shared my feelings with a few close friends, my primary care physician, fellow life coaching colleagues, and a bereavement counselor. With this support, I took intentional action to deal with my feelings of depression and grief which helped me to avoid the negative outcomes that many of my fellow male caregivers experience.
Did you know that 1 out of 5 primary caregivers pass away before the loved one they are caring for? My father was one of those people. He served for 5 years as my mother’s primary caregiver prior to his catastrophic heart failure event, which was likely brought on by stress. As an old school gentleman from “The Greatest Generation,” my father did not openly share his feelings of anxiety or depression.
According to the Mayo Clinic, depression is now the 7th leading cause of death among men and is linked to 850,000 deaths annually across the world. Unfortunately, a major link to these deaths is that men go largely undiagnosed and untreated for depression. The suicide rate is 4 times higher among men than women. According to the Centers for Disease Control in 2011 – After age 65, the suicide rate disparity is staggering – 28.5 for men versus 3.9 for women. Could caregiving play in role in these statistics, especially for senior men?
Close to 40% of primary caregivers are now men who are performing heroically like their female counterparts. Younger generations of men will increasingly step into the role of caregiver as they will be needed to care for the aging baby boomer population. In order to successfully and sustainably serve in the role of caregiver for the long term, men must actively seek support to promote their physical and mental health.
I did not share all of this to depress you. If you (man or woman) have been losing interest in activities that you used to enjoy or feel constantly exhausted and unfulfilled throughout most every day, please seek support from your primary care physician to start as well as your closest confidants.
If you are concerned about the mental well-being of a family member or friend, be sure to reach out and let that person know you care. Do not direct or tell the person what to do as this may lead to a defensive reaction. Try to hold your judgment in check by doing a lot more listening than talking. Ask questions to gain more understanding and make sure you leave the conversation with a clear direction by asking the person how you can be of support.Please note that if you believe the person is of significant risk of harming himself or others, be sure to contact your local authorities to get the appropriate professional attention and support.
Mental health is just as important as physical health for total well-being. Showering someone special who may be suffering with compassionate attention can be one of the greatest gifts of support that you can provide. You can make a difference.