John Ogrodniczuk, PhD., is a Professor and Director of the Psychotherapy Program in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia. His research, which includes focusing on complicated grief and men’s mental health, has led to nearly 200 publications. Dr. Ogrodniczuk is the founder of HeadsUpGuys, an online resource dedicated to supporting men fighting depression.
"Mom and Dad, I am so, so, so sorry for this. Please don’t blame yourself for this but I have decided to take my own life. This has nothing to do with anyone. It is completely my choice. I have had no joy in life for some time now and I feel terrible for being a disappointment to you. I don’t like who I am."
These words haunted Mike for months. His 16 year-old son - his bright, athletic, kind, strong boy - had taken his own life. Mike’s son was gone and a part of him died with his boy. A tough-as-nails welder, Mike cried the day he found his son hanging from the rafters of their garage, screamed at God for taking his boy, and railed against himself for somehow letting this happen. But Mike showed his tears to no one, and kept his anger, sorrow, grief, and sense of guilt to himself. He had to be that stoic warrior to shepherd his family through this awful event. But week after week, month after month, Mike’s pain ate away at him. Though he was supportive of his wife attending a bereavement group, Mike didn’t see the need for himself to reach out to others for support. While his wife seemed to be climbing out of grief’s black hole, Mike was slowly sinking further into it.
Mike’s story, unfortunately, is not uncommon. Youth suicide rates are frighteningly high, and how mothers and fathers deal with such loss often follow different trajectories – mothers tend to seek the support and counsel of others while fathers frequently harbour their pain in silence. Encouragingly, rates of help seeking among men are climbing, though are still relatively low compared to women.
For many men, not knowing how to reach out in the first place is what stops them from ever connecting with health professionals. First of all, one needs to recognize that when you ask someone for a hand, you show confidence in them and their ability to help out. There are a lot of people out there who want to provide any support they can. Have you ever Googled “how to help a friend with depression?” There are over 1,000,000 results. For nearly every guy who has overcome the tragedy of a suicide death of a child, the turning point in their recovery came when they reached out to someone for support. And for a lot of these guys, it’s something they wished they had done sooner rather than later.
Fortunately, there are a lot of great organizations, like the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, that offer direct support or can help you get connected to support. The key is to step up and take control of your situation by reaching out when you are in need. Resources designed specifically for men, like HeadsUpGuys, provide useful information about how to connect with friends, family, healthlines and health professionals for support, and even offer useful tips for how to get a conversation started in the first place.
Mike no longer lives in the darkness of grief’s black hole. The turnaround for him came one day on a job site when he bumped into another tradesman, Sam, who he had known for years, someone Mike looked up to and respected. In the process of “catching up” with each other, Mike shared that he had lost his son to suicide. A tear came to Sam’s eye, and he disclosed to Mike that he lost his son in the same way 10 years ago. Recognizing Mike’s pain, Sam asked Mike if he had seen anyone to help him work through his grief. When Mike responded that he had not, Sam looked at him straight in the eye and stated, “Mike, you need to see someone. I know you’re hurting and can see it in you. You need to do it for yourself and for the rest of your family. It’s the one thing that helped me get my life back. Our boys are never coming back, but we need to keep living.” These words hit Mike like a thunderbolt. The very next day, Mike arranged a meeting with a therapist specializing in bereavement.