Could Depression Be A Healthy Response to a Dysfunctional World?

More and more people are taking anti-depressants these days and more and more doctors are treating us for serious mental disorder.  I’m beginning to wonder if all these people really have a brain disease or is depression and other “mental illnesses,” really a healthy response to living in a dysfunctional world.

We know people become depressed following a divorce or the death of a loved one. When we suffer a loss, we may become sad. We may cry or mope around with little energy. The things that once gave us joy seem uninteresting. We may sleep too much or not be able to sleep at all. We overeat or may have no appetite for food.

Most of us don’t take medications to deal with this kind of depression. We recognize it as a healthy reaction to a traumatic life experience. We don’t try to make the feelings go away. We let ourselves grieve and eventually we come back and regain the joy we once had. We may have to learn new skills or develop new relationships after the loss of a loved one, but we don’t see ourselves as sick or mentally ill.

I remember when I was in medical school many years ago. I had just graduated from college at U.C. Santa Barbara and had gotten a four year, full-tuition fellowship at U.C. San Francisco Medical School. I was excited to be embarking on a career in medicine where I could help people. But during the time I was in medical school I became increasingly anxious and depressed. I wasn’t prepared for the long hours, lack of sleep, demanding, often bullying, staff.

I thought there must be something the matter with me that I couldn’t handle the demands of what was reported to be one of the best medical schools in the world. I eventually dropped out and for years I felt like a failure for not being able to do what it takes to become a doctor. It never occurred to me at the time that become anxious and depressed might have been a healthy response to a dysfunctional learning environment of medical school.

I never realized how pervasive the problem was or how it impacted the lives of the medical profession and all those who see a doctor for help until I learned about the work of Dr. Pamela Wible. In her powerfully moving book, Physician Suicide Letters, Dr. Wible, herself a family physician, exposes the pervasive and largely hidden medical culture of bullying, hazing, and abuse that is a regular part of medical school training throughout the U.S. and around the world.

The result is that more and more medical professionals are breaking down under the weight of a dysfunctional system. “Each year more than one million Americans lose their doctors to suicide,” says Dr. Wible, “and nobody ever tells the patients the truth. Nobody talks about our doctors jumping from hospital rooftops, overdosing in call rooms, hanging themselves in hospital chapels. It’s medicine’s dirty secret—and it’s covered up by our hospitals, clinics, and medical schools.”

Dr. Wible begins her book with these words: [Read more…]

Is Cheap Sex Causing Men to Give Up on Marriage?

I’ve been a marriage and family counselor for more than 40 years. My wife, Carlin, and I have been happily married now for 37 years. There are five important things I’ve learned in my personal and professional life:

  1. A joyful marriage is one of the greatest gifts anyone can have.
  2. Too many marriages go under, just when the couple could be enjoying their lives the most.
  3. Most people would like to have a joyful, juicy, relationship that lasts through time.
  4. Many people are reluctant to marry given the risks of unhappiness and divorce.
  5. An increasing number of men are choosing easy sex over marriage.

There are many reasons why men and women are having a difficult time with marriage these days. One reason may be the increase of cheap sex. The term “cheap sex” is an economic term meant to describe sex that has a low cost in terms of investment. If a person doesn’t have to invest a great deal to get the sexual return they want, the sex is cheap.

Of course, men, like women, don’t just want sex. In my popular article “The One Thing Men Want More Than Sex,” I say that more than the sexual pleasure of “getting off,” men want a safe harbor, a place where we can feel nurtured, care for, loved, and appreciated for who we are. Of course, developing the relationship skills to develop and maintain a caring, trusting, relationship between the members of a couple takes time and skill.

Generally, relationship skills are more easily developed by women than men. Further, men may start off with a disadvantage. According to Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, author of The Essential Difference: The Truth About the Male & Female Brain, “The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.”

The qualifying word “predominantly” is important. It’s not saying that all women have brains that make them more empathic than all men. But just as we can say that most men are taller and stronger physically than most women, we can recognize and accept that women are more skilled at developing and maintaining close relationships. [Read more…]

6 Ways the Father Wound Can Harm You and Your Family and What You Can Do To Heal

For most adults, the father wound, is invisible. Children are very aware of a father’s absence due to divorce, death, disconnection, or dysfunction. Children know the pain of a father who may not be a loving support for his family because the father may suffer from mental illness, have an alcohol problem, be preoccupied with work, or be physically or emotionally abusive. But humans are resilient. We get used to whatever we experience in childhood and by the time we become adults, the wounds have been covered over and we often forget their childhood origins.

