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November is the month when men across the world grow moustaches to raise awareness of men’s health issues. As such, we’re dedicating this months episode to, you guessed it, men’s health!
Listen in as we chat to Movember Ireland and Tribe Charity about the steps we need to take to make it easier for men to talk about their problems.
We also talk to Leterkenny IT SU about the events they’ve been running on campus to promote good mental health, and finally to Dr. Emer Sheahan, a Counselling Psychologist based in Dublin.
Follow us on Instagram @stand.ie for updates and links.
As part of a series of articles to raise awareness about Movember, contributor Conor Kelly talks about men’s experiences of dealing with mental and physical health issues. If you’ve missed it, you can read the first article here.
For this article, I spoke to Chuckles, an up-and-coming hip-hop artist from Dublin, who talked about how his music career has helped him to understand mental health.
‘’I do believe being able to express myself through my music has helped me to cope with my mental health on multiple occasions. For a long-time I have suffered with my mental health with it leading me towards suicide and self-destruction. Hip-hop [allowed me] to say what is on my mind and take myself away from the situation. There are times where it’s hard to voice exactly how you are feeling but by sharing a song with someone, it can allow the listener to have a glimpse as to what’s in your head and heart,” confessed Chuckles
“I found some artists that can vocalise how you are trapped in your own little world, with no one to know, such as Eminem, Token, Seven Spherez, Tech N9ne, Krizz Kaliko and Prozak. They each have a song that either saved me or enabled me to express myself. Krizz Kaliko’s song Scars ft Tech N9ne has a strong impact on myself. This is a hard question, but as men there is still a stigma about it. For myself it’s not easy to turn to family and friends and say ‘I’m not feeling okay today’. Hence why I took the name Chuckles ‘I’m crackin’ some smiles but ain’t a damn thing funny’. I know I have the support there and they all care about what happens, but I don’t want them to worry about me. My music is a way for me to escape, I slip deep into my writings until the cloud lifts” he added.
“I think the best way to reach out to men who are still stuck with reaching out for help is through music, giving them an outlet they initially didn’t have before, a voice they can relate to and eventually open up to someone before it takes over them. Social media is a great tool when used right, by setting up a group page that allows people to share music and that way they can explore the music that affects others to get them through the day. Another way is to remind those who post the comments during mental health week or during the month of November that it’s not just for likes, that being there for someone all year round, supporting them into getting help and remind them there’s nothing wrong with getting help’’.
Chuckles music is something special. When you listen to his music you can tell he is a passionate, caring and hard-working person. In his song Listen to me, he speaks the truth, he speaks how the innocent and vulnerable people in society are being hurt, he speaks what some of us are afraid to say.
I also spoke to James Byrne who is a good friend but also someone who runs LGBTQ+ community meditation and mindfulness meetups in the heart of Dublin city in the Outhouse community resource center (Address – 105 Capel Street). It is a low-cost service to attend where you can develop and improve your overall mental and spiritual health. They run regularly throughout the year and are an informal relaxed meetup for those looking to get involved in learning to explore their inner self in a caring and safe place. This isn’t the only thing James does, he also runs multiple residential retreats and workshops to help you with all the worries of life.
If you would like to get involved in the meditation and wellbeing programs James organizes, please contact him at 0831759337.
‘’It is crucial to my work as a psychotherapist that mental health is at the very core of my profession. As a therapist my job is to enable my clients to understand their feelings, this can be looking at what makes them feel happy, anxious, depressed and a whole range of other emotions. Through understanding their emotional selves a little better, it can equip [people] to cope in tough situations in life in a more adaptive way. Physical health and mental health are closely related and are something that I would regularly check in with clients especially around diet, exercise and sleep. I encourage clients if they can [spend time] in nature as much as possible.
Today there is a lot of shame surrounding mental health issues we might be experiencing so I think we need to combat the stigmatization. A lot of men I have worked with as a therapist and in my previous career found the biggest obstacle was reaching out and allowing someone into their world. We still have a societal idea that ‘boys don’t cry’. Thankfully this is changing but too slowly. Younger men are starting to become that little bit more open to talking about feelings and reaching out if they have problems, this is fantastic, but we need to support the men of all ages. Provisional figures show there were 352 suicides last year – 282 male and 70 female – or 7.2 per 100,000 of population, according to the 2018 annual report of the National Office for Suicide Prevention. This is our lowest suicide numbers in 20 years! Men continue to account for 80 per cent of all suicides – in line with global trends – and the 45 to 54-year-old age group are at the highest risk. While suicide prevention is important, and we need to continue to reach out to those who are at risk. We need to look towards the contributing factors, the stresses, the depression, the anxiety, addiction… These are less talked about in the media. The simple answer is to start talking, talk to your friends, talk to your family, talk to a counsellor.’’
