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Many men suffer with mental illnesses, avoid seeking help because of social stigma
by Ben Sutherly
In February 2010, Christopher Shackelford's life seemed to be getting back on track.
After the Columbus man had major surgery for Crohn's disease, an inflammation of the bowels, his physical health improved. He enrolled at Franklin University in pursuit of a master's of business administration.
Then, a nemesis from his past resurfaced and derailed his life.
By 2011, social anxiety had virtually imprisoned Shackelford in his home. He stopped going to the movies and the mall. He couldn't stand to interact with his barber or the gas-station clerk.
“I wouldn't go to the grocery store, because I knew I'd have to talk to the cashier,” he said.
For years, Shackelford, now 33, had kept his mental condition from his physicians. Previously, he had shared his secret only with his girlfriend.
And it was only recently that he found professional help through Mental Health America of Franklin County.
“It appeared that I was the only one going through it,” Shackelford said.
But among men, he has plenty of company, experts say.
“There are a lot of men who struggle silently with these problems without bringing them to anybody's attention,” said Dr. Alan Levy, a psychiatrist whose private practice is at Riverside Methodist Hospital.
The impact of mental illness on men has been highlighted recently by the large number of military personnel — most of them men — returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Between fiscal year 2007-08 and fiscal year 2010-11, the Chalmers P. Wylie VA Ambulatory Care Center in Columbus had a 21 percent increase in the number of veterans seeking mental-health services, from 7,953 to 9,590, according to officials there.
From October 2001 through March 31, nearly 1,600 veterans seen by Veterans Affairs in Columbus potentially had post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Veterans Health Administration.
During that period, among all U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, there were 424,803 diagnoses of mental disorders, second only to 456,006 musculoskeletal ailments, mainly joint and back problems.
“I think, really, our society underappreciated the problem that this was going to be,” Levy said.
The prevalence of mental illness is higher among women than men, according to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. In 2008, 6 percent of American women had a serious mental illness, compared with 3 percent of men. But some experts say such statistics don't tell the whole story. They say mental illness is underreported in men, in large part because of the stigma.
“They're supposed to just suck it up and deal with it,” said Dr. Elizabeth I. Jackson, a psychiatrist with the VA in Columbus. “I can't tell you how many men I've had in here who've broken down talking about something and are so ashamed because they think that means that they are very inept or very damaged or something.”
Regardless of the degree of underreporting, there's little dispute that mental illness is a major issue for men as well as women. For example, suicide is far more common among men.
More than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have risk factors such as mental or substance-abuse disorders.
Suicide is an issue not only for young male veterans returning from war but also for older widowers who often don't have the social support network that widows have, Levy said. “They can feel much more isolated and much more depressed.”
Psychotherapy traditionally has been used more with women than men, largely because men tend to hesitate to talk to mental-health professionals.
“Women are more open to talking about relationship and interpersonal issues,” Levy said.
Jackson, the VA psychiatrist, said many veterans just want to resume their normal lives after returning from deployments, during which they sometimes encountered horrific events. She said that was especially the case earlier in her career when most of her patients were veterans of World War II or the Korean or Vietnam wars.
“It wasn't until they retired or got divorced or something happened — they lost a job — all of a sudden, that stuff comes flooding back,” she said.
In many cases, men turn to street drugs or alcohol to deal with their depression rather than acknowledge their feelings, said Laura Moskow Sigal, the executive director of Mental Health America of Franklin County.
The VA has tried to, in a more-proactive way, help returning veterans of more-recent wars deal with the trauma they've suffered and compartmentalized, Jackson said. The VA in Columbus has 95 full-time mental-health professionals, up from 60 four years ago, a spokesman said.
The VA also has done more outreach in recent years and has educated local law-enforcement officers and other first responders on how to handle crisis intervention with veterans returning from war.
For its part, since February 2011, Mental Health America of Franklin County has linked
230 uninsured and underinsured people dealing with mental illness to free, short-term counseling. For more information, call 614-242-4357 or go to mhafc.org.
Shackelford enrolled in the program about nine months ago and meets with a therapist once a week. He keeps a journal of his dreams, meditates and has learned breathing techniques to keep his uneasiness under control when he's around other people. His primary-care doctor also has prescribed medication for his anxiety, he said.
Through the process, he learned that the trauma of losing his father to suicide in 1997 might be one underlying cause of his social anxiety.
Now, he's trying to “unlearn” his anxiety so he can hold down a full-time job and, eventually, move out of his mother's house and start a new life with his girlfriend.
Shackelford said his therapist has not only lowered his anxiety levels but also helped him reconnect with his religious beliefs. “He's improved my overall outlook on life.”
If you or someone you know needs emotional help, a variety of resources are available, including the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 and a 24-hour local suicide hot line at 614-221-5445.
Crime not increasing, say police and statistics
by PEGGY SENZARINO
MASON CITY — Despite some high profile cases in the past year, crime seems to be tracking downward in Mason City.
According to FBI Uniform Crime Statistics, the overall number of serious crimes has fallen, from 2006 to 2010.
Due to government reporting requirements, 2011 statistics are not yet available.
The number includes serious crimes such as murder, rape, arson and burglary.
Citizens' concerns with a recent string of crimes brought Police Chief Mike Lashbrook to the City Council on June 5.
The April 14 murder of Ian Decker of Mason City and a shooting outside Northside Liquor earlier this month raised concerns. A recent rash of home burglaries and arson fires in trash bins has added to the worries.
But Lashbrook said the nature of criminal activity varies widely and “crime is not static.”
“It's not straight across the board all the time. You've got sometimes where you're going to see spikes and sometimes you're going to see dips,” Lashbrook said.
“In the past six months, I would say that we've had some pretty high profile incidents that have brought about awareness and concern from the public. And I think that in turn can influence perception and I think as the police chief and the police department we have to take both those things into consideration.”
The number of murders, for instance, has fluctuated from one murder reported in 2006 to none in 2007 — then two in 2008.
How you understand the nature of crime and how you fight it are critical components to success. Lashbrook said crime isn't just a police issue. It's a community issue.
“We don't believe nor did we ever believe that this is something we could do on our own. When you talk about the issues and the perception of crime in this community, it's a community problem. And it takes the community to become involved and take a stand and to participate,” Lashbrook said.
The point of his recent council presentation, according to Lashbrook, was to let the public know the 48-officer police department is working to solve crimes in Mason City.
“That was an opportunity for me to say crime is not specific to any one problem. If it were, we'd have it solved. There are a lot of complex social issues that lead to criminal activity.”
Partnerships are important, he added.
Lashbrook said the Police Department is involved with the Mason City Youth Task Force, Seniors and Law Enforcement Together and the Community Policing Advisory Board to help facilitate solutions to social problems. There are resource officers in the schools.
“Crime isn't going to go away. The violence isn't going to go away. But if we can minimize it, that's a good thing,” Lashbrook said.
He added said the perception that out-of-towners are responsible for most of the crime in Mason City is naive.
“I would say that probably a lot of the serious incidents that we've had and a lot of the crime that we have in this community can be more attributed to, if you want to say, ‘locals' — whatever that means,” he said.
“I mean there's all types of outside influences to this community and we recognize that, but I think for anybody to sit here and say its because of people that don't live here coming in and causing all the problems is naive and too simplistic.”
Responsible citizen involvement is also helpful, he said. One call by a neighbor who saw suspicious activity in a nearby home helped catch two suspected burglars on Wednesday.
“This call came in and it was timely and it was as it (the crime) was occurring,” Lashbrook said. “That's what we need.”