Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

Trump’s letter to Erdogan, three days after Trump removed US troops from Syria

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Trump’s letter shows an unhinged mind.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2019 at 1:17 am

Deaths of Despair Are Mainly Hitting White Women in the South

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This is disturbing. What’s going on? Kevin Drum writes at Mother Jones:

I was browsing around on Andrew Gelman’s blog and happened to come across these charts that he drew a couple of years ago. The subject is deaths of despair.

Anne Case and Angus Deaton famously found that the death rate of middle-aged whites had started to increase around the year 2000, and the media mostly reported this as a problem with middle-aged white men. Case and Deaton looked at causes of death and explained the increase as a sudden rise in “deaths of despair”: that is, a lot more deaths caused by suicide, drug overdoses, and alcohol problems.

But it turned out that Case and Deaton worked in age buckets (i.e., 25-35, 35-45, etc.) and hadn’t controlled for the fact that the average age within those buckets was steadily increasing. They also didn’t disaggregate by gender or region. When Gelman and Jonathan Auerbach did that, here’s what they found:

The upper left is the original chart for middle-aged whites. The next chart breaks it out by gender and finds that men suffered a brief bump around 2000, which turned around a few years laters and and ended up back where it started. Women, by contrast, saw their death rates steadily climb during the entire period.

Finally, looking only at women, there are no substantial increases in the Midwest, the West, or the Northeast. It’s all in the South, which had the highest death rate to begin with. Between 2000 and 2014, the death rate for middle-aged white women in the South went up from 0.31 percent to 0.37 percent.

It’s important to point out that the main problem reported by Case and Deaton remains powerful: even if most white Americans have experienced steady death rates (and life expectancies) since 2000, this compares poorly with the rest of the world, where life expectancies have continued to rise. There is obviously something bad going on that’s specific to the United States.

That said, the only group where death rates are literally rising are white women in the South. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 October 2019 at 10:18 am

Changing Your Diet Can Help Tamp Down Depression, Boost Mood

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Allison Aubrey and Rhitu Chatterjee report at NPR:

There’s fresh evidence that eating a healthy diet, one that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables and limits highly processed foods, can help reduce symptoms of depression.

randomized controlled trial published in the journal PLOS ONE finds that symptoms of depression dropped significantly among a group of young adults after they followed a Mediterranean-style pattern of eating for three weeks. Participants saw their depression “score” fall from the “moderate” range down to the “normal” range, and they reported lower levels of anxiety and stress too.

Alternatively, the depression scores among the control group of participants — who didn’t change their diets — didn’t budge. These participants continued to eat a diet higher in refined carbohydrates, processed foods and sugary foods and beverages. Their depression scores remained in the “moderate severity” range.

“We were quite surprised by the findings,” researcher Heather Francis, a lecturer in clinical neuropsychology at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, told NPR via email. “I think the next step is to demonstrate the physiological mechanism underlying how diet can improve depression symptoms,” Francis said.

Scientists are learning more about how a poor diet can increase inflammation, and this can be one risk factor for depression. “Highly processed foods increase inflammation,” Francis said. What’s more, “if we don’t consume enough nutrient-dense foods, then this can lead to insufficiencies in nutrients, which also increases inflammation,” she said.

In this study, participants in the “healthy eating” arm of the study ate about six more servings of fruits and vegetables per week, compared with the control group. Participants “who had a greater increase in fruit and vegetable intake showed the greatest improvement in depression symptoms,” Francis said.

Participants were also instructed to increase consumption of whole grains to a recommended three servings per day, as well as three servings per day of protein from lean meats, poultry, eggs, tofu and beans. In addition, they were told to get three servings of fish per week.

As for dairy, the recommendation was three servings per day, unsweetened. Participants were also instructed to consume three tablespoons of nuts and seeds per day, as well as two tablespoons of olive oil per day, and were advised to add in spices, including turmeric and cinnamon.