James does so much for other people but doesn’t do it for fame or fortune. He does it because he cares for others. He once said to me “that no one has an easy life, we all have troubles and that if you reach out for help someone will answer”.
James and Chuckles each speak about their own different stories but I noticed that they share the same experience of being silenced, pushed away. Both of them felt it wasn’t normal to speak up about their mental health because they’re both men. They felt it was wrong. That’s what men feel is appropriate growing up because that is what society and people told them.
Photos by Chuckle and James
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In my hometown of Roscrea recently a man emerged from the grounds of the imposing town castle clutching a joint. After a couple of pulls he sidled up to me and said “Want a toke cuz?”.
He looked the picture of ill health. Raggedy unwashed clothes and bony narrow face beneath greasy unkempt hair. My only concern was my own personal safety. This man was clearly a drug addict. I resented his encroachment into my personal space. I lamented the fact that he was comfortable enough to roll and light up in the middle of the day as the half-deserted town went about its daily business.
Across the road the once famous Pathe Hotel remained closed while every second shopfront sported To Let or For Sale signs. The town has been decimated by urbanisation and globalisation and has been ranked high on the deprivation index.
In 2014, Roscrea made national headlines. A spate of drug related suicides and anti-social behaviour plagued the town while austerity saw the police station effectively closed. The locals had enough.700 of them held public meetings and raised their concern at the breakdown of decency and morality in their town.
Drug use and addiction are inextricably linked with youth unemployment and lack of opportunity. In the years since the economic crash the country appears to mirror Roscrea’s experience of socio-economic disadvantage and rising drug abuse.
Between 2004 and 2016 there have been 8207 drug related deaths recorded in Ireland. That’s an average of 683 per year or almost two a day. These figures include the full spectrum of substance abuse from alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, prescription drugs and heroin.
Research into the psychology of addiction proposes strong evidence that drug addiction risk is exacerbated by a confluence of genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors. Individuals with poor inhibitory control are more vulnerable. Inhibition of negative thoughts, actions and behaviours are essential to living a decent life. Self-control is a skill that can be developed in children and young adults however many drug addicts turn to drugs due to early traumatic experiences and lack of economic opportunity, Repeated use of addictive substances disrupts the brains optimal functioning by dulling and weakening the brains executive functioning in the prefrontal cortex. This is the organ of civilisation, the area of the brain that allows us to control, direct and supervise our goal directed behaviour. Bypassing these mechanisms drug addicts behaviour is governed by increased arousal and disruption of the limbic system which is the centre of the brain responsible for reward and motivation to pursue rewards. The limbic system is disrupted by stimulant ingestion leading to automaticised addictive behaviours where the victim can feel helplessly enslaved to his or her need for drug ingestion.
To put it simply the need outweighs the rational self- control elements of the brain. Control systems become highly compromised leading to drug addicts living their lives moment to moment in a constant state of self-destructive nihilism.
Have you ever found yourself reaching for a bar of chocolate, buying a bottle of wine or dialling a fast food restaurant despite being conscious of not wanting to do so yet feeling like you deserve a reward? Multiply that feeling by a hundred and maybe you are close to what it feels like to be ensconced in the belly of the beast and full-blown drug addiction.
Just as it is simplistic and ignorant to tell a person with depression to “snap out of it” it is equally foolish to sternly advise a drug addict to “just give it up”.
Addicts are often helpless amid their maladaptive and self-destructive behavioural patterns which are often exacerbated by society’s disgust and disdain for their predicament. In Ireland the ‘junkie’ is demonised, hated and feared; he (for it is often a he) is considered a threat to personal and public safety and must be treated with contempt.
Plenty of evidence exists in the literature to support links with adverse early child and adolescent experiences, mental health difficulties and the descent into hard drug use. A strong argument can be put forward therefore for the case of diminished responsibility which then leads us to the need for more compassionate and holistic approaches to drug addiction which can mitigate the personal and public safety concerns overall.
