From Madness to Manhood: Growing Up A Little In Love With Death

I wrote about my early experiences visiting my father in the mental hospital. Our home attracted death like a magnet. The same year my father went to Camarillo, a close friend of the family shot himself. I remember going to the service, confused and afraid, but no one talked about why he died. Yet, everyone knew it was suicide. Later that year my closest friend, Woody, drowned in the river near our house. My mother was so glad I was alive, she couldn’t listen to my own grief or feelings of loss.

My mother was preoccupied with her own death. From the time I was born, I knew my mother was about to die. She talked about it all the time. “I just hope I’m around to see you off to high school,” she would tell me. Her voice was always light and breezy, but it chilled me to the bone. When she was still around when I went to high school, she wasn’t reassured, she just moved her imminent death a little farther down the line.

“I just want to see you go to college before I die.”

I was seven when the Forester man came for a visit. We sat in our small living room and he painted a wonderful picture of the International Order of Foresters (IOF).

“The Foresters are a fraternal organization that started in Canada in 1874 to help families just like yours,” he smiled and I was mesmerized by his voice. I can’t remember much of the story, but I liked the word “fraternal” and I pictured Robin Hood and his band of caring outlaws, taking from the rich and giving to the poor. I thought of the Three Musketeers—“all for one and one for all.”

I knew we had very little money, but the bottom line purpose of the Foresters was to sell insurance and we bought the whole package. My mother signed up for insurance on herself, so I’d be taken care of when she died. She also bought an insurance policy on me because “it’s never too early to think about your wife and kids.” As a dutiful son, I felt proud to own an insurance policy to take care of my family…while I was still in the first grade. [Read more…]

From Here to Eternity: Stopping Male Stress and the Epidemic of Suicides

I have a personal, as well as professional, interest in male depression and suicide.  It began with my father who was born in Jacksonville, Florida December 17, 1906.  He was one of eight children whose parents had been born in Eastern Europe and had come to the United States in the late 1800s.  From what I heard growing up, he was emotionally sensitive, artistic and talented.  He wrote stories, poetry, and put on little plays for the family.

Unlike most of his brothers and sisters who either went into business or married business men, when he was 18 my father went to New York to become an actor.  At first things looked bright.  New York in the 1920s was full of glitter and glitz, a great place to be for a young man seeking fame and fortune.  But that ended in 1929 with the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression.

It was in New York that he met my mother and they married on her birthday, October 5, 1934 after a somewhat stormy courtship.  Economically things were difficult, but they were together and ready to weather the storm.  When all money ran out they would invite friends and acquaintances to their small apartment and my father would put on a show—readings from Shakespeare, his own poetry, or short stories.  The price of admission was a can of food.

But as the economic situation worsened so did his mood.  He would snap at my mother.  Small things irritated him.  How she cooked, cleaned their apartment, or made the bed became points of discord.  Recalling the times, my mother told me, “He was always on edge.  I couldn’t seem to do anything right.  No matter how much I tried to support him and let him know I cared, he still got mad at me.”

There were increasingly heated arguments and fights.  He would accuse her of being interested in other men and “sleeping around.”  She would proclaim her innocence and feel hurt.  They would make up, make love, and everything would seem all right.  And they would be all right, until the next time.  There was always a next time. 

My mother was always able to find work as a secretary.  She had excellent skills and even in bad times people needed her talents and experience.  However, there weren’t a lot of people looking for my father’s skills and talents.  Not feeling comfortable at home, my father spent more and more time away.  “He’s here, then he’s gone,” my mother would say.  “Sometimes he wouldn’t come home until early the next morning.”

His brothers tried to convince them to come home to Florida and sell insurance like they were doing.  My father laughed.  “I’d rather die first.”   It was a prophetic outburst.  He nearly did die.  Most of what I know about his life I learned from my mother and the journals that he kept in the last three years before he tried to kill himself.

