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Terminal Value

The Male Mental Health Crisis with Nickole Brewster


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Janine Bacani


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We have Nickole Brewster with us today from Elevate Him Now. Elevatehimnow.org, and what we’re going to be talking about is the male mental health crisis in America. So, I actually first met Nickole  when she came to speak at the rotary club that I attend on a weekly basis. And so what she did was she shared her story about what inspired her to start the elevate him nonprofit, and unfortunately, it was due to the suicide of her brother, which, of course, is painful to hear and to really think about. But I personally take solace in that it has inspired her. That kind of thing inspires people like Nickole to really go out and help to try to address the broader problem. But anyway, I don’t want to talk the whole time. Nickole, please introduce yourself. 

Hey. Thank you. Nickole Brewster here with Elevate Him Now. We have a men’s resource program, basically, and what we like to do is address men’s mental health support groups. We donate men’s clothing, professional clothing. So it’s great to see transitions happen, and we just really want to help elevate men and their confidence and their mental health, their emotional, their economic stability. Like, everything kind of in one, because I did a lot of research building up to bringing Elevate him to life.

 Yeah, well, I remember the number that really jumped off the page when you did your presentation to me is that three out of every four suicides in the United States are men. Yeah. And that was a little beyond disturbing. There’s a number of other ones, too. Like, for example, the workplace injury rate is, I think, over 90% male. There are a number of these other statistics, but at least I think the thing that was really prominent to me is that I think that there’s a really serious problem, but b, I think there’s just overall lack of recognition because I think a lot of it gets lost in things like, say, the wage gap conversation or, like, the CEO pay conversation. And kind of what I’ve become, at least the way that I started thinking about this is that there’s all this focus on, say, the top 1% most economically advantaged men, but it’s like there’s another 99% that nobody seems to be concerned about, and those are the people we need to be worried about. 

Absolutely. It was really disturbing. Of course, like you mentioned before, I lost my brother to suicide, and it was nothing that I would ever imagine. There was no signs that I felt that I missed. But when I started to kind of backtrack after I kind of reproduce a little bit from that, I recognize some of the scenarios and the things that he was facing or about to go against. And when we look at the men in the community, in our society, it’s almost like if you don’t have it all together, then you’re just a number. I was really disturbed by that. I didn’t feel like there was a lot of community support. There was tons of stuff for women and children, which is great, but there just wasn’t enough or if anything at all to really promote men when they’re the ones that are supposed to provide and lead and take care of and all these expectations. And so with my brother’s situation going up against a custody battle or had done some time in jail before, so he does have a record from like 20 years ago, has now followed him into trying to provide, trying to lead, trying to serve. And it just felt like it was a no after, no afternoon. So when I started to have these conversations with men, it was just, like you said, very sad to see that the three out of four suicide deaths are men. So you think about 120 suicides a day, 96 of them are men. And it could be for a various reasons. Some people would say, oh, it’s mental health, and they didn’t get medication. It could be really just fighting a custody battle, losing your job, losing your wife, losing your kids. I mean, that’s a lot of emotional burden. So we’re seeing those numbers increasing, especially with the pandemic now, and we just haven’t really addressed it enough to really bring it up since 1950, the numbers, it hasn’t changed for decades. And there’s a problem. 

Yeah. Because there’s a couple of things that I think. At least the way that I think about it. That I think are really important distinctions to make. Is because I don’t know if I want to say men’s rights movement or whatever you say. But a lot of the kind of the men’s issues conversations get shrouded behind the fact that there are people on the fringes who basically say. Hey. Men have problems. That means it’s women’s fault. To me, that is no more intelligent than the feminist movement saying women have problems. That means it’s men’s fault. You can help women without degrading men. You can help men without degrading women. I don’t understand why it always has to go there, but for some reason it does. And I just think it’s important to start out by saying that there is a men’s mental health crisis, but I don’t think that it’s reasonable to backlash out against women because of that. I think if there are individuals exhibiting bad behaviors, yes, point those out. Just like if there’s males exhibiting bad behaviors, point those out. But I don’t think that you can villainize an entire gender one way or the other. 