One of the shortcomings of nutrition science is that it often relies on asking people to recall what they ate in the past. Given our flawed memories, these measures can be unreliable. But this study included a clever way to validate how many fruits and vegetables people consumed. Using a device called a spectrophotometer, the participants had their palms scanned. The device can detect the degree of yellowness in your skin, which correlates with your intake of carotenoids, which you get from eating fruits and vegetables.

The scientists used several research questionnaires to evaluate participants’ mental health, including one that asked them how often over the prior week they’d experienced symptoms of depression.

The new study adds to a growing body of research that supports the connection between diet and mental health. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 October 2019 at 9:35 am

What if Your Abusive Husband Is a Cop?

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Rachel Aviv writes in the New Yorker:

Jessica Lester’s friends persuaded her to date Matthew Boynton, a boy in the eleventh grade, by saying, “If you don’t like him, you can always break up.” He was the grandson of the sheriff of Spalding County, where they lived, an hour south of Atlanta, and his friends were football players and cheerleaders. Jessica thought that Matthew, who was baby-faced but muscular, looked rich; he wore Ralph Lauren boots and collared shirts from Hollister. Jessica, who was in tenth grade, was less popular. She wore hand-me-downs and liked to take nature photographs. Her parents had abandoned her when she was three, along with her sister and brother, and she grew up on a farm with her mother’s adoptive parents. “I guess she felt like ‘Matthew could have picked anybody, and for some reason he picked me,’ ” her sister, Dusty, said.

Jessica had pale-green eyes, a melodic voice, and blond hair that hung down her back like a slab of wood. In the spring of 2013, when she was sixteen and had dated Matthew for a year, she took her grandparents into the kitchen, closed the door, and told them, apologizing, that she was pregnant. Jessica’s grandparents, who are Baptist, were willing to help her bring up the child, but Jessica decided to settle down with Matthew, her first boyfriend. Her aunt Kathy, who lives on the farm, said, “With Jessica’s family background, there was probably just a feeling of ‘Oh, I’ve finally found someone who loves me.’ ”

Jessica and Matthew moved into a house across the street from the sheriff, Wendell Beam, and his wife. Jessica was the kind of intuitive mother who predicts a baby’s danger—a fall, a spilled drink, a choking hazard—a few seconds before it happens. But she felt isolated. She finished her high-school coursework online, and almost never saw her friends or family. She said that Matthew told her she wasn’t related to them by blood.

For their son’s first Christmas, Matthew took Jessica to her grandparents’ house—the first time she’d seen them in months—but before she opened her presents he told her that they had to leave. When Jessica graduated from high school, her grandparents held a party for her and projected a movie on the side of their barn. Shortly after the movie started, Matthew said that it was time to go. “The rest of us enjoyed her graduation party,” Martha, her grandmother, said.

Matthew’s childhood dream was to work in law enforcement—a career inspired by his grandfather, who had helped bring him up following his parents’ divorce. After high school, he worked as a jailer at the Pike County sheriff’s office before being hired as a patrol officer in Griffin, the largest city in Spalding County. In his personnel file there, a supervisor described him as “fiercely loyal” but “stiff and unwilling to bend.” Another officer described him as “the type who wants to make ten arrests a day if he could.” A senior officer privately advised Matthew, “Lighten up a little bit, man.”

That mentality spilled into his home life. Twice, Matthew called the police on Jessica, for yelling or cursing or poking his chest. According to a police report, Jessica was “very reserved and appeared to be upset.” She said that the officers recommended that she not yell at Matthew.

In December, 2014, Jessica had a brief affair and got pregnant again. Her family wondered if this was her way of escaping the relationship. But Matthew said that he’d raise the child as his own. They decided to get married. Jessica could never quite explain why—there was no proposal, just an understanding that there was too much momentum to break up. Martha worried that Jessica had “lost her feistiness. It was almost like her personality got squished out of her.”