This was certainly the case in my own life. When I was five years old, my father had what was called a “nervous breakdown.” He took an overdose of sleeping pills and was committed to Camarillo State Mental hospital, north of Los Angeles. After being hospitalized for three years, my mother was told that he would need to be hospitalized, perhaps for the rest of his life. My mother finally got a divorce and later married another man.

Gradually I came to forget the pain I felt losing my father. I learned to be independent and take care of myself and tried to make my own way into manhood without the presence of a father. But the father wound, like other effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES), doesn’t go away just because our conscious mind has buried the experience or we have learned to “forget the past” and “get on with our lives.”

I became very successful in my career as therapist helping men and the women who love them. I had fourteen books published including international bestsellers, Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places, Male Menopause, and The Irritable Male Syndrome. Yet, my personal life was chaotic and dysfunctional. My first marriage ended in divorce and I quickly fell in love with a woman who slept with a gun under her pillow to protect her “from men.” That marriage was short-lived. I became increasingly angry, manic and depressed.

I had multiple layers of resistance, thinking that since I was a therapist I could handle the problems myself. Being male and being a therapist kept me in denial a long time. But I finally reached out and got help. I learned that I was not alone. According to the National Center for Fathering, “More than 20 million children live in a home without the physical presence of a father. Millions more have dads who are physically present, but emotionally absent. If it were classified as a disease, fatherlessness would be an epidemic worthy of attention as a national emergency.” [Read more…]

Why I’m Writing a Book About the Most Important Problem Facing Men and Their Families Today

I’ve been writing books that help men and the families who love them since my first book, Inside Out: Becoming My Own Man, was published in 1983. Getting books published that focus on men is never easy. The perception in the publishing world continues to be that men don’t read books about men’s issues (unless it’s a sports book) and women aren’t that interested in books that help men (Men, as a group, are doing pretty well. It’s women who need help, many believe). I believe the world is changing and hopefully the publishing world will catch up.

As a writer, psychotherapist, and community activist, I resonate with these words from the philosopher Paul Tillich.

“Every serious thinker must ask and answer three fundamental questions:

  • What is wrong with us? With men? Women? Society? What is the nature of our alienation? Our dis-ease?
  • What would we be like if we were whole? Healed? Actualized? If our potentiality was fulfilled?
  • How do we move from our condition of brokenness to wholeness? What are the means of healing?”

Many have attempted to answer the question, “What is the nature of our alienation, our disease.”

I’ve come to believe that one important answer, that has been largely neglected, is the dis-ease of fatherlessness. It’s certainly a problem that has impacted my own life ever since I was five years old when my father became increasingly angry and depressed because he couldn’t find work to support his family. After struggling for years, he took an overdose of drugs. Luckily, he survived. He was committed to Camarillo State Mental Hospital and I grew up without a father. [Read more…]

From Madness to Manhood: Sex, Sexism, and My Red Keds

I’ve been writing a memoir, From Madness to Manhood, and sharing chapters with you, my readers. Your comments and feedback mean a lot to me. You can read other chapters here, here, here, and here.

When I was four I announced that I was tired of my white baby shoes and I wanted “big boy shoes.” My mother dutifully took me to a shoe store and I was entranced by the colors and variety of shoes. It was like going from a world of black and white and discovering that there was color. I wandered past all the shoes looking at each pair until my eyes lit up.

“Mommy, mommy, I want those.” I was jumping up and down and pointing to most beautiful shoes I had ever seen. They were red Keds.

I finally settled down enough for the salesman to sit me down, measure my little feet, and go in the back to find the right shoes. I couldn’t stop smiling and the wait seemed interminable. But finally he emerged from the back with a number of boxes.

“I brought a couple of different sizes, to be sure we’ve got the right ones,” he told my mother. It seemed even better than Christmas when he opened the box and folded back the tissue paper covering the shoes.“Here you are,” he proudly announced.

My smile collapsed when he took out the first shoe. It wasn’t the shoe I had admired. It said “Keds” on the heel, but it was blue, not red. I was crestfallen.

“But I want the red Keds,” I was finally able to say.

