Friday, February 8, 2013

Let's slow down, not rush, and get mental health right

Haste makes waste.

I have done my level best to eschew politics on this blog, and I think I have been successful. As I said at the outset, I will write about something political only when it influences hunting and hunters. I did ask questions about why we didn’t have more gun control, something that I am sure cost me potential readers. You can read about those thoughts here: I am not running from this. We need change, and our kids need to be kept safe. 

I write today as a man, a sportsman, a hunter, and a man who has benefited deeply from a couple of years of therapy for both anxiety and depression. Writing those words openly, right now, is very difficult, because the public is quite frankly stupid about these things, and as men especially we are often afraid to talk about them.

Right now there is proposed legislation that says that you can lose your right to bear arms if your therapist reports you to authorities. It further says that your therapist can face jail time for failing to report you, thereby putting a powerful, and I would argue draconian, incentive in place encouraging reporting.

I propose that this legislation is dangerous and misguided, and that if we are going to pass it, we need to remove the threat of jail time for therapists who make the wrong call. Furthermore, we need to put protections in place against over-reporting. Far better, to my mind, is to not require any change in the law which already allows therapists to report folks who are threats to themselves or others to the authorities. This sort of legislation would have prevented no murder that I am aware of. It is a “common sense” idea that has not been thought through rigorously.

I struggled with sharing this, but I am comfortable enough now that I will. My anxiety and depression were caused by numerous factors. First, I think both have a tendency to run in my family. Second, my parents had, at best, a rocky marriage, and there were drugs and occasional violence there (not on my mom’s part). It was a totally dysfunctional environment and it took a long time to dig through all that. Third, my wife stays home with our beautiful children and it is my job to provide materially for everyone, and that is a constant struggle, so money is always a source of anxiety. I have done it, and praise God, have never been out of work since graduating college. I have virtually no debt save my mortgage and the remains of my college loan. I am VERY conservative financially. But it is a struggle few people these days admire, or think of as good. Our society has changed so much that people like me are seen as retrograde and regressive.

My anxiety and depression were largely environmental therefore. Knowing I was suffering from these things, and knowing full well I had responsibility as a father, as a husband, and as a man to address them, I spoke to my doctor. He just put me on a pill. That did nothing but give me weird headaches for a time when he took me off it. No pill can erase a largely absent father who was mean when high. Still struggling, I thought “there must be something very wrong with me.” I continued to live with unhealthy relationships in an unhealthy manner.

Ultimately, I went to the internet to do some research, and found this website: It was very important for me to find a competent therapist who shared my values. Comments like “oh, you should just use contraception” and “oh, why doesn’t your wife just back to work” and “oh, why do you care so much about getting to Church with regularity,” wouldn’t help at all. I needed therapy, not judgement. I wasn’t ready to engage the world that way yet. 

I knew to look for several things. One, I wanted the terminal degree.  Two, I wanted a proven track record of competence. Three, I wanted loyalty to the Magesterium. Nothing else would have been safe for me at that point in time. (Now, that I am healthier, and more grounded, I think it would be fine. Then, no.)  Fourth, if possible, I wanted it to be someone who could relate to my struggles as a man trying to do the traditional “man” thing: provide for a family materially and spiritually. Fifth, I wanted someone ‘safe’ that I could trust to not share whatever I said with my employer or anyone else.

This last sentence is VERY important. It is the theme of this entry. If I thought ever that I could not speak with my therapist openly about the fact that my dad was abusive sometimes, and did drugs, and that I at times wanted to (but never would due to my responsibilities and view of sin) ‘take myself out of the game’ because the anxiety got so intense, I would NEVER have picked up the phone and sought help. I just assumed that the laws were such that I could get help, and that so long as I was not a threat to myself or anyone else, my doctor would respect my confidentiality.

That was, what, six years ago? Fast forward to two years ago (that’s four years of weekly intensity people... it doesn’t go by in the wink of an eye... recovery just doesn’t ‘happen’), sitting in the chair in the office (of a man I see as a genius). 

We had just discussed the possibility that I would lose my jobs due to budget cuts. 

Dr. “Emre, how’s you anxiety on the ten point scale?”

Me: “About a three I think. I mean, if I lose the gig there is unemployment and some savings, and I will just have to find something else. God won’t drop me, I know that. I have faith. He needs me to provide for my kids, so He will make a way. I have faith.”  

Dr. “Hmm”

Me. “Yeah.”

Dr. “Well, what’s the worst that could happen? Do you want to blow this up?”

I'd hated this exercise at first; "blowing stuff up" was taking a situation I was anxious about and making it AS BAD AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE while using imagery. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME... you only do this with a licensed clinical therapist helping you. Just make the thing awful. Losing your job due to budget cuts turns into losing your job due to budget cuts and losing your certification due to being out of work so long and not being able to find anything else except being the greeter at Walmart and your wife finds a nice professional man and leaves you and.... and...

Sucks... First time I did it I was still a little shaky and teary eyed when I left the office... 

Me: “I dunno... okay....”

We did the imagery thing. 

I started laughing. It was funny. 

Dr.: “How do you feel?” 

Me: Pretty good. I dunno. I feel fine... I mean, I wouldn’t be thrilled to lose this gig at all, in this economy especially, but God’s got a plan. It would be cool to think about what was next anyway. 

Dr. Yeah.... so.... what now? 

Me: What do you mean?

Dr. What now, Emre? The copays add up. What’s your anxiety on a scale of 1-10.

Me. About a 3-4

Dr. (Looks at me)

Me: Are you thinking we are done? 

Dr. What do YOU think. How are you feeling? 

Me: I think we are done... at least for awhile... let’s see if I need to call back...

Dr.: The door is always open. At the very least I think it is time for a break. See how you do. 