Her aunt Denise, a public-school teacher, said that, at the wedding, “there was just this sadness in her eyes, like, ‘I’m done.’ ” She had the demeanor of a child who had promised herself not to cause trouble or draw attention to her own feelings. Jessica and Matthew left their wedding reception, which her family hosted, after less than an hour. Matthew wore a titanium wedding ring with a blue stripe, to signify that he was in law enforcement.

They rented an apartment in Griffin, in a complex of beige two-story buildings surrounding a swimming pool. But the sheriff still loomed large in their relationship. Matthew asked Beam to phone him in the morning to wake him up. Jessica didn’t have her own credit card or car, so if she needed something from the supermarket she texted Matthew, who either took her to the store himself or asked Beam or his wife to deliver the item. When Matthew drove his patrol car, he would often take the keys to his truck, a Chevrolet Avalanche, so that Jessica couldn’t use it.

Denise was on a science-curriculum committee with Matthew’s stepmother, Amy, a teacher in the same district. A few months after the wedding, Denise and Amy went out for lunch. Denise said that Amy confided that Matthew had once hit her and that their relationship was strained. “She became dead serious—I’d never seen her so serious,” Denise said. “She said we needed to know what kind of kid he was. She said, ‘Do me a favor. I want you to make sure that Jessica is going to be O.K., because he’s going to hurt her.’ ”

In the spring of 2016, less than six months after the wedding, Jessica discovered that Matthew was having an affair with Courtney Callaway, a dispatcher at the Spalding County sheriff’s office, a mile away from the Griffin Police Department.

“If you don’t want to be with me anymore,” Jessica texted him, “I’m not going to stay here and play house.” Matthew, who had begun spending his free days with Callaway, told her, “It’s not gonna work for us. I already know it won’t.”

Jessica’s grandmother made an appointment with a lawyer who could help her file for divorce. In a composition note­­book, Jessica documented the times she assumed Matthew had been with his girlfriend, and she jotted down notes for the lawyer. “Difference between non-­contested & adultery divorce?” she wrote. “Most important to me. Custody (full?).” She and the boys planned to move into her sister Dusty’s house on Friday, April 15th, and the next week she would begin working at a chiropractor’s office. “She had both of the boys packed and ready to go,” Dusty said.

Jessica had to wean her baby before starting the job, so on Thursday night she and Matthew drove to Walmart, to buy formula. At the store, they got into a fight, and when they left Jessica said she didn’t want to get into the car. Matthew called a Griffin police lieutenant for advice. “She’s a grown lady,” the lieutenant told him. “You can’t force her into the truck.” (Matthew refused to comment for this story.)

From her porch, Jessica’s neighbor Megan Browning saw Jessica and Matthew return home. A half hour or so later, Browning was lying in bed when she heard a gunshot. Unnerved, she went out to the porch, where she heard another. Not long afterward, she saw Matthew walk briskly to his truck.

He drove to a nearby Waffle House to have a late dinner with a fellow Griffin police officer. On his way, at 12:54 a.m., he said, he received a text from Jessica: “I can’t do this anymore. Take care of” the children. “Please tell them I love them everyday. I have been suffering for a while now and no one has noticed. Here lately I have not been able to recognize the person I see in the mirror. This is not the first time I have had suicide thoughts. I love you and the boys.”

A minute later, Matthew responded to a joke from Callaway. “Haha I’m sorry I didn’t think about that lol,” he wrote. Then he called E.M.S. “Can you please dispatch a unit out to my location?” he said calmly. “In reference to my wife.” He explained that she was having suicidal thoughts and “she told me to take care of the boys. So I’m trying to hurry up and get back home, just to make sure that nothing is going to happen to them.”