Aodhan O Riordan of the Labour Party, the Minister for Drugs in 2015, proposed the idea of injection centres that have been used to great success in Portugal, Holland and Germany. He was quoted at the time in media outlets as saying that Ireland needs to undergo a “cultural shift” in our attitudes to drug addiction. O Riordan advocated a shift from criminalisation to harm reduction. Instead of locking up drug addicts the state should adopt a hands-on compassionate approach which will in turn alleviate the anti-social problems associated with indiscriminate drug use. Safe spaces where users can even bring their own heroin into fully serviced legal injection centres offered a novel and effective approach to our drugs problem, he suggested.
O Riordan subsequently lost his Dail seat, an electoral failure that may be in part explained by his stance as well as the Labour Party’s overall meltdown that year. The current Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne, has supported O Riordan’s policy proposals. In 2017 she indicated that legislation to decriminalize heroin, cocaine and cannabis for personal use could be in place by 2019. The legislation for injection centres has been passed yet a pilot programme for the first injection centre was held up by Dublin City Council citing planning permission issues following representations by concerned community and business groups who clearly do not want to see such injection centres in their locality.
Activation of the legislation and a roll out of nationwide injection centres remains in limbo amidst cries of Nimbyism.All available evidence supports the move towards injection centres. It seems however that most Irish people support a health-based approach to drug addiction… if those centres are not on their own doorstep.
In the classic HBO television series, The Wire, an inner-city Baltimore police chief effectively decriminalises drug use by moving drug abuse to specific derelict areas of the city under the passive supervision of police officers. The result is a decrease in drug related crimes and associated anti-social problems freeing up police officers to focus on traditional police work. The War on Drugs has failed utterly because it is in effect a War on the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalised and the oppressed and only by recognising the issue as a public health problem and not a criminal problem can the effects of drug addiction be tackled. The show’s fictional narrative-written and produced a former police officer and journalist- appears to be mirrored in real life cases. Portugal for example had an estimated 100,000 people addicted to hard drugs in 1999 with high numbers of deaths and overdoses related to addiction. A decade on the number of addicts had been halved while the number of drug overdoses had dropped to double figures after the country’s government opted to embrace the harm reduction approach and decriminalise personal drug use.
In Ireland, 72% of drug possession cases (12,201 arrests) were for personal drug use. There are approximately almost 19,000 opiate users in our country while people seeking help for cocaine use has increased by 32 per cent between 2016 and 2017 with 1500 cases recorded.
The shift from criminalisation to de-stigmatisation appears to be in effect amongst policy makers and the Irish public however progress moves at a snail’s pace. The issue is sensitive politically as O Riordan might attest. In our current binary, discordant and moronic political and ideological climate the wait for a full roll out of harm reduction policy and injection centres seems unlikely to come to fruition anytime soon especially with a general election looming as TD’s frantically attempt to shore up their base.
Fine Gael’s self-crafted PR image as the party of law and order is hardly commensurate with a truly modern mature and intelligent nationwide implantation of harm reduction drug policy. It is likely however that following the general election a stronger impetus for activation of holistic drug treatment will occur leading to reduced public safety concerns and a political success story.
The issue requires long term vision and implantation which is not conducive to the atmosphere of competition during the canvassing period.
Photo courtesy of Josh Calabrese via Unsplash
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In 2008, Ecuador signed into law a progressive socialist constitution that is defined by many as the most radical in the world regarding the rights of the environment and indigenous people.
Strongly inspired by the 2007 UN Declaration on the rights of the Indigenous people, the heart of the constitution contains the indigenous concept of Sumak Kawsay, which stipulates that humans should be in harmony with nature.
An alternative to capitalist resource management, it put the protection of the environment/Pachamama (Mother Nature) to the fore.
Under this constitution and its promises, the government of Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, launched a groundbreaking initiative called ‘Yasuní-ITT’ to protect biodiversity and indigenous peoples in the oil-rich national park of YasunÍ – a bold move in the face of global capitalism.
However, the same constitution has since failed and resource extraction has increased despite numerous welfare-programs and the far-reaching efforts of Correa’s government.
In 2013 Correa said that he was ‘deeply saddened’ that he had to end the initiative and gave the go ahead for oil drilling in the YasunÍ area of the Amazon.
