Men’s mental health, social norms, and tribalism

By Dylan Francis

Philip J. Roundtree after completing his #Yougoodman workshop at DCCC’s Marple campus on Feb. 11.
Photo by Dylan Francis

DCCC hosted Philip J. Roundtree’s “#Yougoodman?: A Conversation on Wellness” workshop on Feb. 11 at the Marple campus to explore various aspects of men’s mental health.

Roundtree has a master of science degree in kinesiology and exercise science and a master of social work degree. He has been working as a therapist for the last 10 years, and said he has struggled most of his life with anxiety and depression.

“What do I look like?” he asked, smiling from the front of the small auditorium and wearing a shirt that said, “This is what depression looks like.”

“I’m a father, a scholar, an African American, and a functioning member of society,” Roundtree said. “I don’t believe I strike anyone as one who suffers daily with anxiety and depression.”

Roundtree believes Americans imagine depression to be something observable, and that these illnesses are under- represented among African Americans.

Roundtree said his depression started with the death of his older brother during his senior year of high school. His symptoms materialized as food addiction and verbal outbursts.

Today, he believes most men don’t express their emo- tions due to the way they’ve been socialized.

“We experience some- thing traumatic and we’re expected to keep performing,” Roundtree said. “When someone asks us how we’re feeling, what do we say? Usually, ‘I’m fine.’”

The American Psychiatric Association defines depression as a serious mental illness which negatively affects how you feel, think and act. According to the APA, depression will affect 1
in 6 people in their lifetimes.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states that both men and women suffer from depression, though it is believed that depression is more underreported in males. Furthermore, men are 3-to-4 times more likely to commit suicide compared to women.

Experts have different theories on why this is.

Most people who have experienced trauma never get professional help, which increases their risk of developing a number of physical and mental health conditions, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (Kaspars Grinvalds/Dreamstime/TNS)

“Men have been generationally traumatized through systematic repression,” said Winden Rowe, LPC. Rowe is a trauma therapist, who works with veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression.

“Many people, especially men, have learned to repress themselves for fear of ‘being kicked out of the cave,’” Rowe said. “Historically, humans evolved living in close tribal societies of which men were often the ‘warrior class,’ who operated in small, self-sufficient groups for long periods of time. In recent generations, we’ve experienced a sort of cultural gentrification. With this change, we lose our tribal bonds and many men lose their identities. We see the highest suicide rates amount middle aged and older men who do not seem to have a sense of purpose, belonging, or necessity.”

Rowe believes that traumatized soldiers severely regress in their PTSD and depressive symptoms once they’re separated from their military “tribes.”

Other experts propose similar theories.

Sebastian Junger, an award-winning author and journalist, believes modern society is largely to blame for men’s lack of ability to communicate. In his book “Tribe” he writes: “Maybe what determines the rate of long-term PTSD isn’t what happened out there, but the kind of society you come back to. Maybe if you come back to a close, cohesive tribal society, you can get over trauma pretty quickly. And if you come back to an alienating, modern society, you might remain traumatized your entire life.”

“Humans are happiest working in small groups to achieve dangerous tasks,” wrote Yuval Noah Harari, his- torian and bestselling author, in his book “Sapiens.” Theories regarding the treatment and understanding of depression and anxiety have changed over the last couple decades with the discovery of humans’ innate ability to create new brain cells and alter neural pathways.

“In brief, we have realized that ‘neuroplasticity,’ the ongoing remodeling of brain structure and function, occurs throughout life,” writes David J. Hellerstein, M.D. in his description of his new book “Heal Your Brain.” “It can be affected by life experiences, genes, biological agents, and by behavior, as well as by thought patterns. Interestingly, exercise and physical activity in general have a major effect on ‘neurotrophic factors’-chemicals that stimulate the growth and recovery of brain cells.”

According to David E. Olsen, Ph.D., new information around psychedelic compounds known as psychoplastogens have shown potential in the treatment of depressive and anxiety disorders. The anti-depressive effects are achieved through a promotion of neurogenesis and the rewiring
of neural pathways.

“Their use in psychiatry represents a paradigm shift in our approach to treating brain disorders as we focus less on rectifying “chemical imbalances” and place more emphasis on achieving selective modulation of neural circuits,” Olsen explains in an article published by The Journal of
Experimental Neuroscience.

Cold water treatment is another burgeoning area of study for relief of depression and anxiety symptoms. An article published in the Scientific Hypothesis Journal, suggests that contact with cold water activates the sympathetic nervous system and increases the availability of neurotransmitters, lessening depressive symptoms. A version of this practice known as “The Wim Hof Method” is receiving global scientific acknowledgement.

Wim Hof emerges from the icy cold water. Photo courtesy of Henny Boogart

Today, Roundtree holds a biweekly meeting in Philadelphia for anyone who identifies as a
man to join in a group discussion.

“Sometimes one of the guys will say, ‘Hey, I’ve been frustrated, and I just needed someone to listen; now I feel much better,’” Roundtree said, adding that men need to talk about their feelings.

He believes that getting together to open up and vent has helped many members of the group cope with negative emotions, including himself.

“Wellness begins and ends with you,” Roundtree said, because dealing with anxiety and
depression is about the acceptance of reality.

“Some days are going to be tough, and that’s the way it is,” Roundtree said.

He believes lifestyle plays a large role in governing mood. For his own health, he practices
exercise, good diet, sleep, and laughter.

“Be present,” said Roundtree toward the end of his presentation. “Write out how you’re feeling, put the cell phone down, and spend more time with your family. Use stress to your advantage. Create art, go to the gym, and push yourself into new things. As people, we have to challenge ourselves and learn.”

Contact Dylan Francis at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu

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