Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: Men and depression

Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: Men and depression

by Hilary Valdez
Stripes Japan

As a therapist stationed at the Marine Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, California, in the beautiful Mojave Desert, my job was to help the hardcore Marines rotating in-and-out of Iraq. Daily I was conducting counseling and de-briefing sessions for battle-hardened combatants experiencing nightmares and post-traumatic stress. Treating snipers and forward-assault special tactical unit warriors was a challenge to my clinical skills. Secondary traumatization and compassion fatigue were slowly closing in on my psychological health. Many Marines had become fossilized in their emotions and immobilized in their psyches, retreating into an emotional survival mode, burying their feelings, stuck in the emotional trenches of war.

My job was to help warriors recover the ability to adaptively function in society both psychologically and behaviorally. I focused on solutions, positives, and possibilities, and how the world should be. This helps change toward a desired direction. Lead. Give hope. Discuss ideas. We discovered what we tell ourselves about a traumatic event and what we believe about our ability to deal with the trauma, determine how much stress we experience. When people are shooting at you, this is a crisis, as a result, there is an acute emotional reaction. For some, the intense emotional energy can overwhelm a person’s ability to cope.

Cognitive distress is an inability to concentrate, combined with difficulty in decision making, guilt, preoccupation with the trauma, and suicidal ideation. Emotional distress is anxiety, irritability, anger, grief, fear, and posttraumatic stress. Post-traumatic stress is not the same at Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Post-traumatic stress is a common response of normal people to an abnormal event.

Men are uncomfortable talking about feelings. Some guys think that talking about feelings over-feminizes the conversation. I didn’t ask men to share their experience or thank them for sharing. I didn’t ask men to talk about their feelings. I asked what many questions about how they reacted, what their take was, the worst part of the experience was, and many more questions. My goal was to seek the barriers within the individual to see what he has built against openness, honesty, trust, and love. After all, life consists of what a person is thinking all day.

Men look to other men for identification. And a man’s behavior is predicated on the perceived expectations of other males. First on the therapeutic intervention list was resentment. Resentment is anger and getting through to the anger. Anger blocks us from loving others and ourselves. Anger hides a lot of emotions and prevents the expression of other feelings. Underneath anger is pain. Under pain is shame and frustration. Under frustration is hurt and grief. Many times, I sat in anguish listening to stories attempting to put a layer of understanding on top of emotional hemorrhaging. Turning the volume down on volatility was a struggle to replace hate with compassion; grief with forgiveness and understanding. Yet, men don’t always want advice— they want understanding.

Men and women returning from combat face emotional fragmentation and the psychological paradoxes of combat. Both sexes are juxtaposed between fragility and strength. Yet peace always seemed beyond their grasp. But men fight a lifetime of powerful messages that don’t allow for vulnerability, signs of weakness, and therapy. On the outside, many guys buy into these images, but the conflict eats them up. They don’t feel this way. Conflicted men are depressed men. The worse the conflict, the deeper the depression. The more strongly men identify with traditional male stereotypes, the more damaging the depression is likely to be. If men are blocked by pride, they don’t disclose their despair. They withdraw; shut down and self-isolate.

Everyone needs some degree of psychological leadership skills: psychological muscles. Pre-incident training and preparation may be the best way to build resistance and resilience to a traumatic event. Resistance is a form of psychological and behavioral immunity to distress and dysfunction. Create resistance. Enhance resiliency. Speed recovery. For men fighting depression and gaining confidence is a challenge. The key to confidence is: Be confident, not rigid; Be assertive, not arrogant or abrasive; Be firm, yet patient; Be hard, yet reasonable; Identify with people, yet maintain your own identity. At the end of the day, don’t choke back your feelings.

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Hilary Valdez is a retiree living in Japan. He is an experienced Mental Health professional and Resiliency Trainer. Valdez is a former Marine and has worked with the military most of his career and most recently worked at Camp Zama as a Master Resiliency Trainer. Valdez now has a private practice and publishes books on social and psychological issues. His books are available on Amazon and for Kindle. Learn more about Valdez and contact him at www.hilaryvaldez.com or at InstantInsights@hotmail.com.

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