Kay Redfield Jamison, an expert on mood disorders, uses an analogy from the animal kingdom to describe the difference ways men and women react to the stresses of life that can lead to depression and suicide.  “Young male elephants go out and they are quite solitary,” she observed. “The only times males get together is during the breeding period in an adversarial role. They’re not talking about anything, they’re competing.

“Conversely, the female elephants are drawn together and are constantly communicating with each other.  Female elephants have a system set up if one is in distress,” she continues, “and they are more likely to be there to serve and help one another.  Like male elephants in an adversarial role, human men have an ‘irritability’ that is ‘part and parcel’ of depression,” she says.  “It’s one of the diagnostic criteria for depression and mania, more common than not,” she explained. “Emotions get so ratcheted up, it’s often we see men with short-tempered fuses. It makes depression difficult for others to be around.”

This was certainly true of my father.  He had a long history of irritability, anger, and depression, and male stress but it was the crashing economy that sent him over the edge.  Here were the last journal entries before he tried to kill himself:

“June 4th: 

               Your flesh crawls, your scalp wrinkles when you look around and see good writers, established writers, writers with credits a block long, unable to sell, unable to find work,  Yes, it’s enough to make anyone, blanch, turn pale and sicken.

 “August 15th:

              Faster, faster, faster, I walk.  I plug away looking for work, anything to support my family.  I try, try, try, try, try.  I always try and never stop.

“November 8th:

              A hundred failures, an endless number of failures, until now, my confidence, my hope, my belief in myself, has run completely out.  Middle aged, I stand and gaze ahead, numb, confused, and desperately worried.  All around me I see the young in spirit, the young in heart, with ten times my confidence, twice my youth, ten times my fervor, twice my education. 

             I see them all, a whole army of them, battering at the same doors I’m battering, trying in the same field I’m trying.  Yes, on a Sunday morning in early November, my hope and my life stream are both running desperately low, so low, so stagnant, that I hold my breath in fear, believing that the dark, blank curtain is about to descend.”

Six days after his November 8th entry, my father tried to kill himself.  Though he survived physically, emotionally he was never again the same.  For nearly 40 years I’ve treated more and more men who are facing similar stresses to those my father experienced.  The economic conditions and social dislocations that contributed to his feelings of shame and hopelessness continue to weigh heavily on men today.

Suicide is Predominantly a Male Response to Stress

Although suicide impacts women as well as men, it is predominantly a male response to overwhelming stress.  In my book, Male vs. Female Depression: Why Men Act Out and Women Act In I reported on a major research study that concluded “Women seek help—men die.” The study found that 75% of those who sought professional help at a suicide prevention program were female. Conversely 75% of those who committed suicide in the same year were male.

These findings are corroborated by men’s health expert, Will Courtenay, Ph.D. in his book, Dying to be Men: Psychosocial, Environmental, and Biobehavioral Directions in Promoting the Health of Men and Boys (April, 2011, Routledge). Courtenay reports the following suicide and death rates (per 100,000 U.S. population) from the National Center for Disease Control, for males and females in various age groups:

We see that the suicide rate for young men is more than 4 times the rate for young women and the suicide rate for after retirement is 6 to 17 times the rate for women of the same age. Clearly men are at great risk and as populations age throughout the world, more men are likely to give up hope and kill themselves.

Age Group

Male Rate

Female Rate

Male/Female Ratio










































The Mancession

But many men are now losing their jobs before retirement.  A recent editorial in the British Journal of Psychiatry indicates that depression rates in men are likely to increase due to the socioeconomic changes going on in the world. The study’s principle author Boadie Dunlop, M.D., from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta writes, “Compared to women, many men attach a great importance to their roles as providers and protectors of their families. Failure to fulfill the role of breadwinner is associated with greater depression and marital conflict.”

Research shows that since the beginning of the recession in 2007, roughly 75 percent of the jobs lost in the United States were held by men. On the other hand, women are increasingly becoming the primary household earners with 22 percent of wives earning more than their husbands in 2007, versus only 4 percent in 1970. Unfortunately, there is little reason for anyone to believe that traditional male jobs will return in significant numbers even if the economy fully recovers.  As depression increases, so too will suicide.

