June is Men’s Health Month. Our campaign theme is Let’s Hear It for the Warriors. This week’s theme is Taking Care of Our Warriors from the Inside Out, and it ties into this week’s blog and the webinar topic. The following question and answer were part of an interview between Susan Gay and Jeremy Fields addressing the mental health and wellbeing of American Indian men. To listen to the entire interview, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3zqnKG4XwI&feature=youtu.be
[Susan Gay]: Past traumatic experiences often lead to feelings like depression, aggression, anxiety, and anger, which, in turn, can lead to addictive or harmful behaviors like substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide, and such like. How would you advise Native American men to deal with past traumatic experiences to help them avoid harmful and/or addictive behaviors?
[Jeremy Fields]: Ok, I think again spirituality plays a large part in that, but even just being able to look to our culture, in terms of being able to associate yourself with the positive functioning mechanisms of our culture. Whether it be song, dance, ceremony, all of those things have a way that they facilitate positive growth, healing. Sometimes even just that expression of dance, of movement, of singing, or even going and sitting in and praying become like catharsis for a lot of our past traumatic experiences. Sometimes those things have an ability to help us heal without even actually having to vocalize specifically what we’ve been through, but also within those ceremonial environments. There is an opportunity spiritually for men to be able to come together and to communicate, even just objectively about the things that men in general go through, and have that opportunity to pray for one another, to find encouragement for one another, or to find leadership through other males that may be older that have been through that before and have been able to come through the other side.
So, relationship is key, whether it be with your wife, or your family, or other males within the community, but it’s important to stay in close contact with those positive influences and communicate in one way or another, in whichever way that you can. But I think culture and spirituality definitely play a big role in helping us to process through those things, and it opens a door for us to be able to learn from other people because when you go through past traumatic experiences, most of the time you feel as if you’re the only one that’s been there before, and you don’t want to speak about it, because it is painful. It has been traumatic; it has had a tremendous effect on you. But I know one of the things that I’ve learned through my work is when we have an ability to come together as a group and address a subject objectively and say, here’s an issue that we face collectively as men, and, culturally, this is who we are, being able to make those comparisons, whether good or bad, allows us to be able to process internally what it is that we’ve been through without us having to pull out the specifics of our life and our pain and our trauma and set them in front of someone and say this is specifically what I’ve been through, this is what I’m going through. We can say, I don’t know how it got to this place, and this is how it affected me, but it gives us that safe space to be able to look and understand in our own place, to be able to learn and process. So, I think that’s one of the ways that we have an ability to begin to redirect that energy away from substance abuse, away from depression and anxiety, away from domestic violence. All of these things exist within our communities because of trauma and things that haven’t been understood- the way that they have left pain, resentment, all of those types of things. But there are ways that our people have always had an ability to process those things. But I know that in contemporary times, in modern society, most of us don’t readily have access to a lot of those cultural means, or it’s difficult. So, I think it’s important for those of us that do have that understanding or that availability to it, to extend ourselves to be able to open that to the rest of our community and to try and help one another. So, I guess I would say in addition to that, that relationship is very key within communities.
Jeremy Fields is the founder and director of Thrive.Unltd, a leadership company owned and operated by Native Americans. It is committed to providing innovative, culturally relevant training for Native American communities, that focuses on proactive solutions for mental, emotional, and psychological wellbeing. For more information about Thrive Unltd. or to get in contact with Jeremy visit https://thriveunltd.com/
Susan Gay is the project leader for the grant Making Connections for Mental Health and Wellbeing Among Men and Boys in the U.S. This grant is funded by the Movember Foundation in collaboration with the Prevention Institute.