Six minutes later, Matthew reported on his police radio that he had heard two gunshots as he was walking up the stairs to his apartment. He had looked in the master bedroom, and when he didn’t see the baby, who typically slept there, he ran outside. “I didn’t know if it was an active scenario,” he later told investigators. “I was scared to death, because I couldn’t find him, that she would shoot me, shoot him, and then kill herself.”

Eleven Griffin police officers arrived at the apartment complex. With their guns drawn, the officers checked every room in the house. The older boy was asleep in his bedroom, and the baby was in his own room, crying in his crib. The officers found Jessica in her bedroom closet, unconscious and lying on her side, her head on a bloody pillow. She was wearing fluffy slippers. On a shelf by her head was the notebook documenting Matthew’s infidelity. Matthew’s service gun was under her stomach.

Jessica’s grandparents live on two hundred acres of farmland in Pike County, a twenty-five-minute drive from her apartment. A fence separates their house from an open field, where nine cows and two donkeys graze. Just before 2 a.m. on April 15th, Wendell Beam asked the sheriff of Pike County to send officers to the house. Two deputies woke Jessica’s grandparents and told them that Jessica had committed suicide, using Matthew’s gun. “No, that doesn’t ring right,” Martha told them. Four of her grandchildren had taken target-shooting classes together, but Jessica had refused to participate. “Jessica would not touch a gun,” she said. “She did not want to have anything to do with it.”

Dusty and her husband drove to Jessica’s apartment. The first officer she saw in the parking lot was Beam. The sheriff’s department does not respond to incidents inside the Griffin city limits, and he was the only one from his office there. Dusty asked him where Jessica was, and he said that she had been taken by helicopter to Atlanta Medical Center. He did not explain why he’d earlier sent word that Jessica was dead. Dusty approached a group of Griffin police officers and asked whether Matthew had shot her sister. “She loved those kids more than anything, and she knows how it feels to grow up without a mom,” she said. “She wouldn’t have done that to them.” The officers told Dusty she needed to either calm down or leave the property.

The police asked for assistance from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Early that morning, Matthew was interviewed by Chris DeMarco, a G.B.I. agent who lived near Spalding County and had worked with Beam on several cases over the years. DeMarco told Matthew that his clothes might need to be collected as evidence. “Absolutely,” Matthew said. “I didn’t try to brush off anything. I didn’t try to wash my hands—nothing.” He sounded like an eager student. “I didn’t think about getting any other clothes.”

G.B.I. agents canvassed the apartment complex and discovered that Megan Browning and her fiancé and a couple that lived next door to Jessica were the only neighbors who had heard gunshots. Both couples said that the shots occurred around 11 p.m.—not at 1 a.m., when Matthew had reported them. One of the neighbors said that, not long before he heard the gunshots, he also heard “some banging, like she was banging on the door or something.”

Browning, who sometimes socialized with Jessica and Matthew, cried throughout her interview. “I hope he goes to jail for this shit,” she said. She wanted to elaborate on what she’d witnessed, but the agents left after eight minutes and never came back.

On a hospital-admission form, Jessica was described as a “19 year old reported to have shot herself in the right skull.” But Vernon Henderson, a trauma surgeon for more than two decades, who treated Jessica, wrote that her injury “did not fit with that description”; neither of her hands had “any evidence of any gunpowder stippling.” And her wound was on the top of her skull, which suggested that she would have had to hold the gun above her head, pointing downward—“a very unusual direction in which to point the gun at one’s self with the intention of committing suicide,” Henderson wrote. Indentations in the walls of Jessica’s closet suggested that one bullet had been shot at an upward angle—it entered the wall near the top of the closet—and another bullet hit the wall near the floor. Her neurosurgeon, Paul King, told me, “It seemed most likely that someone else shot her.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. Much.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2019 at 4:45 pm

Small Trial Reverses a Year of Alzheimer’s Cognitive Decline in Just Two Months

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David Nield posts in Science Alert:

In the ongoing efforts to control and treat Alzheimer’s, one of the more promising avenues of research is using electromagnetic waves to reverse memory loss – and a small study using this approach has reported some encouraging results.

