June is Men’s Health Awareness Month

The “Wear BLUE” campaign (above) was created by the Men’s Health Network to heighten the awareness of preventable health problems and to encourage early detection and treatment of diseases among men and boys.  Too often, when we talk about health, the focus is primarily on physical health.  And, surprisingly, many individuals forget the importance of the mind-body connection.  Men and women are affected differently by social and cultural forces and the physical differences between men and women also influence recovery. 

To be most effective, screening assessments and interventions should address how a man’s beliefs and concerns about his identityas a man affect how his response to screening and assessment as well as his willingness to engage in treatment.  The literature substantiates claims that men are often ambivalent about seeking help for physical and/or behavioral health problems, are often embarrassed or reluctant to talk about their feelings, and prefer to deal with concrete issues and goals.

Consider these facts from the 2013 Kaiser Men’s Health Survey.  One in six men report “fair” or “poor” health. Older and poorer men report higher rates of health problems. Many uninsured and low-income men face cost-related barriers to care.  Low-income men are over six times more likely to forgo care due to problems in transportation, and twice as likely to do so due to the inability to take time off work compared to higher income men.  Men also are less likely than women to get recommended screening services. 

If we look at the statistics on mental health and men, we learn that depression may be underdiagnosed in men since the symptoms may present differently.  Although women have more severe somatic symptoms than men, research shows that paths from trauma exposures to mental health sequelae may be stronger for men. Unlike women who often internalize emotions, men are more likely to externalize emotions, which leads to aggressive, impulsive, coercive and noncompliant behaviors.  Another major gender difference in behavioral health is that men have much higher rates of substance use disorders than women.  Men also are involved with the criminal justice system in much higher numbers than women.  Hence, gender-focused prevention and treatment efforts for men may address reshaping destructive behaviors into non-destructive behaviors.

The Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute (FMHI) in the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences (CBCS) is invested in addressing issues affecting mental health, with an emphasis on gender differences.  We would like to highlight three areas of concern for men who may have behavioral health disorders: interpersonal violence, homelessness, and co-occurring disorders.

Research demonstrates a clear association between the issues of interpersonal violence (IPV) and substance abuse (drug and/or alcohol use).  Both of these issues affect how effectively a man can parent.   Dr. Carla Stover created an intervention entitled Fathers for Change, which addresses the co-morbidity of substance abuse, domestic violence, and poor parenting in fathers of young children.  Focusing on men’s roles as fathers and their wishes for their children may be a powerful motivator for change and allows more specific tailoring of the intervention for each participant, which may result in better outcomes for the men and their families.

The US Interagency Council on Homelessness estimates that 61% of persons who are chronically homeless are male, of which 36% live unsheltered.  Because homeless men are more likely to have uncontrolled alcohol or drug problems, they are more frequently excluded from emergency shelters, which often require residents to abstain from alcohol or drugs as a condition for admission. In the Refuge Project, Dr. Colleen Clark is evaluating the use of an evidence-based intervention, Critical Time Intervention (CTI), designed to move homeless individuals off the streets into stable housing and to connect them with community services.  A short-term intensive case management intervention, CTI is designed to strengthen networks of support for seeks to prevent recurrent homelessness in people with behavioral health disorders.

Co-occurring mental and substance use disorders in the justice system is a growing problem.  Recognition that jail and prison are often a place of treatment for persons with these disorders has resulted in a number of multi-site, evidence-based studies.  Dr. Roger Peters (FMHI) and Richard Dembo (CBCS) are collaborating with researchers at Temple University on a five-year grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse through a cooperative agreement under NIDA’s Criminal Justice Drug Treatment Studies (CJDATS-2) program.  Testing an empirically grounded conceptual model for implementation research, the project is expected to identify organizational factors that influence the use of evidence-based substance abuse assessment and treatment practices, which in turn, may result in better outcomes for individuals with co-occurring disorders, especially in their return to their communities.

Understanding gender differences has important implications when examining risk factors for suicide, for interpersonal violence, for substance use, and for homelessness.  It also is important for the development of effective screening and treatment protocols as well as reconceptualizing how state legal and social service systems deliver services.  Campaigns, such as “Wear Blue”, are important to increase awareness and help men make healthy lifestyle choices, schedule regular annual visits to the doctor, become educated on physical and mental disorders, and start health conversations with each other.   Developing interventions, addressing policy, and helping to build services systems are the contributions that FMHI and the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences make to improve men’s health. 

The College of Behavioral & Community Sciences serves more than 2,600 students with six undergraduate, nine masters, and five doctoral programs housed in seven academic departments/schools. The College is the home of the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute, one of the largest behavioral health research and training institutes in the country, and the home of 16 specialized Research Centers and Institutes. For more information on these and other projects, please check out the Research pages on the College website.

Wear BLUE is sponsored by Men’s Health Network. Men’s Health Network is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to reach men and their families with health awareness messages where they live, work, pray, and play.  We thank the Men’s Health Network for the use of their Wear BLUE campaign photo and for the work that they do to improve men’s health.