Getting Help and Support

The International Association of Suicide Prevention (IASP) has designated September 10, 2012, World Suicide Prevention Day.  On their site you can get good information on what people are doing all over the world to prevent suicide and you can learn what you can do to support their activities.  In support of these activities I’m offering  my new book, MenAlive: Stop Killer Stress with Simple Energy Healing Tools, which details my own experiences helping people deal with depression in their lives.  For everyone who orders a book by September 10, 2012, I will donate 50% of the profits to IASP.  For everyone who orders anytime during the month of September, I’ll donate 30% of the profits to IASP.

Working together we can make a difference.  If you’d like to be part of our campaign to save the lives of a million men, and to learn how to stop male stress you can learn more HERE.

What has been your experience with male suicide?  What resources do you have to share?  Together we heal.

Photo Credit:

Why I’d Rather Partner with You on My Book Than With a Big Publisher

I’m pleased to announce that my 10th book, MenAlive:  Stop Killer Stress with Simple Energy Healing Tools will be available on Sunday July 1st!  My previous books have been done with major publishers.  The advantage of publishing with a big company is that they offer an “advance” on royalties to help cover the costs of cutting back on my counseling practice for the two years it takes to write a book and get it out in the world.  They also pay all the costs to create the book, i.e. editing, formatting, cover design, and printing.  Plus, they promote the book and get it in the book stores.  They also take the risk of putting out a book that only a few people will want, thus losing the money they invest.

For doing all of that, they take most of the money on the sales generated.  On a $20 book, I may get $1.50 to $2.00 for each book sold if I publish with a big publisher.

But times are changing.  Publishers are doing less and less for writers and we are doing more and more for ourselves, but the publishers still take a lot of the profits.

So, I decided to reach out to you and ask my tribe to help support my book.  Many of you gave me some of the initial money I needed to do a good edit and I put up the rest of the money to have a nice cover designed, have the book formatted, printed, and shipped.

With your help, we did it!  Starting Sunday, people can get the book and you have some options of where to order.  Each option means a different amount that comes to me, hopefully to help pay back some of what it cost to create the book.  I don’t write in order to get rich or even make much money.  I write because I have a passion to help people.

MenAlive is the culmination of my work up to now and I’m convinced it can help save millions of lives. In fact, I’ve made a commitment to do what I can to get the book into the hands of a million men.  I know if they use the tools in the book they will reduce stress and ultimately live longer and more healthy lives.  And I’m hoping you’ll want to help me do it.

So, I’m more concerned about getting the book in your hands than how much money I make on it.  But I wanted to let you know the financial aspects of publishing.

If you buy the book in your local bookstore (and I support our independent local bookstores), I’ll make $4.00 on each book you buy.

If you buy the book on Amazon, I’ll make $6.00.

If you buy the book directly from me, I’ll make $12.00.  Plus, I’ll send you a personally autographed copy.  With the money I make I’ll be able to stay afloat and reach out to more people.

As a special treat if you are on my email list, I will send out a special link on Sunday where I’m giving out 250 free copies of the book. All I ask in return is that you help share the word of the launch via your social media.

So make a choice that works for you, but help me get this book out to the people who need it.  Once you’ve read it, please give me a “star” rating on Amazon.  I hope to get 100 “5 star” ratings.  Also if you choose, leave a comment about the value MenAlive has made in your life.  That allows people who don’t know my work to feel more inclined to take the risk to read the book.

A big publisher might publish 300 or 400 books a year.  They are not as committed as we are to getting MenAlive in the hands of a million men.  Thank you for helping me to help men and the women who love them.  Together we can save lives and bring about a better world.

For Love or Money: The New Male Vocation Is….