The study only involved eight patients over a period of two months, so we can’t get too excited just yet, but the researchers did see “enhanced cognitive performance” in seven of the participants.

In this case, the volunteers – who all have mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease (AD) – were fitted with what’s called a MemorEM head cap, which uses specially developed emitters to create a custom flow of electromagnetic waves through the skull. Treatments are applied twice daily, for an hour, and they can be easily administered at home.

The MemorEM device is being developed by NeuroEM Therapeutics, and we should point out that two of the authors behind the new study founded the company – so there is some vested commercial interest here.

That said, the research has produced a peer-reviewed, published paper, and shows some results that are definitely worthy of future investigation.

“Perhaps the best indication that the two months of treatment was having a clinically-important effect on the AD patients in this study is that none of the patients wanted to return their head device to the University of South Florida/Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute after the study was completed,” says biologist Gary Arendash, who is CEO of NeuroEM Therapeutics.

According to Arendash, one patient even said: “I’ve come back.”

The study builds on . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 September 2019 at 9:49 am

The Most Dangerous Way to Lose Yourself

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James Hamblin, MD, writes in the Atlantic:

When John F. Kennedy was 17, he was part of a prank club. At Connecticut’s elite Choate school in 1935, word spread that the group was planning to pile horse manure in the gymnasium. Before this “prank” could happen, the school’s headmaster confronted the troublesome boys. The scheme was the culmination of a list of offenses at the school, and young Kennedy was expelled.

Though the sentence was eventually reduced to probation, the headmaster suggested that Kennedy see a “gland specialist” to help him “overcome this strange childishness.” The doctor Kennedy ended up seeing was Prescott Lecky, a young, mutton-chopped psychologist. Lecky had made a name for himself at Columbia University as a skeptic of psychoanalytic theory, running up against Carl Jung and the Viennese establishment’s approach at the time. Instead of tracing Kennedy’s rebellious instincts to repressed motives or early-life stress, Lecky interrogated the boy’s sense of self.

Lecky paid particular attention to Kennedy’s talk of sibling rivalry. “My brother is the efficient one in the family, and I am the boy that doesn’t get things done,” Kennedy says in one of Lecky’s records. This constituted what Lecky considered a “self view”—a deeply held belief about oneself. He wrote that Kennedy had a reputation in the family for “sloppiness and inefficiency, and he feels entirely at home in the role. Any criticism he receives only serves to confirm the feeling that he has defined himself correctly.”Kennedy’s case fit into a new idea Lecky was developing, called self-consistency theory. It posited that people are always striving to create a world in which their ideas of themselves make sense. We are motivated, sometimes above any sense of morality or personal gain, simply to hold our views of ourselves constant. This allows us to maintain a coherent sense of order, even if it means doing things the rest of the world would see as counterproductive.

The idea was never fully formed, and Lecky died at just 48, his work unpublished. But today, the basic concept is seeing a renewed interest from scholars who think Lecky was truly onto something. When the psychologist’s students compiled his writing posthumously, in 1945, the postwar world was grappling with how humans were capable of such catastrophic cruelty. Surely entire armies had not been motivated by their relationships with their mothers. The early science of the mind was beginning to delve into the timeless questions of philosophy and religion: Why do we do destructive things—to others, and to ourselves? Why do we so often act against our own interests? Why would a young boy risk his acceptance to Harvard to pile manure into a school gym?

These questions meant studying the roots of identity, and how a person could be at peace with being hateful and even dangerous. Now, decades later, an emerging explanation points to something more insidious than the possibility that someone simply identifies with a malicious group or blindly follows a toxic person. Instead, out of a basic need for consistency, we might take on other identities as our own.

