Let’s face it: we can all use a little therapy. So on “Healthwatch: Be Well Stay Well,” we make a weekly appointment with Tricia Ferrara. Tricia is a licensed professional counselor and behavioral health specialist.
Below are a couple of the topics she’s recently tackled for us. Watch Tricia on “Healthwatch: Be Well Stay Well.” Weekdays at 8am and 4pm on NBC Philadelphia Nonstop.
- Men and Depression
A case of the blues is no longer reserved just for women. As it turns out, depression is an equal opportunity affliction. As a result, it is a growing concern among men. Until recently, a woman’s penchant to care for herself was seen as an indication that she experienced more issues than men; however, that is not the case. Facts suggest that men are just resistant to self-care. Opting to tough it out, they often view asking for help as a sign of weakness. Just the notion of having feelings is tantamount to a betrayal of their male identities. Being depressed or down isn’t an option for men who fear being seen an inadequate. Combine that societal norm with screening tools that ask a man to admit to being weepy or sad most of the time, and the stigma is unavoidable.
Fortunately, that is all changing. Experts agree that we are designed for emotional connection through a range of feelings. Pressure to be strong all the time undermines a essential need for emotional connection. Men unknowingly not only numb themselves to their emotional discomfort, but in the process, become numb to the emotional needs of others. Sound familiar, ladies?
To make matters worse, symptoms often are overlooked. Feelings are masked with secondary issues, such as addictions and /or problems with concentration of anger. Irritability or aggression is seen as part of a character issue, not an emotional one. The symptoms are often mistaken for the problem. Gambling and drinking are not the problem. They are behaviors driven by depression, which is a treatable mental illness .
Undiagnosed depression in men, particularly fathers, can have devastating effects on children. Rates of anxiety disorders and depression are three times higher for children of depressed parents.
Chronic stress or traumatic events can make the body’s stress response become stuck in gear. The brain can become flooded with stress chemicals that interfere with mood regulation. Agitation, anger, and other self-destrucive behaviors are signs of depressions. Sadly, all of these factors contribute to a rate of suicide for men that is four times that of women.
Even with a family history of depression, a person’s genes are not his or her destiny. Not only DNA is passed down from generation to generation; so is the lack of coping skills.
Getting men back on track: It all starts with a conversation. New methods of screening for early detection and intervention are key. Seeking help from newly aware mental health professionals and primary medical personnel is the first step in the road to recovery of mental health. Be a man….go ahead and take it.
- Negative/Sad Moods are Essential to Our Well-being
The psychology of happiness is more marketing campaign than medical advice. Constant pursuit of happiness can be detrimental to a person’s well-being.
Adversity offers opportunity to find out who you are in the world. Feelings of discontent about the state of things are the prime drivers of innovation and advancement. A range of feelings is necessary for everything from safety to self-reflection and empathy.
Negative emotions evolved for a reason. Feelings like anger and sadness need better understanding, not eliminating. The pain of touching a hot stove provides instant protection from a second injury. Disagreeable feelings can provide immunity to future suffering. Fear can tip us off to an unhealthy relationship. Allowing sadness in ourselves signals to the world that we may need help. Or, almost more importantly, it is a signal to give help. Being up all the time can play down some very real threats.
The greatest achievers in history all had very dark experiences. From Lincoln to Beethoven, haunted by negative moods, they were propelled to greatness.
People notoriously mis-predict what will make them happy. As a result, pursuing happiness for the sake of happiness is often a waste of time and energy. We can all agree that time spent on the wrong investment contributes to the opposite: unhappiness.
Good examples: Having children is not a predictor of happiness, nor is making a certain amount of money. Achieving goals may make you a little happier at certain times; however, for most it is the process of achievement , complete with its ups and downs, that gives immense feelings of satisfaction.
Studies show that mild discontent motivates people to improve their circumstances (education, income etc.). Among the ups and downs there is a very stronger predictor of happiness: strong social relationships. Time and again across age and culture, the happiest people are those with the strongest social connections. It seems as though allowing a range in feelings could open the door to a happier life.
- Hypersexuality: Forget the Talk...Start the Walk
Emerging sexuality in our children conjures up all kinds of fears in adults. We wait to give a “talk,” thinking it will be powerful enough to protect them from all of the overwhelming cultural push and pull factors promoting sexual identity. The truth is, kids are drowning in exposure to sexually charged content at an alarmingly young age and rate. The barrage of information is confusing to them and impossible for parents to really control. Children barely have time to figure out who they are as individuals before they are bombarded with messages pressuring them to become sexual beings to other people.
Denying that your children will be interested in or want sex is risky. It is not a question of “if,” it is a question of “when.” It is the “walk,” or in other words, the relationship you have with your children that will prepare them for relationships with others…sexual or otherwise. To navigate, kids need to be smart form the start. That means they need more than a talk and/or promise to say “no.” They need an understanding of who they are now and a vision of their hopes and dreams for tomorrow. A clear vision of the future can inoculate against poor decisions in the present. “Above the waist” skills are critical for children to develop a healthy understanding of their sexuality and reach other complex goals in their lives.
Sex gives the illusion of connection. A teen who is unskilled at connecting in other ways will be more vulnerable to poor choices. An emotional connection can be jarring to an adolescent who is being driven by physical urges. A comfort level with emotional connections is a must for balance; otherwise, physical drives will hijack relationships. Kids are left feeling empty and isolated. Unhealthy connections not only rule the day, but possibly the rest of their lives. Adolescence is a time for experiments with identity. Without some measure of connecting emotionally in relationships then, the learning curves gets very steep in adulthood, often crashing in divorce and devastated dreams.
Remember, our kids will have sexual identities. They may even have great sex. The mistake is allowing it to block the rest of their identities. Walking in a relationship with them that anticipates their sexual development from day one is crucial. Don’t just download information. Provide experiences that control the story a child tells about themselves. With a flood of emotion and new awareness, it is easy for teens to forget who they are and what they want their identities, sexual or otherwise, to say about them. Moms and Dads are there to remind them.