When it comes to mental health, there is a group of people that we systematically abandon. No, no ethnic minorities, gays or women, but middle-aged men.
Doctors, campaigners, and politicians all ignore them, and as a result many live in misery devastated by mental illnesses that go unnoticed and untreated.
It is a myth that younger men are likely to commit suicide. The suicide rate among middle-aged men is even much higher.
An important reason why middle-aged workers today feel so isolated is that they have been ignored in the rush of society to embrace diversity. It’s just not fashionable to defend them [File photo]
There are more and more indications of the psychological problems that this group is experiencing, but nothing is being done.
According to a report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies this week, middle-aged people – mostly men – will increasingly die of “death by despair” due to low income, loneliness, and family loss.
These deaths – from suicide and drug and alcohol abuse – have been increasing in the US for decades and the report suggests that the same pattern is emerging here.
But what is really shocking is that the number of suicides is increasing in middle-aged men – in sharp contrast to the fall in the number of deaths from physical conditions such as cancer and heart disease.
This is attributed to the increasing gap between rich and poor, but it does not explain why men are disproportionately affected.
It shows that for all progress in encouraging people to talk about their mental health problems, the revolution has yet to take place for these men. We have turned their backs on them and ignored their suffering [File photo]
Men are blamed for not talking about their problems, but I also think that social shifts have resulted in a generation that feels left behind.
Many middle-aged guys from poorer communities think they have fewer opportunities than in previous generations, and that their status and safety have been undermined. For decades, doctors, dentists, veterinarians and lawyers were the most at risk of suicide, but when the economic downturn occurred in 2008, workers were hit.
Steve Dymond, who took his own life after his appearance on the Jeremy Kyle Show, was a digger who had split up with his fiancé. And although we have no idea what led him to suicide, he apparently had psychological problems for a while.
An important reason why middle-aged workers today feel so isolated is that they have been ignored in the rush of society to embrace diversity.
It’s just not fashionable to defend them. Middle-aged men are not progressive or trendy, so their needs are not prioritized or even considered.
I have given training on the health needs of all conceivable demographic groups, from the disabled, to the transgender community and asylum seekers.
According to a report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies this week, middle-aged people – especially men – will increasingly die of “death of despair” due to low income, loneliness and family loss [File photo]
But I have never been to a session about the problems faced by middle-aged working-class men, although they were by far the largest group of patients when I worked in drug and alcohol services.
These men almost all had the same story to tell: they were married or lived with someone, had children, the relationship broke down, they had to leave the house, they lost their jobs.
They felt unnecessary and alone. They turned to drink or drugs to fill the void and their lives got out of hand.
What struck me was that when I was working with homeless people, I came across them again – countless middle-aged men who had sunk to the bottom.
This group of men has some of the highest percentages of mental distress – yet the lowest level of antidepressants. This should shock us all.
It shows that for all progress in encouraging people to talk about their mental health problems, the revolution has yet to take place for these men.
We have turned their backs on them and ignored their suffering.
Your instinct can be the best doctor
A fascinating study by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, published this week, suggested that people have evolved to accommodate subtle signs of infection in other people.
The study included infecting volunteers with E.coli bacteria and some with a placebo, and then asking others to assess how sick they were by just looking at their faces – and they showed an eerie ability to those who were infected to choose.
I think our ability to see when someone is sick is even stronger with people we know.
A fascinating study by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, published this week, suggested that people have evolved to cope with subtle signs of infection in other people [File photo]
On several occasions I have seen parents who felt that something was wrong with their child when it was not clear to me, only that it turned out that their child was indeed unwell. I’m sure it’s because they unknowingly pick up subtle directions.
That’s what happened to my sister a few years ago. One night when she brought her baby to bed, she felt something was wrong.
She called her doctor, but because he had no temperature or other symptoms – “he just didn’t look good” – the doctor fired her.
She went to bed but couldn’t sleep. Still worried, she got up and drove to A&E. There they discovered that her baby had meningitis. If she had postponed a few hours, he would have died.
So listen to that little voice in your head. It has evolved over thousands of years to keep you and your loved ones safe.
Don’t be deaf to dementia
This week, the World Health Organization has drawn up a list of the 12 largest lifestyle choices and conditions that increase the risk of dementia.
Most of them were predictable: smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, high cholesterol, obesity, physical inactivity. But one stood out: hearing loss.
Deafness can be incredibly isolating and is associated with increased depression and even suicide. But it is also linked to dementia, although exactly why is still being debated.
This week, the World Health Organization has drawn up a list of the 12 largest lifestyle choices and conditions that increase the risk of dementia [File photo]
I know several older people who are very deaf, but refuse to go to the doctor. They are afraid of having hearing aids and looking “old”.
This concern is widespread. Research shows that people usually need ten years from their first symptoms of hearing loss to seeking help.
Imagine people with impaired vision waiting ten years before they were given glasses? And only one in five people whose hearing is bad enough to justify a hearing aid actually has one.
Glasses are now a fashion accessory, but hearing aids are still considered a sign of disability. People put their mental health at risk because they delay the deferment of help.
Just tell them you’re sorry!
Official figures released this week show that NHS negligence has doubled in the last five years. Data show that the NHS paid out no less than £ 655 million in claims in 2017/18.
I think the rise reveals some of the problems in the heart of the NHS. Too often people feel frustrated and angry with their treatment, but do not receive formal recognition or apology.
Is it any wonder that when confronted with this, they take punitive measures through the courts to get justice? Is it really such a hard word for the NHS to say? [File photo]
They write to hospital managers and top managers, but receive short responses. They try to negotiate complaints procedures of byzantine complexity when they just want to say someone who says sorry.
Over the years, many readers have contacted me to express their frustration about how their complaints and legitimate concerns are being blocked by those in power in the NHS.
Is it any wonder that when confronted with this, they take punitive measures through the courts to get justice? Is it really such a hard word for the NHS to say?
It is understandable that a protest arose after Alabama became the newest American state to effectively prohibit abortion.
This is always a matter of feeling, but what worries me about legislation like this is that it makes every quiet, rational debate very difficult because opinions are so polarized.
However, I think we should look at our own abortion legislation, because so much has changed since the 1967 Abortion Act.
The legal limit for an abortion is 24 weeks here, but advances in medical science mean that babies born earlier than this can now survive.
We have to lower the limit to take this into account. Although I am pro-choice, the current situation makes me acutely uncomfortable.
Dr. Max prescribes …
SMOKE AND MIRRORS: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MAGIC
I was overwhelmed by this brilliant exhibition in the Wellcome Collection about magic and the human mind.
It is not only fun and entertaining, but surprisingly educational and shows, for example, how unconscious prejudices can be used to influence our perception of things.
If you are in the vicinity of Euston Station in London, take a look. It runs until September 15, free admission. See www.wellcomecollection.org