“I have always been intrigued with the surprising things people will do in the service of preserving their identity,” says William Swann, a social- and personality-psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He took up Lecky’s ideas and, in the 1990s, built them out into what he called self-verification theory. It asserts that we tend to prefer to be seen by others as we see ourselves, even in areas where we see ourselves negatively. As opposed to cognitive dissonance—the psychological unease that drives people to alter their interpretation of the world to create a sense of consistency—self-verification says that we try to bring reality into harmony with our long-standing beliefs about ourselves.

Swann’s theory offers an explanation for all sorts of seemingly counterproductive things that people do, from procrastination to poisoning relationships. Swann has noted that people with negative self-views tend to withdraw or flee from romantic partners who treat them too well. Some would call this “self-sabotage”—the basis for why some people ignore those who seem to genuinely appreciate them.

As Swann sees it, outwardly appearing self-injurious behaviors like these might actually be part of a fundamental “desire to be known and understood by others.” Self-views enable us to make predictions about our world and guide our behavior. They maintain a sense of continuity and order. Stable self-views also, ideally, help facilitate relationships and group dynamics. When people know their role in any particular dynamic, they predictably play the part, even when doing so is self-destructive.

Self-views seem to have their basis in how others treat us, and they solidify as we accept our position and behave to further warrant similar treatment. An overall sense of identity comes together like a patchwork quilt of group and self, defined by where we fit into the world. Each of us is someone’s child, someone’s neighbor; a member of some community or religious sect; we are the work we do, the dogs we have, the places we’ve lived, the bands we listen to and teams we cheer for and authors we keep on our shelves.

Sometimes we bond especially strongly with some of our associations, such as family, a military group, or a religion. We say we can’t imagine existing without something. Even in cases of extreme identification, however, people typically maintain a sense of their own identity. There is a distinct conceptual border between self and other. You are a part of the team, and you are you.

Occasionally, though, this border becomes permeable. Over the past decade, a new conceptualization has gained attention. It began with the seeds of an idea after the attacks on 9/11, Swann says, in that the terrorists’ actions seemed to him to be driven by unusually powerful group identities. A willingness to die—and to kill thousands of others in the process—goes beyond simple allegiance. He reasoned that these people had essentially taken on the group identity as their own.

Swann gradually developed the concept and deemed it “identity fusion.” Along with a collaborator named Angel Gómez, he defined it in 2009 as when someone’s “personal and social identities become functionally equivalent.” The border between self and other, as Swann sees it, “become[s] porous.” The phenomenon is sometimes described as a visceral feeling of oneness with a group or person, and sometimes as an expansion of the self.

“When people are fused, your personal identity is now subsumed under something larger,” says Jack Dovidio, a psychology professor at Yale. One way researchers test for fusion is to ask people to draw a circle that represents themselves, and a circle that represents another person (or group). Usually people draw overlapping circles, Dovidio explains. In fusion, people draw themselves entirely inside the other circle.

“This isn’t the normal way most people think about identity,” says Jonas Kunst, a psychology researcher at the University of Oslo. In disagreements over politics, for example, many people believe they can change someone else’s mind with a thoughtful-enough argument. Typically that’s the case; people are willing to challenge their group identities, if reluctantly. In fusion, though, a perceived challenge to the group’s ideology is a challenge to the self. Arguments about climate change, for example, might not actually be about climate change, and instead about people protecting their basic sense of order and consistency.

By a similar token, pundits often chalk “radical” behavior up to pathology, or simply to a vague “mental illness” or religious or political extremism. But fusion offers a framework that involves an ordered thought process. It is thought of as distinct from blind obedience (often assumed to be the case in cults and military violence), in which a person might follow orders and torture a prisoner, either unquestioningly or out of fear for personal safety. In fusion, people become “engaged followers.” These people will torture because they have adopted the value system that views the torture as justifiable. Engaged followers do so of their own volition, with enthusiasm.