He smiled and patted me on the head. “Red is for girls,” he told me and smiled at my mother. “Blue is for boys.”

I thought about that for a second and a half. I had never heard of colors being assigned by sex. I had thought all shoes were white until recently. But even as a small child, I knew what I liked.

“I want the red Keds,” I stubbornly told him, though I was beginning to feel a little shakey and tearful. [Read more…]

How My Father Escaped From the Act Like a Man Box and Saved His Life

If you’re male, sometime in your life someone has told you to “act like a man.” I heard it from my first wife when she got mad and screamed it at me after I had refused to confront a guy who had sold us a faulty appliance. I heard it again from a friend who wanted me to leave this same woman after she had taken her anger out on me…again, and punctured the tires in my car.

Most of us grew up with certain rules that required men to act and be a certain way that were different from the way women were required to act and be. Growing up I knew that a man must fight anyone who disrespects him, his mother, or his wife. I learned early that a man must be the breadwinner and support his family, no matter what.

Writer and activist Paul Kivel described these manhood mandates as putting us in the Act Like a Man Box. As I grew up I found my life work helping men and women break free from the restrictions that keep us locked down. I came to see that the Act Like a Man Box and the Act Like a Woman Box were mirror images of each other.

When I read Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique in 1963 I realized “the problem that has no name,” which is the title of Chapter 1, highlighting the dissatisfactions that women were feeling, also stirred similar feelings in me. The book begins with these words: [Read more…]

The 6 Numbers That Will Change Your Life

We all have numbers that are important to us. Our anniversary date, the number of friends and family we will invite to our daughter’s wedding, maybe even the number of calories per day we’re going to try and maintain through our next (and this time it’s going to work) diet. But there are six numbers that I believe will be even more important for you to know if you’re going to survive long enough to enjoy a golden anniversary, your daughter’s wedding, or the new bathing suit you plan to wear at the beach once you take off those extra pounds. Are you ready?

            Number, #1: The number of people in the world today.

            Number, #2: The median age of the population.

            Number, #3: The number of people living in towns and cities.

            Number, #4: The number of people getting their energy from renewable resources.

            Number, #5: The number of people who will lose their jobs.

            Number, #6: The number of people who are depressed and losing hope.

Let’s take a look at these numbers and what they mean in our lives.

#1: According to a report by the BBC Future, based on United Nations and CIA figures, the present world population (2017) is 7.5 billion. Difficult to get our head around a number that big. But we feel it in our lives every day when we compare the past to the present.

I remember being ten-years-old and enjoying the orchard groves that went on forever which I could see from my window at our home in the Los Angeles suburb of Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley. The air was clean and it felt like there was plenty of space. According to the World Population Survey there were 2.6 billion people in 1953 (if you want to see the population at various times in your life, check it out here.

So, we’ve added 4.9 billion more people to this finite planet we call Earth since I roamed free as a ten-year-old. And like me, they all want to eat, have a job, and most would like to get around in a multi-horse-powered automobile rather than ride a donkey. There’s only so much space, so many resources, so much soil, water, and clean air and we don’t seem to be doing a very good job taking care of what we have.

You don’t have to look too far in the past to notice the change. In the last year, we added 80 million more people. That’s like adding all the people presently living in Germany. Do you feel the pressure? I feel my stress levels going up, just writing about it.

Plus, people have a tendency to move away from home when their local living conditions don’t allow them to support their families. More than 65.3 million people are currently refugees or are displaced in their own countries according to the United Nations – the highest figure since records began before the Second World War. If these people all lived in a country it would be 21st biggest country in the world with a population larger than the UK. [Read more…]

7 Reasons Men Should Do Yoga

When I was growing up there were certain things that boys did and other things reserved for girls. Boy sports included boxing, basketball, and football. Girl sports…Well, girls weren’t encouraged to engage in sports at all. They were the pretty cheer leaders who did back flips when we scored a touchdown. They were the ones we hoped to score with after the game if we were good enough, strong, enough, fast enough, tall enough, and handsome enough.

But, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, “The times are a changing,’ big time.” Now women are doing all the sports that were once reserved for men. In addition to female basketball players and footballers, we now have women boxers like Laila Ali, daughter of Muhammad Ali, and Regina Halmich, who popularized female boxing in Europe. We have mixed-martial artists like Amanda Nunez, Holly Holm and Ronda Rousey.