He maintained that the main reason for this was that the international community had failed Ecuador after only 0.37% of the projected donations had been received to turn YasunÍ national park into a protected national park for the rest of time.
Ecuador has one of the highest poverty rates in South America and drastic social reform was required to build schools, hospitals and combat poverty as a whole.
Many developing countries have borrowed from China despite high interest rates and China’s demands for the borrowing nation to relinquish their states natural resources for a set time.
China lent $1 billion to PetroEcuador in 2009.
Within a year Chinese money began to flow into Ecuador.
By 2015, China had already pumped $11 billion into Ecuador, which went towards infrastructure – schools, hospitals, roads, highways and bridges, but also many other projects.
One such project is the hydroelectric plant that is just a few miles away from the Amazons Coca River.
The project which cost $2.2 billion, has ushered in the building of a dam and a 15 mile-long underground tunnel, which will feed water to 8 giant Chinese turbines, designed to produce enough electricity to light more than 1/3 of Ecuador.
Unfortunately, the dam created for this project will dry up nearly 40 miles of the Coca river for several months of the year, wiping out an entire aquatic ecosystem due to the reliance of fish life-cycles on the water flow.
This environmental cost is not the only downside to the project.
Thousands of Ecuadorian and Chinese laborers work on these projects.
In December 2014, an underground river burst through a tunnel on the site, killing 14 workers – 3 Chinese and 11 Ecuadorian.
Chinese leaders have described the investments as symbiotic and said that Ecuador have ‘come at the right time’ for cooperation.
China currently has a lock on almost 90% of Ecuador’s oil exports – which mostly go to paying of its debts.
Due to the financial position of Ecuador after refusing to pay debts to Western debtors, labeling them as ‘immoral and illegitimate’, and its failed relationship with the United States, the country has little choice in attempting to climb from poverty other than to rely on its relationship with and exports to China.
The intense pressure to reform the countries infrastructure, economic and financial systems and civil society, as well as the nations hug e debt has meant that the Amazonian ecosystem, the environment as a whole and the people of Ecuador are in a highly compromised position.
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Image courtesy of Archivo Medios Públicos EP at Flickr.
Claudia Nussbaumer continues her series, ‘Gender roles in indigenous communities,’ this week looking at Inuit communities of Greenland, Canada and Alaska.
The Inuit (meaning, ‘the people’) are a large group of culturally similar communities living in the Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada, and Alaska. The total population is around 150,000.
There are four aspects, which are markers for social hierarchy in traditional Inuit culture: The community as a whole, leadership, gender and marital relationships and the relationship between the Inuit and the people of Canada.
As Inuit people hold their traditions in high regard, elders play a crucial role within the Inuit community. They are thought to be the best source of knowledge when it comes to practices and teachings. Women and men alike are recognised as elders. Elders are not literally regarded as leaders of the community, yet their philosophy is the foundation of Inuit society.
Those chosen to lead are elected on the basis of their ability to communicate the elders’ teachings to the entire community. They act merely as spokespersons rather than decision makers. Inuit society is very communal and governing is regulated by consensus. There is no obligation to obey the decisions made by leaders, though most of the time they are respected as they have the elders’ blessing and the best interests of the community in mind.
Modern conceptions of gender often experience tension with more traditional practices, long considered the norm within Inuit communities. Traditionally, men would be in charge of hunting and gathering, leaving women to bear the brunt of household decisions. Men and women were divided and tasked with gendered roles for the continuance of society. While men would engage in the hunt itself, women would look after the men when they returned, sewing their clothes from the animal skins, cooking meals and performing other tasks vital to survival. Women were, however, free to learn traditionally male skills.
With government-led forced resettlement, traditional Inuit society underwent a radical change. Inuit communities stopped living in camps and started living in more ‘modern’ communities where hunting became less important for survival. Modern wage-jobs became the norm and consequently, had a major effect on gender roles. Women entered the workforce and were empowered through doing so. This change grated with traditional practices of gender that Inuit society had long practiced.
Women have become, in many cases, the primary provider within their families. However, working a wage job whilst looking after children and doing domestic housework is a ‘double burden’ for many women. The opinion of many women is that their traditional social roles should be modified to reflect their changing society, and it should be recognised that these roles often limit the power of women within their communities. The ideas of equality pose potential conflicts with the communitarian ideas of Inuit society, especially as older generations are more likely to conform to the traditional values.