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Ask Dr. Helen: Suicide, Men, and Money

How do we help husbands and fathers whose financial angst has brought them to the darkest place?

by
Helen Smith

Bio

April 26, 2009 - 11:10 am
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What does all this mean? It means that our society needs to pay more attention to the mental health of men, just as they pay attention to the needs of women. Usually, the squeaky wheel gets the grease; those who complain and make their needs known are more likely to get help. Many men have been raised and told by society that they are providers, not the ones provided for. They keep their mouths shut for the most part, lest they be tagged whiners.

Quiet men may be suffering as much as women; it’s just that no one knows it. On many occasions, men have told me their angst, and it is pretty horrible. One man, who felt he could not make it financially, told me about sitting in a football field with a revolver in his mouth. He was trembling as he tried to pull the trigger, but something pulled him back. He got professional help and is now learning that his life is worth more than a paycheck — though a paycheck is important.

Kay Redfield Jamison, in her book Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, describes the depressed thinking pattern of the suicidal:

[W]hen people are suicidal, their thinking is paralyzed, their options appear spare or nonexistent, their mood is despairing, and hopelessness permeates their entire mental domain. The future cannot be separated from the present, and the present is painful beyond solace. … People seem to be able to bear or tolerate depression as long as there is the belief that things will improve. If that belief cracks or disappears, suicide becomes the option of choice.

In order to keep someone with financial angst from committing suicide, it is important for them to have hope — the hope that their condition is not permanent, that their lives will change, and that they can come through the financial situation with their life intact. Professional help with cognitive behavioral treatment can change the thinking patterns of depressed people and has a good success rate.

But the best way to help the suicidal is to keep them from reaching that point. Keep things in perspective when it comes to money. Money is important, but it is not as important as one’s life. Do things in life that don’t cost money or that take the strain off the person feeling down about their job or earning ability. It is not your job to be the therapist of a depressed spouse or friend, but do some reality testing. If the depressed person says things are hopeless, counter with some evidence to the contrary. If other people are putting your loved one down at work, in the news, or in general, reassure them that you do not feel this way and let them know that they they are more than what other people think about them. What other people think changes with the culture. Today’s scapegoat can be tomorrow’s comeback kid. As one of my favorite bumper sticker says, “No condition is permanent.”

Drop in a comment about suicide and men or how to tackle financial angst if you have some thoughts you could share.
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If you have a question you would like answered, please leave it below or email me at askdrhelen@hotmail.com. Your questions may be edited for length and clarity. Please note that your first name only or no name at all will be used to identify your question — if you want me to use your name, tell me; otherwise you will be referred to by your first name or as “a reader,” etc.

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Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.
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