The cover story in Time magazine headlines:  The Richer Sex:  Women, Money, and Power. It reports on studies showing that almost 40% of working wives make more money than their husbands and goes on to say, “Assuming present trends continue, by the next generation, more families will be supported by women than by men.”

This raises some interesting questions:  Will present trends continue, or will things shift back again towards men carrying more of the load to support the family?  If present trends do continue will it be good for men, women, and children?  Could the new male vocation be learning how to love more rather than learning to make more money?

I think there’s a wonderful opportunity here.  I’d offer it in the form of an equation (thanks to author Chip Conley for the idea of turning big ideas into short equations):

________    =  Happiness

Love divided by money equals happiness.  I know for most of my adult life, I thought I created happiness for myself and my family by working harder and harder to make more and more money.  I put a lot more effort into making money than learning the skills to love myself, love my wife, and love my children.  I knew I loved them, but I thought I expressed it best by making money.

My equation of effort might have looked like this  1/10 = 0.1.  I put in 1 unit of learning to love for every 10 units on making money.  Now, with so many men finding it difficult to make money, perhaps we can reverse this equation.  10/1 = 10, where we can put ten units into learning to love for every unit on making money.

What do you think?

Photo Credit: Time Magazine Cover March 26, 2012

The Masculine Mystique and Male Depression: Embracing Your Vocation of Destiny


There is something amiss with men today, and I’m still trying to figure it out.  I’ve been working with men, and the women who love them, for more than 40 years.  Actually, I’ve been on a quest to understand what is happening to men since 1948.  I was five years old that year and my father was 42.  I knew he was unhappy, but I never understood what troubled him.  He would disappear for long periods of time and when he was home he seemed irritable and angry much of the time.  My mother was perpetually worried—about him, about me, about money, about the state of the world.

The Masculine Mystique

I still remember the day my mother told me my father had been hospitalized.  She might have been crying, but she covered her emotions and simply told me my father was in a hospital.  She never explained exactly why he was there or when he would be coming home.  It was years later, when I was already in graduate school, that I found out he had tried to commit suicide.   My father was a writer and had boxes of journals with plays, poetry, radio shows, and short stories of all kinds.  I had read many of them, but they were hand-written and not easy to decipher.  When I came across a big box with personal journals I read them with a mounting excitement and apprehension.

Here is a note from my father’s first journal, written when he was his old self, full of hope and joy for life:

“I feel full of confidence in my writing ability.  I know for certain that someone will buy one of my radio shows.  I know for certain that I will get a good part in a play.  Last night I dreamt about candy.  There was more candy than I could eat.  Does it mean I’ll be rewarded for all my efforts?  Has it anything to do with sex?”

Journal number three was written a year later.  The economic depression of the time and the depression going on within his mind had come together.  His entries are more terse, staccato, and disheartening.  I still get tears when I feel how much was lost in such a short time.

“June 4th:

Your flesh crawls, your scalp wrinkles when you look around and see good writers, established writers, writers with credits a block long, unable to sell, unable to find work,  Yes, it’s enough to make anyone, blanch, turn pale and sicken.

August 15th:

Faster, faster, faster, I walk.  I plug away looking for work, anything to support my family.  I try, try, try, try, try.  I always try and never stop.

November 8th:

A hundred failures, an endless number of failures, until now, my confidence, my hope, my belief in myself, has run completely out.  Middle aged, I stand and gaze ahead, numb, confused, and desperately worried.  All around me I see the young in spirit, the young in heart, with ten times my confidence, twice my youth, ten times my fervor, twice my education.

I see them all, a whole army of them, battering at the same doors I’m battering, trying in the same field I’m trying.  Yes, on a Sunday morning in early November, my hope and my life stream are both running desperately low, so low, so stagnant, that I hold my breath in fear, believing that the dark, blank curtain is about to descend.”

Six days after his November 8th entry, my father tried to kill himself.  Though he survived physically, emotionally he was never again the same.  For nearly 40 years I’ve treated more and more men who are facing similar stresses to those my father experienced.  The economic conditions and social dislocations that contributed to his feelings of shame and hopelessness continue to weigh heavily on men today.

