Longing, Loneliness and Loss: How Belonging to a Community of Men can Save Lives

It was 2:30 am Friday morning when my wife said, “Steve,,, Anthony Bourdain killed himself!” I was shocked to hear this stunningly devastating news. I reflected for a while on the loss of such an amazing man who has brought so much to so many. 

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When I fell back asleep I went into a remarkable dream in which my wife and I were together with Anthony, cooking, eating, drinking and talking. The dream was so real and went on for a long time.  I even awoke hungover. I could actually hear his voice and we felt so close to him as though we had been friends forever.

I have learned that it was like that for people who would have a chance-meeting with Tony. Even in passing, he would take the time to snap a photo and chat about whatever was on each person’s mind. Those who knew him intimately said that he was kind, loving and generous. He was hugely talented and yet extraordinarily humble. He was a “cook,” not a chef. He was a “storyteller,” not a journalist. And, he combined both of those passions as he opened up the world with it’s parts unknown to many who may never venture to those areas, but will have had the virtual experience of visiting them with Anthony as their tour guide.

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As the world reels in the wake of back-to-back suicides of designer, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain, experts warn that these are just two of many that draw less global attention yet nonetheless leave grieving friends and family behind bereft in their struggle to find meaning and solace. The suicide rate in America has surged upwards of 30% over the past decade and men lead the pack.

Men’s suicides and preceding struggles with mental illness often go overlooked. Men in the US kill themselves at 3.5-times the rate that women do but may be less likely to seek medical help or community support. What’s the cause for that? We seek answers to the hard questions that linger after a personal loss, or one that’s on the world stage that feels as personal as losing a close loved one. A current headline posed a probable cause:

The rise of male depression: Doctors warn masculinity forces men into loneliness - and makes it harder to confide in others about mental health

  • According to the CDC's latest figures, nearly 45,000 people may kill themselves in a year
  • Men account for seven out of 10 of these deaths
  • Mental health issues often go unaddressed for men who are taught to hide their emotions
  • Two experts told DailyMail Online how loneliness is fueling men's mental health crises, and how simple communication could save their lives 

Among the leading theories for why suicide is so much more prevalent among men than women is that men are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.

Journalist Natalie Rahhal of DailyMail interviewed Dr Jonathan Gerkin, a University of North Carolina psychiatrist, “He takes a therapist's approach and believes that our culture - particularly in the US, but worldwide - has not conditioned men to be reflective about, let alone accepting of their own emotions, and that can lead them to a profound sense of loneliness.

Dr. Gerkin states that 'Loneliness is such an attention-grabbing feeling, and if men can't reflect and respond to that, they can get caught up in trying to eliminate those feelings by minimizing, acting macho, or acting out in dangerous ways,' including substance misuse, he says.

'Acting out can be outward, or it can be self-directed, like taking one's life,' Dr Gerkin adds.

He says that this isolation happens to men who are not 'lucky to encounter more acceptance, or be raised in a family that encourages it, or to be exposed to it in therapy.'

But by adulthood, many of these opportunities have already passed men by, or they have already been taught that to seek help is seen as not a masculine behavior, leaving them unsure where to even begin when they are confronting mental health issues.”

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Following Robin Williams’ suicide I decided to write an article concerning male depression and the apparent causes that have led to the proliferation of men’s suicides. The title is, When Depression Turns Deadly: The Mask Men Wear. I followed this with another article titled, Depression in Men and Women: Recognizing and Understanding the Condition. The third article which focuses on Bipolar Disorder is titled, The Ups and Downs of Depression: Treating the Disruptive Cycle that Turns Your Life Upside Down. We are including the links herewith so that you can familiarize yourself with the facts, warning signs and recommendations for prevention, treatment and recovery. There is also a self test that you can take to determine if you’re depressed and at risk.

I started doing “men’s work” and founded The Men’s Center of Los Angeles and the Sacred Path Community over 30 years ago in part to surround myself with brothers of like mind on the path to mindful manhood, as well as to create opportunities through our retreats, workshops, seminars and therapeutic men’s groups for men to gather in the company of good men who bring out the best in each other.

Our 32nd Annual Sacred Path Winter Men’s Retreat is scheduled for Thursday, December 6th through Sunday, December 9th. For the past 20 years, we have held our retreats in October and April at Gindling Hilltop Camp north of Malibu. We haven't’ held a Spring retreat in a few years. This is the first year that we’ll be meeting at Hilltop over the holidays, which also happens to be a time in which many people develop the holiday blues. Alcohol and drug abuse levels soar due to the celebratory nature of the season mixed with the potential for depression that can take the place of the joy that we’re expected to feel. Suicide tends to peak during the holidays.

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We will focus the theme of our retreat to coincide with the time of the year and the prevailing issues that often arise. I commend the 8 men who took advantage of the $100 discount that was offered when we opened advance enrollment during the first two weeks of May. We are offering a $50 reduction in the fee now until Saturday, October 6th. Go online and place your $150 refundable deposit to secure your registration and make your plans to be with us on “the mountain” in December.

You are invited to gather with a group of men who are seeking a better life by virtue of putting themselves in the company of other men on the path to mindful manhood. I also encourage you to look among your family, friends and acquaintances for any men who you feel could benefit from this camaraderie. Especially keep your eyes open for any man who might be struggling with the issues that could put him at risk and in harm's way. Being on retreat in December could make a world of difference for a man including just possibly saving a life. Reaching out to him now can make a significant difference and having something to look forward to can help as well.

I, for one, am looking forward to sharing this opportunity with you in December. If you’re interested in getting involved in a therapeutic men’s group, let me know. I have some openings in the ones that I’m facilitating and am also aware of some of the others that are occurring.

Thank you for taking the time to read my monthly message.

In brotherhood,

 Stephen

Stephen

 

 

 

 

Stephen