Friday 20 April 2018

The task of minding our men

John Searson tells Ciara Dwyer about listening to men talk.

PRIVILEGED: Psychotherapist John Searson enjoys helping men become positive about their lives. Photo: Tony Gavin
PRIVILEGED: Psychotherapist John Searson enjoys helping men become positive about their lives. Photo: Tony Gavin

Ciara Dwyer

"Every week 10 people commit suicide in Ireland," says psychotherapist John Searson. "Out of that 10, eight are men."

We are sitting in a room in Pieta House, a centre which offers free counselling to people who self-harm and try to commit suicide.

"Even though things are changing, men are conditioned to see themselves in a certain way," says Searson. "They feel that they should be the ones who have the good jobs and are providers and are good at sports too. But a lot of men feel that they are not achieving things, so they feel ashamed."

There is a wide variety of problems.

"Imagine a 40-year-old man in the workplace who has been passed over for promotion. That can be devastating for a man. Other reasons we see are when men lose their partners, be it through a relationship break-up or a death. Equally, not having a significant relationship can bring a lot of pain and loneliness. We see that a lot with the farming community.

"There is the belief that suicide is a selfish option but that is incorrect. In reality, a person who is suicidal feels that they have no other choice. So, it can't be an option if it's not a choice. I understand that the people who are left behind feel angry because they are confused and hurt, but suicide is not an easy way out."

Searson has seen it all - from school boys as young as seven who are being bullied to teenagers who feel so much pressure to perform well in the Junior Cert that suicide seems preferable. He believes that the education system puts too much emphasis on exams and getting good grades. He thinks there is too much pressure in our society to succeed and that we need to look at new ways of defining success.

In Pieta House's Mind Our Men campaign, they encourage people to look out for the men in their lives and to take action if they have a concern about a man's mental health. Typically, men don't make calls crying out for help but a friend can do this on the man's behalf and it can be done directly. There is no need for a referral letter from a GP.

"We try to get men to talk. It's about being in touch with your feelings but sometimes men get scared when they hear that. When men come here, they get to know themselves in a deeper way and they learn skills to help with setbacks in life. I understand how hard it can be for some men to open up. Sometimes, some men sit in silence for the first 30 minutes of a session or other times they will be angry. We try to get beneath that. Often it is hurt and frustration."

Searson tells of a 16-year-old lad who walked into his room with his head down and shoulders stooped yet by the end of their sessions, he was upright and confident with a glint in his eye. He believed in his own worth.

"I love what I do because I see the changes in people. There's something about seeing a person in a broken state and then working with them so that they feel different. They stop listening to negative thoughts and they learn to change their attitudes and perceptions. When a man lets you into his world, it's a privilege. I couldn't do the work I do, if I didn't know it worked."

Sunday Independent

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