The Feminine Mystique:  The Problem That Has No Name

I’ve been reading Birth 2012 and Beyond:  Humanity’s Great Shift to the Age of Conscious Evolution by Barbara Marx Hubbard.  In the book Hubbard, talks about those key figures that had influenced her personal and professional life.  The two primal people she mentions, the psychologist Abraham Maslow and feminist author Betty Friedan, also had a profound influence on me.

The Feminine Mystique

I was in college when I read The Feminine Mystique.  I still have my original copy written in 1963 with a quote of support from anthropologist Ashley Montague, “the wisest, sanest, soundest, most understanding and compassionate treatment of contemporary American woman’s greatest problem.”  In her book she talked about the fact that in the years following World War II American women seemed to have it all.  She described “the American housewife—freed by science and labor-saving appliances from the drudgery, the angers of childbirth and the illnesses of her grandmother.  She was healthy, beautiful, educated, concerned only about her husband, her children, her home.  She had true feminine fulfillment.”

Yet, with all that she had—a husband, children, a nice house, T.V. and new “labor-saving devices,” she was becoming increasingly unhappy.  In the secret confines of her heart and soul she knew there was more to her life than a husband, house, and children; and she felt ashamed for wanting more when she had so much.  “She was so ashamed to admit her dissatisfaction,” said Friedan, “that she never knew how many other women shared it.  If she tried to tell her husband, he didn’t understand what she was taking about.”  When she’d go to a psychiatrist for help, he didn’t understand either.  Until Friedan called it “the feminine mystique,” it was a “problem that has no name.”

Barbara Marx Hubbard remembers her reaction to The Feminine Mystique.  “When I read that book, I realized that I was depressed because I had accepted the role of wife and mother as my exclusive identity….Once I read Betty Friedan, I was encouraged by one major thought:  I knew I wasn’t alone.  And I wasn’t willing to accept this depression as normal for me.  The meme of the feminine mystique liberated and encouraged me to keep seeking.”  She shared the feelings of so many women of that time.  “So much was given to me, yet there was this feeling of depression caused by a loss of identity—a deep longing for something more.”

The Masculine Mystique:  Why Men Are Angry and Depressed

It doesn’t take social science research to prove that men are angry and depressed.  One measure of this trend is the increase in the rates of homicide and suicide we see in males.  According to Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), homicide rates for males are 3 to 4 times higher than they are for females.  Among persons aged 20–24, the male homicide rate is 6 times higher than it is for females and it is much worse among minorities than among whites.   For those ages 10-19, the homicide rate is 10 times higher for blacks than for whites.

Differences in suicide rates are even more dramatic, according to the CDC.   Overall, males kill themselves at rates that are 4 times higher than females.  But as with homicide, certain groups are even more vulnerable.  The suicide rate for those ages 20-24 is 5.4 times higher for males than for females of the same age.  In the older age groups suicide is predominantly a male problem.  After retirement, the suicide rate skyrockets for men, but not for women.  Between the ages of 65-74 the rate is 6.3 times higher for males.  Between the ages of 75-84, the suicide rate is 7 times higher.  And for those over 85, it is nearly 18 times higher for men than it is for women.

Why are men so unhappy?  The Feminine Mystique told women that they should be satisfied with being wives, mothers, and homemakers.  The Masculine Mystique told men that they should be happy to compete with other men to find a woman and then compete with other “breadwinners” to create ever greater material wealth for themselves and their families.  We were told that “he who dies with the most toys, wins” and “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”  Both women and men become depressed trying to fit into roles that no longer work for us.

Men are losing out on three fronts.  First, as women become more self-sufficient, men don’t feel they are needed as the sole “breadwinner.”  Second, as the economy continues to move from one based on continued material growth to one based on sustainable living, more males are losing their jobs.  Third, as stresses from economic and ecological imbalances continue to increase, men are no longer able to succeed in love and work.  More women are seeking divorces than ever before and more men are stuck in dead-end jobs working longer and longer hours for less and less pay.

