Op-Ed by Dr. Salvatore J. Giorgianni, Jr. PharmD.
Senior Science Advisor, Men’s Health Network
A large percentage of Hispanic boys and men in America have lingering feelings of hopelessness and depression and many of them chose to kill themselves at an alarming rate.
Over the past several months the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has released several reports about the demographics of the national disgrace of male suicide. Men and boys, including Hispanics, continue to have a higher overall death rate in nine of the 10 leading causes of death than do women.
It is most unfortunate that the overall healthcare system is inherently non-male friendly, and, in some health care situations men tell us they do not feel welcome at all. There are other systemic concerns including insufficient funding for male health issues and research, poor gender and culturally appropriate screenings for depression and potential suicidality and a lack of Hispanic-male-focused outreach and education about health and wellness.
One consequence of these shortcomings is the high rate of male suicide in America. In general, males are 3 to 7 times more likely than females to commit suicide, which explains why suicide is the 6th leading cause of death for males. The death rate from suicide in Hispanic males is four times that of Hispanic females and, according to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in 2017 suicide was the second leading cause of death for Hispanic males ages 15 to 34. And the news gets worse.
Since most experts agree that poverty, social uncertainty and personal sense of worth are tied to emotional wellness, Hispanics who live below the poverty level or have significant socioeconomic instability or uncertainty are twice as likely to report psychological problems as others. Yet, according to the CDC, Hispanic males received mental health treatment only half as often as Non-Hispanic males in 2018.
It should be recognized that most male suicides occur in boys and men who have not been diagnosed as depressed or have a history of mental health issues; given the relatively low level of health care engagement of Hispanic men with potential mental health issues, the continued potential for significant unrealized depression and suicides is significant. The reasons for this are many and complex.
Men’s Health Network believes that, in part, this is because: men access health care far less frequently then do women; there are no clear guidelines on when and how to screen men; health care providers do not properly or regularly screen them for emotional-wellness. The importance of the screening is underscored by the fact that this is something integral to Well Woman Visits, and for post-partum female care.
Earlier this year, Men’s Health Network (MHN) convened a meeting of 27 internationally recognized experts in health care and mental health to examine the failure to identify mental stress and depression in boys and men and propose a comprehensive call-to-action that provides a blueprint for identifying and helping boys and men in trouble before it is too late. This free report is found at www.MensHealthLibrary.com, Behavioral Aspects of Depression and Anxiety in the American Male.
While the reasons for this national tragedy are complex and still not certain one thing is certain, this is unacceptable in a society that values lives. Report after report, death after death, the situation becomes more and more tragic. There is a tragic and perplexing lack of acknowledgement of the magnitude of male suicide. All too many studies give top line results without underscoring the disparity in male suicide by homogenizing data. This would not be an acceptable practice in most any other type of medical reporting.
Men’s Health Network recommends that those charged with the health and social welfare of boys and men consider the following: 1) acknowledge the heterogeneity of boys and men and the unique needs of diverse populations; 2) development culturally appropriate male-focused screening tools; 3) develop guidelines that recognize the need to regularly and routinely screen boys and men; 4) address the poor reimbursement for behavioral health clinical services and; 5) establish culturally and gender appropriate programs to identify, interrupt, triage, and manage mental health issues in Hispanic boys and men for those in the community who interact with boys and men.
In addition, we urge insurance companies and other payers to include adequately reimbursed Well-Man medical visits similar to the yearly Well Woman Visits required under the Affordable Care Act (ACA – Obamacare). The ACA, as passed by Congress, does not provide for Well Man Visits.
Men’s Health Network is the oldest non-profit organization whose mission is to reach men, boys, and their families about comprehensive wellness and health matters. MHN believes much more can and must be done by all stakeholders in both the public and private sector to address the root causes of suicide and prevent them. The humanitarian, emotional and financial cost to American society of continuing to treat the growing treads of male suicide as just another blended statistic in a long litany of health concerns is no longer acceptable.
We genuinely hope that this new data from the CDC will be the catalyst to bring the topic of men’s health onto the front burner in any discussions of healthcare, whether in Congress, among presidential hopefuls, or in the media. By doing so, we’ll not only save the lives of thousands of men and boys who are dying prematurely, but also improve the lives of the women and girls who love them.