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Economic Crisis Hits Men Harder

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Author of "Male Menopause" and "The Irritable Male Syndrome," psychotherapist Jed Diamond has made a name for himself by focusing on the angst of the modern male. His Web site, Menalive.com, and online counseling business have recently seen a surge in users. Freelance writer Sindya N. Bhanoo asked Diamond whether the country's sagging economy is taking a greater toll on men than on women -- and if so, why.

Excerpts of their conversation follow:

Q So, what is male menopause? Does it really exist?

A Male menopause is a change of life for men that has a hormonal basis but [also] has psychological, interpersonal, social and spiritual aspects to it. Another way to think of it is to think of puberty, but [this is] a transition between first adulthood and second adulthood.

So it's similar to female menopause?

Many of the symptoms are the same, or similar, particularly the emotional ups and downs. Although hot flashes and night sweats are less common in men than in women, they are present. The [symptoms] that are the most common include loss of sexual functioning, erectile dysfunction and loss of libido. Irritability and anger and loss of energy are also common.

And what about male irritability syndrome? When does that occur?

Well, we looked at irritability, anger and depression in men. There were two main times when it was most common, between [the ages of] 15 and 25 and then again when men were between 40 and 55.

The four main causes are stress, hormonal shifts and changes in brain chemistry, and changes in male identity and male roles.

The unemployment rate is 7.6 percent; could this be worsening the symptoms of male menopause and prompting irritable male syndrome?

The core of male menopause is that it is a change of life. If there is good support and understanding, men learn that it is not the beginning of the end, as many fear, but rather the end of the beginning. First adulthood is coming to an end, and we are moving into second adulthood.

If a man gets the proper support, this can be the most passionate, productive and powerful time of a man's life. However, stresses, including severe economic dislocation, can cause a man to lose faith in his abilities and prospects.

A whole lot of a man's sense of a male's identity is wrapped up in how well he provides. And it's about how well he symbolizes that outwardly, in a nice car, a nice house.

This is an international monetary crisis, and it's also an international psychological crisis. I just talked to a client today from Turkey and another from Switzerland. The one in Switzerland is concerned about the man in her life.

The loss of jobs, economic situations crashing -- it affects men in a profound way. The chaos is affecting men in very, very powerful and negative ways. My Web site was getting 200 or 300 visits a day, now we get double in terms of people who are coming for counseling. And I have almost a doubling in client intake.

So women don't struggle with stress?

I don't want to at all suggest that women don't feel stress or aren't impacted by the economy. Many women are the sole providers for their family. But men seem to have a less resilient emotional system; women's brains are more networked from left to right. They are balanced socially. Men tend to be more isolated. Their [wives] may be their only friend. If things are stressful, they don't have as much social support.

How do you counsel clients who are facing financial strain and job loss?

This might be a time to think about starting [your] own business. It's about finding a way that we may be able to get through this financial crisis that makes money sense and emotional sense. Rather than being so dependent on national and international economy, we can network with other people, and invest locally in the local economy.

What are some steps someone can take who is going through male menopause or thinks they have irritable male syndrome?

They are similar steps. They would include a whole range of things, such as stress-reduction techniques, hormone restoration, anger management and exercise. Comments: health@washpost.com.

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