Fusion is not a bunch of individuals contorting their way of thinking, but a bunch of individuals suspending their way of thinking. “It makes us more likely to do extreme things that aren’t consistent with our normal identity,” Kunst says. “It allows you to do things you couldn’t conceive of doing.”


Identity fusion might be a new name for a timeless phenomenon, but Swann and others find it helpful as part of an explanation for current social divides. Swann believes that the political landscape accounts for growing interest in the concept, and that better understanding how and why fusion happens could have serious global consequences. It could also just make it easier to understand other people, and to be aware of one’s own susceptibility.

This month, in the journal Nature: Human Behaviour, Kunst and Dovidio examined fusion specifically involving Donald Trump. In a series of seven studies using various surveys, including Swann and Gomez’s “identity fusion scale,” the Yale and Oslo team found that Americans who fused with Trump—as opposed to simply agreeing with or supporting him—were more willing to engage in various extreme behaviors, such as personally fighting to protect the U.S. border from an “immigrant caravan,” persecuting Muslims, or violently challenging election results.

The fusion might explain some apparent contradictions in ideology, Dovidio says. Even people who typically identify as advocates of small or no government might endorse acts of extreme authoritarianism if they have fused with Trump. In fusion, those inconsistencies simply don’t exist, according to Dovidio: Value systems are only contradictory if they’re both activated, and “once you step into the fusion mind-set, there is no contradiction.”<

Fusion seems most likely to happen when there is a charismatic leader, particularly of an authoritarian bent. “Humans are social, and the individual person has a power over us that abstract thought doesn’t,” Dovidio says. “The leader is a concrete manifestation of ideas, but allegiance to individuals will trump allegiance to ideas.” In that sense, the idea of fusion might help some people explain how family members or colleagues whom they view as fundamentally good people might seem to suspend their typical sense of morality and do things like downplay Trump’s bragging about groping womenenriching himself at taxpayer expensedefending white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia; or failing to release his tax returns despite multiple promises to do so. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 September 2019 at 11:51 am

Why the patriarchy is killing men

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In the Washington Post Liz Plank has what I take to be an excerpt from her book For the Love of Men: A Vision for Mindful Masculinity:

When I traveled to Iceland in 2018, the World Economic Forum had ranked it No. 1 in gender equality for an entire decade. According to the common way of discussing that honor, the country must be a feminist utopia for women. What goes underreported is how great it is for men, too. In fact, Icelandic men enjoy the highest life expectancy in Europe. They live almost as long as women do. If the number of years spent on Earth is one of the strongest predictors of well-being, Icelandic men are doing pretty well.

Is there some unique magic in the Reykjavik air that makes this possible? Not at all. Iceland offers a model that could be widely adopted elsewhere in the world. It helps show that changing men’s ideas about what it means to be a man, and lifting up women in the process, doesn’t make men worse off — it has far-reaching benefits to their lives.

The health advantages of feminism for men are not evident only in Iceland. In other countries with stronger gender equality, men also tend to fare better. According to research by Norwegian sociologist and men’s studies expert Oystein Gullvag Holter, there is a direct correlation between the state of gender equality in a country and male well-being, as measured by factors such as welfare, mental health, fertility and suicide. Men (and women) in more gender-equal countries in Europe are less likely to get divorced, be depressed or die as a result of violence.

These findings undercut one of the favorite facts of men’s rights activists — that men die younger than women do. They use this data point to argue that feminism is unwarranted because women already live fuller (or at least longer) lives. But a world without feminism would exacerbate this problem, not solve it. Feminism is the antidote to shorter male life expectancy. Saying feminism causes men to decline is like saying firefighters cause fire.

America doesn’t just have a gender pay gap. It has a gender wealth gap.