Anti-depressants and psychotherapy aren’t the answer.  Both the feminine mystique and the masculine mystique would have us believe that we are depressed because there is something wrong inside us—with our brains, our serotonin levels, or self-esteem.  The “experts” tell us that we need to take something or do something to better fit into the world as we know it.  Liberation for men and for women requires that we break free of the old constraints and find our true purpose and direction in life.  Depression isn’t merely an illness.  It is a wake-up call from the soul.

Depression is More About Loss of Love Than Loss of Serotonin

We’ve all seen the pharmaceutical ads for the latest antidepressants.  They show two nerve fibers greatly magnified with a few little black dots representing the neurotransmitter, serotonin, in the synapse between the nerves.  The ad informs us that too little serotonin causes depression and when we take their anti-depressant we immediately see many more little dots of serotonin flooding the synapse and connecting to the next nerve.  But as usual, there is more to the story than the pharmaceutical companies would have us believe.

Depression is About Loss of Love

Andrew Solomon is a well-known writer who has dealt with depression in his own life. Although he acknowledges that anti-depressants can be of help to some people who suffer, he describes the problem in much different terms than the simplified view we see in the ads.  In his comprehensive book, The Noonday Demon:  An Atlas of Depression, he begins the book this says:  “Depression,” says Solomon, “is the flaw in love.  To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who can despair at what we lose, and depression is the mechanism of that despair.  When it comes, it degrades one’s self and ultimately eclipses the capacity to give or receive affection.  It is the aloneness within us made manifest, and it destroys not only connection to others but also the ability to be peacefully alone with oneself….In depression, the meaninglessness of every enterprise and every emotion, the meaninglessness of life itself, becomes self-evident.  The only feeling left in this loveless state is insignificance.”

The Male Vocation of Destiny:   How to Love Ourselves, Each Other, and Embrace Our Calling in Life

Many men are ready to shed old roles, but don’t know what it means to be a good man in these changing times.  Barbara Marx Hubbard says we must embrace our “vocation of destiny.”  I suggest that our work requires that we learn to devote ourselves to three, inter-related, grand, causes.

  • We must learn to love and accept ourselves just the way we are.
  • We must learn to love our partner (wife, spouse, lover, or “special someone”)
  • We must learn to love and embrace our calling in life.

Part of the masculine (and feminine) mystique is that men must be a certain way and women must be different.  In fact, it tells us that the very things that men must be women cannot be and vice versa.

For instance, psychologist Ann Neitlich says that men must be and women cannot be:  Cool, stoic, economically powerful, physically strong, logical, aggressive, athletic, hairy, muscular, outspoken, rugged, and tough.

She says that men cannot be and women must be:  Nurturing, tender, feeling, loving, beautiful, soft, curvy, thin, passive, receptive, nice, sweet, hairless, quiet, giving, and apologetic.

It’s not easy going against the mystique of masculinity, but we must do so if we are going to truly love ourselves.  “When I get to heaven,” said the Hasidic rabbi Susya shortly before his death, “they will not ask me, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ but ‘Why were you not Susya?  Why did you not become what only you could become?’”  The first grand cause is to learn to love ourselves.

When I first heard Ann Neitlich talk about the things that women must be and the things that men cannot be, I wasn’t surprised to hear words like “beautiful, soft, curvy, thin, passive, receptive, and hairless.”  But I was surprised to hear words like “tender, feeling, and loving” included.  But the more I thought about it, I realized it was true.  Even qualities as important and universal as these, we are taught are for women, not for men.

I hate to admit it, but learning to love my wife and even my children at the same level that my wife loves me and our children, has been a real challenge.  The second great cause of our lives is to learn to love those we are closest too.  If we’re not married or “in relationship,” we all have someone special in our lives that we need to love more fully and unconditionally.

