Abel urges families to be more supportive of men dealing with mental health strugglesTuesday, November 23, 2021
BY SASHELL WILLIAMS
KINGSTON, Jamaica— Consultant psychiatrist and therapist Dr Wendel Abel says early intervention in a man's life is essential to influencing mental health outcomes.
As the country and the world celebrates November as Men's Mental Health Awareness Month, Dr Abel says there are three periods for critical intervention for men.
He said the first window begins at the time of conception and lasts until the end of age two, the second period is adolescence, and the third is early adulthood.
''In any society, we have to aggressively target these age groups to influence the outcomes of mental disorders,'' he noted.
Speaking in an interview with OBSERVER ONLINE, Abel also noted that, generally, young adulthood, which is anywhere between 18 and 21 years, is one of the most vulnerable periods in a person's life.
''Making the transition from teenage years to adulthood; when you're asked to function more independently and autonomously, that's when you're most vulnerable,'' Abel said.
''It's the period of life … when people are more likely to engage in behaviours such as drug use,'' he added, noting, however, that in Jamaica the average age for the onset of drug use is 13 years.
Research from the American Psychological Association revealed that while women are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety or depression, men are more prone to substance abuse or antisocial personality disorders. According to Abel, this is because substance abuse is associated with habit-forming behaviour and risk-taking behaviour, and men, ''the way they are socialised are more likely to engage in these behaviours.''
''Anti-social personality disorder involves behaviours such as conning people, breaking social rules and norms, and men are more likely to engage in such behaviours,'' he explained.
''Whereas anxiety and depression are disorders associated with chemical imbalances, and especially with depression, chemical imbalances can be associated with hormonal changes in the body. You find that women during their period, during pregnancy, after the birth of a child, because of the hormonal changes, are at greater risk of developing conditions such as depression,'' he added.
The consultant psychiatrist also noted that cannabis can also exacerbate mental health disorders in men.
''More men than women, by far, use cannabis and we do know that cannabis use can exacerbate mental health issues,'' he said.
Abel emphasised that while cannabis use does not cause mental health disorders by itself, it will make disorders worse in predisposed people, such as those who have a family history.
''So, if you have a pre-existing mental disorder and you use cannabis, especially psychotic disorder and bipolar disorder, it will exacerbate the illness,'' he explained.
'So, patients present with more severe symptoms, they have more frequent hospitalisations and when they are hospitalised they remain in hospital for longer,'' he added.
Abel also noted that more males are admitted to psychiatric wards and hospitals in Jamaica than women and are more likely to be abandoned.
''For many reasons, maybe their presentation is more aggressive and they end up having poorer interpersonal relationships with family members. But also generally, society and families are more protective of women so they are less likely to abandon a female relative,'' he explained.
He encouraged families to be observant and supportive to help men deal with their mental health struggles.
''Recognise changes in behaviour that could signal mental health struggles and become more supportive and encourage them to seek treatment early, that's the best the family can do,'' he told OBSERVER ONLINE.
The veteran therapist acknowledged that Jamaica has come a far in addressing mental health.
''We have made significant strides, in mental health and we continue to make significant investments in mental health awareness, although it may not be enough we do make significant investments,'' he said.
''Over the years we've mounted several intervention programmes and public awareness campaigns to help to deal with stigma and in the area of drug abuse, significant investment has been made by the national council on drug abuse, with various programmes,'' he added.
However, Abel said that there is still some stigma and discrimination that surrounds the topic.
''The biggest misconception is that mental health disorders are not due to natural causes; mental disorders are not treatable; and that in terms of treatment, especially with medication, people get addicted to medication,'' he revealed.
He noted that these misconceptions often lead to people, especially men, not seeking help for their struggle.
''The health-seeking behaviour for men is far less than it is for women. And because of that when men do get sick, they seek treatment later and they are put on treatment they are less likely to adhere, and tend to have poorer outcomes,'' he said.