Women typically live longer than men because of several biological advantages that make them more resilient and give them more stamina (despite the stereotype that women lack it). But that’s only part of the equation. The other component of the life expectancy gap is what scientists literally call man-made diseases. These are cultural: Men are more likely to smoke, abuse alcohol, engage in high-risk behavior and have accidents at work. A report from the World Health Organization points to three reasons men don’t live as long: the way men work (they endure greater “exposure to physical and chemical hazards”), their willingness to take risks (thanks to “male norms of risk-taking and adventure”) and their discomfort with doctors (they’re “less likely to visit a doctor when they are ill and, when they see a doctor, are less likely to report on the symptoms of disease or illness”). When I became a lifeguard, I was shocked to learn that 80 percent of drowning victims are male , even though their aquatic skills are equivalent to those of women, because they’re less likely to wear life jackets, more likely to overestimate their swimming abilities and more likely to take risks.

If men’s rights activists really want to improve men’s lives, then, they should join feminists in dismantling bygone ideals of masculinity. When researchers controlled for unhealthy behaviors such as smoking or drinking, for instance, they found that men who earned less than their wives for an extended period of time still experienced poorer health outcomes, shorter life expectancy and increased chances of cardiovascular problems like diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension and stroke. Because of the observable increase in men’s anxieties in these familial arrangements (and the lack of measurable change for women), researchers believe that these men lose the only sense of connection to their identity as breadwinners. Violating the code of idealized masculinity can be such a point of stress for men that it strains their overall health.

Men’s reluctance to care for themselves is especially perturbing when it comes to mental health. Unsurprisingly, the more a man associates with traditional and inflexible ideas about masculinity, the less likely he is to seek counseling. For too many men in America who suffer from mental health issues, it’s easier to get a gun than a therapist , especially in rural areas, where 80 percent of counties don’t have a single psychiatrist. No wonder suicide rates are rising in rural states with the highest gun ownership rates and that the vast majority of those deaths are among men. Although women are three times more likely to attempt suicide, the suicide rate for men is four times higher because men tend to use more violent means when choosing to end their lives — the most effective and violent of which is, of course, a firearm. And the connection between gun ownership and traditional masculinity is hard to deny, especially when we see gun manufacturers like Bushmaster instructing men to get their “man card” reissued by buying a gun.

When feminism is met with violence

The mass availability of guns in the United States doesn’t simply affect men; it disproportionately impacts boys. Of all the youth gun deaths between 2012 and 2014, a staggering 82 percent were boys, many of whom had used guns to kill themselves. The more a man identifies with traditional notions of masculinity, the more vulnerable he is. In fact, research on 2,431 young adults 18 to 19 years old by Daniel Coleman of Fordham University found that men who identified with rigid beliefs — that men must provide at any cost, be invulnerable or be self-sufficient — were more likely to have suicidal thoughts and exhibit signs of depression. Coleman concludes that idealizing “high traditional masculinity” is a “risk factor,” especially for men who aren’t able to fulfill that ideal because of life circumstances such as illness, disability or the loss of a job. A more flexible understanding of masculinity wouldn’t prevent men from becoming unemployed, but it could help them cope with it better. They’d have a wider set of roles they could fall back on, like being a caregiver or contributing to their family outside of the narrow scope of material or financial resources. Suicide peaks during financial crises. When Hong Kong experienced economic turmoil in the 1990s, the suicide rate of men ages 30 to 59 almost doubled. After 2007, as recessions took over Europe, male suicide rates also spiked . While rates of suicide for both women and men rise in times of economic downturn, the increase tends to be sharper for men.

But data show that gender equality may dampen rates of male suicide, because women’s empowerment may protect men from economic shocks. If women are educated and can work, it lessens the financial responsibility that rests on men’s shoulders. Research by Holter shows that societies with lower levels of gender equality are the ones with the highest rates of male suicide and that the gender gap in suicide is smaller in nations with higher gender equality. One study by sociologists Aaron Reeves and David Stuckler found that in countries with high levels of gender equality, like Sweden and Austria, “the relationship between rising unemployment rates and suicide in men disappeared altogether.” . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 September 2019 at 2:48 pm

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