Finally, we have to learn to embrace and love our calling in life.  I believe that we each have a calling, something that goes far beyond our job or career, something that we were born to do.  It isn’t always easy to find, embrace, and love, but we must do so if we are going to be the men we’ve always wanted to be.  Barbara Marx Hubbard says, “So, the question for each of us is, ‘what is my unique way of expressing my essence that is both self-rewarding and of service to others?”

I’ve found that for many of us our calling emerges out of our wound.  It was my father’s attempted suicide when I was five that started me on the path of my life’s calling.  It wasn’t always obvious to me, but became more and more clear that my calling has to do with awakening the masculine soul and helping men, and the women who love them, to live long and well on this beautiful planet we all share.

As men, we must come home to the essence of who we are in order to love ourselves, our partner, and our calling.  We live at an important transition time in human history.  An old way of life is coming to an end and a new path is opening before us.  David C. Korten, author of The Great Turning calls it the transition from Empire to Earth Community.  Psychologist and philosopher Sam Keen puts the challenge we face simply:

“The radical vision of the future rests on the belief that the logic that determines either our survival or our destruction is simple:

1.    The new human vocation is to heal the Earth.
2.    We can only heal what we love.
3.    We can only love what we know.
4.    We can only know what we touch.”

Are you ready to step up and embrace the challenge to accept and love yourself?  Are you ready to reach out to others and love more fully and unconditionally?  Are you ready to seek out and embrace your life’s calling?  Let me hear from you.  We can help each other on our journey.  As my friend Joseph Jastrab reminds us, “The world needs a man’s heart.”


Photo Credit: commons

3 Little Known Stressors Killing Men and the Women Who Love Them


It’s no secret that stress levels are on the rise.  Much of our present-day stress involves our minds going around and around worrying about what could happen. “Stress—or as I like to think of it, the mind that’s running on overdrive—is now considered to be a leading factor in numerous illnesses,” says Woodson Merrell, MD, chairman of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center and author of The Source. “By some estimates, up to 80 percent of all illnesses are stress induced.”

Although stress impacts everyone, men are particularly vulnerable.  We see that in the fact that men die sooner and live sicker than do women.  A chart that I shared in my last post is worth sharing again.  It contains  statistics from the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that men have a higher death rate for the ten leading causes of death (numbers are deaths per 100,000 population):


These statistics show, for instance, that for every 100 women who die of heart disease 150 men die.  For every 100 women who commit suicide 400 men kill themselves and for every 100 women who are killed in a homicide 390 men are killed.

Since we know that stress is implicated in most causes of death, what are the most common stressors?  We often think of such things as time pressures, unhealthy lifestyles, traffic jams, and financial worries.  But major new research reported by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in their book, The Spirit Level:  Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, indicates that more important stressors are ones we probably are not even aware exist.

The Three Killer Stressors Few People Know About

If we take a moment to think about it, the stress that impacts us the most strongly have to do with other people, particularly those who are close to us. Wilkinson and Pickett say that “the most powerful sources of stress affecting health seem to fall into three intensely social categories.”

  1.  Trauma experienced when we were children.
  2.   Low social status.
  3.   Lack of friends.

Early Trauma Affects Health Years After It Occurs

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study has demonstrated that childhood experiences affect adult health decades after they first occur.  The ACE Study is a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego.  They found that childhood abuse, neglect, and exposure to other adverse experiences are common. Almost two-thirds of study participants reported at least one ACE, and more than one in five reported three or more.

Further, it was found that each adverse childhood experience increased the risk of health problems later in life.   For instance, compared to people with an ACE score of 0, those with an ACE score of 4 or more were twice as likely to be smokers, 7 times more likely to be alcoholic, 10 times more likely to have injected street drugs, and 12 times more likely to have attempted suicide.

 Low Social Status Is Stressful 

Sally Dickerson and Margaret Kemeny, both psychologists at the U.C.L.A. found that the stressors that most impacted our health were ones that threatened our sense of self-worth in the eyes of others.  They collected findings from 208 published reports of experiments in which people’s cortisol (stress hormone) levels were measured while they were exposed to an experimental stressor.