While women have been breaking through the barriers that have kept them out, men are slower to break through the barriers that have kept them from enjoying and benefitting from healthy activities such as Zumba and Yoga, which in my town, continue to be predominantly practiced by women.

I go to Zumba classes twice a week. I love the Latin music and I get a great workout that keeps me fit. There are additional benefits as I wrote in “Six Sex Trends From My Zumba Class.” I also go to Yoga classes, which I also enjoy and get great benefit from attending. My wife, Carlin, has taught Yoga classes for many years. It took me awhile to try them out. I had accepted the stereotype that “men go to the gym. Women do yoga.”

But now I find they are a super good work out. The classes I attend still have mostly women in them, but hey, hanging out with a lot of hot, sweaty women, isn’t too bad. I mean, someone has to do it.

Here are some great reasons to do Yoga:

  1. Increased flexibility.

Staying flexible is good at any age, but as I get older, it’s become increasingly important. A lot of my men friends are stiff and move like old men. I like the feeling of ease I receive.

  1. Improved respiratory and cardiac health.

We all want to keep breathing and insure our hearts are healthy. The American Heart Association recommends Yoga. “Hand in hand with leading a heart-healthy lifestyle, it really is possible for a yoga-based model to help prevent or reverse heart disease,”  says M. Mala Cunningham, Ph.D., counseling psychologist and founder of Cardiac Yoga. [Read more…]

Why Does Stress Cause More Depression in Men Than in Women?

Sex and gender differences are central to our lives. We all think about them, struggle with them, and seek to better understand them. From Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady who lamented “Why can’t a woman be more like a man” to Sigmund Freud who wondered “What do women really want?” to our nursery rhymes which taught us to believe that “Little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice,” while “Little boys are made of snakes and snails and puppy-dogs tails” to Charles Boyer who proclaimed Vive La Différence!

There is an exciting new field emerging that offers new insights into the age-old questions, “Are men and women really all that different?” In a world that still limits the lives of women in significant ways, it’s not surprising that many feminists have argued that the differences between men and women are superficial and more the result of our sexist attitudes than real differences in the ways our brains and bodies are built.

However, an emerging new field called “gender-specific medicine” recognizes that sexism still exists and must be eliminated if women and men are going to reach their full potential, but there are real differences between the sexes that need to be understood and respected.

One of the leaders in this field is Marianne J. Legato M.D. In her book, Eve’s Rib:  The New Science of Gender-Specific Medicine, she says, “Everywhere we look, the two sexes are startlingly and unexpectedly different not only in their internal function but in the way they experience illness.” Dr. Legato is a cardiologist who was one of the first clinicians to recognize that heart disease presents differently in men and women. Men feel a crushing pain in their chest, while many women experience fleeting pain in the upper abdomen or back, nausea, shortness of breath, and sweating. [Read more…]

For the First Time a Participatory Media Company Addresses The Changing Roles of Men in the 21st Century


I’ve been interested in the changing roles of men since 1969. As an expectant father, my wife and I had gone through the Lamaze childbirth classes together and were committed to bringing our child into the world as naturally as possible. I had been with my wife through twelve hours of labor. But when she was ready to go into the delivery room, I was asked to leave and join the other fathers in the waiting room.

I did as I was told, kissed my wife, and watched as she went one way down the hallway while I went the other way. But I couldn’t go through the waiting room doors. Something or someone was calling me back. I turned around, walked into the delivery room and took my place beside my wife. There was no question of my leaving. I felt I was being called by our unborn child. “I don’t want a waiting room father. I want a father who is here with us.”

When he was born shortly thereafter, I held my little boy, Jemal, and made a vow to him that I would be a different kind of father than my father was able to be for men and I would do everything I could do to bring about a different kind of world where fathers were not separated from their wives and children. I remembered my own father who was forced to leave our family when I was five years old because he had become depressed and enraged when he couldn’t make a living in his chosen profession.

In 1988, I started MenAlive to help men and the families who loved them to live long and well. In 2009, I read a book by Tom Mattlack, The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood. When I found out The Good Men Project would launch the following year, I knew I wanted to be one of the writers. There were three things that I liked immediately.

First, they really were having a dialogue that no one else was having and were open to a range of topics from my article, From Madness to Manhood: In Search of My Lost Father and Myself, to The 5 Stages of Love and Why Too Many Stop at Stage 3. [Read more…]