ARKANSAS, USA — The month of June is recognized nationally as Men’s Mental Health Month. According to brain health experts, this recognition is needed because men are far less likely than women to seek help.
One Arkansas man is sharing his story with the hope of inspiring other men to set aside any preconceived notions they may have about mental wellness and take the same leap of faith that he did.
Scott Gann was excited to begin his career as a First Responder in 1999. Gann lived in the Houston area at the time and looked forward to helping others.
As time passed, however, he said that reward turned into stress— which he began to manage in unhealthy ways.
"Alcohol was definitely one of the biggest ones that I used. It manifests in anger a lot. Sometimes you get to a point where you don't know how to process it. In desperation, the one thing that will always ring true... desperate people do desperate things,” Gann described.
After a series of especially tough emergency calls, Gann recalled feeling like the joy of the job he loved, was gone.
“For me, it was some really bad calls south of Houston. I had to respond to some things that people shouldn't see. I noticed that I was very standoffish, I was not approachable. I just wasn't a nice person at the end of the day, all from cumulative stress," he explained.
Finally, the load of stress hit a breaking point. Gann said that his coping methods had become so detrimental to his family life that they decided to leave the city.
UAMS Psychiatrist Dr. Scott Steele said that many men are not well right now in a lot of ways.
He added that they may believe that enduring the pain and being tough for the ones around them is what's best.
"Men do tend to think in terms of, you know, what have they done? How is their job going? Are they providing, because it's really important to a lot of men that they do provide, you know, whether for their family or for their community? And so, when they feel like they're coming up short, that's, that's a time when men can struggle quite a bit,” explained Dr. Steele.
What one person can handle, may be too much for somebody else.
"We don't appreciate how complicated things might be for somebody, that there might be a reason why somebody does what they do, even though other people might really find that to not be a healthy thing,” Dr. Steele said.
Experts say keeping emotions bottled up, without a healthy outlet, can result in catastrophic consequences.
"Men are three times more likely to die from suicide than women and those rates are increasing," Dr. Steele added.
Scott Gann is familiar with a phrase often applied to young men and even young women— authority figures may tell them to “man up”.
Gann admitted using the phrase with his own child as well.
“I've actually been guilty of saying that even to my daughter. Absolutely. And typically, it's that we don't know how to deal with emotions. We were forced to kind of just push them down,” said Gann.
Dr. Steele added that the expectation of “manning up" has actually been bringing men down.
"One thing that we want to be careful of not doing is what we call invalidating what they're feeling. What they are feeling is for a certain reason," he explained. "And if we invalidate that, then men will come to not trust how they feel and they won’t come to trust their inner voice.”
According to Dr. Steele, men seek treatment for mental health a lot less than women despite treatments working just as well for them. When a man does look to speak with someone, they generally prefer to share their stories with another male.
Gann is feeling better these days and has taken a break from emergency services. He is still saving lives, however, as a mental health first aid instructor with Arkansas Rural Health Partnership.
"They brought me in to teach paramedics, police officers, firefighters, and that's kind of my specialty since I served in each one of those capacities. And we are able to talk about true mental health and coping skills,” Gann said.
Experts said that there is no one way for a mental health issue to surface, but most would agree that asking for help is the first step.
"It's the two of us together, trying to figure this out. And you're hiring somebody to be kind of like a consultant for you, for your life, and for your mental health. And it's very, very much a collaborative job that we do," Dr. Steele described.
For Gann, that first step was to work his way out of denial.
“If you look at any issue, one of the first steps is accepting that there's an issue. And we don't want to accept that maybe we have health issues, or maybe we have mental health issues. There's a stigma around mental health that we really try to avoid. But it really starts with us. We don't need a month, mental health is every single day," he said.
There are resources available for those in need of help. If you are struggling with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and stress, contact the AR ConnectNow call center at (501) 526-3563 or (800) 482-9921. The call center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Arkansas Rural Health Partnership also offers free mental health training and is open to the public through Blue Cross Blue Shield’s community classes. Below are the dates and locations for the month of July:
- July 15th - Fayetteville
- July 15th - Midtown
- July 18th - Texarkana
- July 18th - Pine Bluff
- July 19th - Hot Springs
- July 20th - Jonesboro
- July 20th - Fort Smith
- July 29th - Rogers
To schedule for healthcare providers and first responders (law enforcement, EMS, or Fire Departments), please contact Scott Gann at firstname.lastname@example.org.