They classified all the different kinds of stressors used in experiments and found that “tasks that included a social-evaluative threat (such as threats to self-esteem or social status), in which others could negatively judge performance, particularly when the outcome of the performance was uncontrollable, provoked larger and more reliable cortisol changes than stressors without these particular threats.”

Lack of Friends Can Be a Real Killer

“All the usual risk factors for heart disease—smoking, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and a high-fat diet—account for only half of all cases of heart disease,” says heart expert Dr. Dean Ornish. “Every so-called lifestyle risk factor laid at the door of cardiovascular illness by the medical community has less to do with someone having a heart attack than does simple isolation—from other people, from our own feelings and from a higher power.”

Thomas Joiner, author of Lonely at the Top:  The High Cost of Men’s Success, calls men “the lonely sex.”  And it points out that it gets worse as we age.  “Men’s main problem is not self-loathing, stupidity, greed, or any of the legions of other things they’re accused of,” says Joiner. “The problem, instead, is loneliness; as they age, they gradually lose contacts with friends and family, and here’s the important part, they don’t replenish them.”

As the suicide statistics verify, men often feel increasingly alone as they get older, even when they are surrounded by those who care about them. “A postmortem report on a suicide decedent,” says Joiner, “a man in his sixties read, ‘He did not have friends…he did not feel comfortable with other men…he did not trust doctors and would not seek help even though he was aware that he needed help.’”

The importance of friends reminds me of the refrain from Desperado by the Eagles.  “You better let somebody love you, you better let somebody love you, you better let somebody love you…before it’s too late.”

What do you think?  How have these categories impacted your stress levels?

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Help Me Keep A Million Men Alive

“If you could make male mortality rates the same as female rates, you would do more good than curing cancer.”  Randolph M. Nesse, M.D.

When I was five-years old and my father was forty-two, he tried to commit suicide.  The stresses of trying to earn a living and provide for his family during difficult economic times overwhelmed him.  Though he didn’t die physically, he was crippled emotionally and our lives were never the same.  I grew up wondering what happened to my father and to so many other wounded fathers.

According to the National Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, each year nearly 35,000 people kill themselves.  28,000 (nearly 80%) are male.  Eleven times that number attempt suicide.

But suicide isn’t the only way men’s lives are cut short.  “80 percent of all illnesses are stress induced,”   says Woodson Merrell, MD, Chairman of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center.   Although stress impacts everyone, men are particularly vulnerable.  According to social scientist Dr. Thomas Joiner, “Males experience higher mortality rates than females at all stages of life from conception to old age.”

Statistics from the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that men have a higher death rate for the ten leading causes of death (numbers are deaths per 100,000 population):

“Over 330,000 lives would be saved in a single year in the U.S. alone if men’s risk of dying was as low as women’s,” says University of Michigan researcher, Daniel J. Kruger, PhD“Being male is now the single largest demographic factor for early death,” says Kruger’s colleague, Randolph M. Nesse, M.D.

I grieve for the men and boys whose lives are cut short and for the women and families left behind.  I’ve been looking for a way to reduce stress that is simple to learn, easy to practice, scientifically sound, and, most importantly, effective.  I’ve found what I’ve been looking for, have tested it extensively, and now want to get this life-saving information to as many men as I can.  My new book, MenAlive:  Stop Killer Stress with Simple Energy Healing Tools, gives men what they need to stop the stress that shortens lives and destroys relationships.

Do you know of other resources you believe could help save men’s lives?  Let’s work together to make them available to men and the women who love them.

Here’s my simple idea:  We know stress kills, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  If we can reduce men’s risk of death to the same level as women’s, we can save nearly a million men within three years.  Let’s get started.  Please comment on this blog post with your idea or resource.  You can also contact me directly at

Photo Credit: math.unl.eduCreativeCommons