Me: I really don’t know how to thank y...”

Dr.: Keep in touch please. Call if you need anything. 

Me: Okay.

I’ve gone back once since then. The week after Sandy Hook. I knew people (distantly, not close friends, but people I went to college with) who lost a child. I know people who were close friends with them. It was VERY hard to see and witness, and I worried for my friends a lot. 

That meeting ended with me asking for the Dr.’s thoughts about my reactions and feelings: “Emre. Everything you have said seems very healthy and normal. You having a normal human reaction. Now is not the time for implosive therapy or anything like that. You are experiencing this thing, and you are doing fine with it. Be there for your friends. Call again if you need anything.”

I was relieved. And I am grateful beyond words. 

That’s a lot of background to get to where I am going.

In wake of Sandy Hook there has been a lot of talk about mental health. Part of my healing was finding a wonderful sport or hobby. Hunting is mine. I love the woods. I love getting out there and hunting. It is incredible.

I am a man. I have man values. I love being a man. I don’t apologize for it. 

If I hadn’t gone to therapy before Sandy Hook happened, I don’t know how I would have reacted internally. I do know this. If they passed half of these laws on mental health they are considering before I sought therapy I would NEVER have gone. 

You mean, if I am depressed and anxious, I could lose my Constitutional right to bear arms because my therapist will be required by law to report me? They are no longer talking about reasonable gun control here... they are talking about taking away a Constitutional right because someone is depressed. How will that encourage people who need help to pick up a phone? It won’t. It will encourage men (especially men who care about things like the outdoors, hunting, and their right to bear arms) to stuff their anxiety and depression down deep, never talk about, and NEVER seek help. 

That is NOT the way to approach mental health. 

Here is how you approach mental health: You do education on depression and anxiety and other less common mental illnesses. You acknowledge that the VAST majority of even seriously mentally ill folks are NOT violent. You make it is easier for parents of kids with severe mental illnesses to get help. Adam Lanza’s mom was desperate for help. She was trying to get her child a residential placement. It was so HARD because he was over 18. Fix that problem.

You do not create a government registry of people who seek help for anxiety or depression. This is a direct assault on men especially. Can you imagine what the government is doing to, say, an anxious conservative when propose creating a government registry and denying constitutional rights to anyone who seeks help... for say.. depression or anxiety? 

What a horrible idea. And they wonder why some conservatives seem unhinged. It’s scary. 

Here is my proposal: we need to slow down and reason a little more. Hear me: Government legislation always results in what economists call “externalities.” These are unintended consequences (costs) due to regulations and laws, and they are always present with legislation, which is why you need to consider very carefully before passing anything, because getting rid of a law is hard to do once it passes. Sometimes these externalities are very serious indeed. Corn ethanol? Sounds great!  But it will drive up the cost of corn and therefore food and may even cause starvation in poor parts of the world and it will create false demand for corn and skew food production... oh... not so great... But since farmers benefit and it “sounds good” the subsidy remains. The costs? Poor people starve. Seriously. THINK ABOUT COSTS. 

We can’t just always apply “common sense solutions” without really thinking things through. That‘s not how economics and public policy works. Get a subscription to the Economist and start reading. Read some Hayek and some Keynes (if you must... he’s wrong...), take a logic course, and then get back to me.

Look. We need to ENCOURAGE people to seek help when they are depressed and anxious or worse and we need to not threaten them with a government registry for seeking mental health care. We have a mental health care problem. That problem is NOT that we need disincentivize people seeking help. We don’t have enough folks seeking help. Let’s not do the opposite of what is necessary. 

For the sake of outdoorsmen everywhere, do NOT disincentivize them seeking help when they need it. It is the single worst thing we can do for mental health in this country.


  1. You're right. There is a wide spectrum in the realm of "mental illness." It would be a disaster to send the message that any person with a neurological or psychiatric disorder is one flip-of-the-switch away from shooting up a classroom or a movie theater. Self-harm with a weapon is a different kind of danger. But these involve dicey circumstances that can't be covered in one bureaucratic great sweep.

    The whole idea of getting really serious about mental health, however, will require us to point to the enormous "pink elephant in the room," namely the massive psychological and emotional abuse that secular Western culture heaps upon the human person. People with hereditary physiological/genetic predispositions to develop neuropsychiatric disorders are going to get sick in this culture and are going to need help. More than ever, we need integrally human psychotherapy, which means we need Catholic therapists. Thank God you found one.

    God bless you. Enjoy the hunt (and please check for ticks, thoroughly; you're in Lyme country, and you don't want that--nor does it have to happen; just be aware).

    1. Thank you for the kind comment Dr. Janaro! I was blessed to find an outstanding therapist, who is thoroughly Catholic, and it made all the difference.

      You are so right about our culture and the abuse.

      Regarding Lyme, yes I check myself regularly for ticks. Hunting season is in the winter, and I have layers of Scent Lock on too. I shower when I get home and give myself a good check. Lyme is no joke... and I am definitely in Lyme country...

      Peace and God bless!

  2. Your testimony on the value of sound therapy, SOUND therapy, is more important than my words can say. A therapy that undermines true Christian spirituality is extremely harmful. I also think that I can't sprinkle holy water on psychic wounds and think they will go away. If I am anxiety ridden, neurotic or obsessive-compulsive, I will be so as a Catholic too. Grace builds on nature,and when nature is flawed, it builds on the flaws as well. Sure, it can heal the flaws, but we have to first understand the flaws and let God's grace touch them. Most of the time we don' recognize them or bring them to God.We need a sound psychology and a sound spirituality, not one that screws up the other, as often happens today. Too many pop psychologists are giving spiritual advice, and too many clergy are playing psychologists. (Forgive my rant.)

    1. Father, your "rant" is no rant at all. It is spot on.


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