Right. And like you said, gender is only one of two things, right? whatever you go as. So those are the only two. And to sit here and to see the battle of the sexes go really hard on each other is super. It’s a definite problem right there, because one is going to feel like it’s outweighing the other and then we’re going to stay here and venture back and forth. But the real problem is we can’t have these expectations of either and not support them. So when I look at equality, I see it equally dispersed across the board. I don’t care. Like I said, women have had a lot of great elevation through the years and of course, as we should, but like you said, it doesn’t mean to masculate men on our way up. We are still supposed to partner, we’re supposed to help, and we’re still supposed to provide the basic needs and resources that everybody can survive on mentally and emotionally. Absolutely.

Yeah, exactly. And that’s actually one of the reasons that why I really appreciate your mission, is because what you’re doing is you’re helping men who for whatever reason, are in a tough spot to really start to become more economically productive or to facilitate them becoming more economically productive. Because I think that especially in the current environment, because at the time of this recording, there’s labor shortages everywhere. And so I think that being able to get people to where they can do things that are productive is just really critically important. But at least one of the things you mentioned that I kind of want to bring back up, that I think it’s important to think about also, is that if you have a criminal record, it is actually really hard to become economically productive in a traditional manner. And that’s actually one of the thousands of things on my Sunday Maybe list, is I would absolutely love to put together an entrepreneurial school course program for people who are trying to basically start a business after having had a criminal record because I think that’s about the only avenue that’s left, practically speaking.

Yeah, and I see that a lot. So I have been able to work a little bit with the Oregon State in the country and I’ve talked to some inmates in there and they’ve reached out and they’ve sent letters and stuff like that about their experiences. And of course, my brother had his day in the past. It’s really unfortunate that the system isn’t allowing them to grow and to evolve now because in there, if you use a computer, that’s a good time, that’s a good thing. You get a little bit of that, but when you get out, you don’t know how to use an app. There are just things that they’re not equipped to have and so we have to really find a way to reach them so when they get out, they can be productive and they can have the resources to align with everybody else. Now, I work with some other people, so with the staffing service, they do a lot of felony friendly jobs. And I think if more people were to promote that a little bit more I know it’s scary, right? You’re taking a risk, but I’d rather see giving someone an opportunity and taking a risk and shutting that whole complete thing down and not allowing any growth. 

Well, and I think one of the phenomenon you’re talking about, which I think is one of the reasons why recidivism is so high, is because if somebody comes out of prison and they have a record, it’s really hard to go and find gainful employment. And so you’ll have a lot of people who will end up reverting back to criminal activity because that ends up being sort of their only real option. 

Right? And you know, it’s crazy as the system is built to do that because you think about it, it’s like $1,000 a day per inmate. It’s a business. And so if you keep those beds full and you know that those people are going to come back because you’re not really assisting them through those things, I mean, it’s a money game. So it’s really sad to see that. And so of course, having these conversations broadening the scope of how we can help, what’s the solution, basically? And what I do with elevate him, it’s a way to help build the confidence. So of course I use the tactic of having professional clothing when you look, if you feel good, but there’s a lot of internal work that needs to be done too. We can’t just go, oh, you look great, so you’re good to go. There’s a lot of work. But if we have a community built around that work and those resources, you can have access. And when you feel like you have access to things, you’re going to want to pursue and to advocate for yourself. And that’s kind of my vision with that was allowing men to feel like they’re comfortable, they’re building the confidence, they’re advocating. And then again, when you look at things that are done through like counseling, it’s therapy, right? I’m not a doctor, I’m not a counselor, but for me it’s like non therapeutic things such as my program will help also get them in their mindset that they can really get through normal things or custody battles. We have somebody that can help do paperwork, we have attorneys that do on scale. So if you’re not making a lot of money, we can still help provide you with resources. You just feel like men don’t know where to start sometimes and women are just so chatty and so networking and so on the go with that type of stuff, talking about our feelings and emotions that we do get the help sooner. And I just really want to promote men being able to have some of those same resources so we can eliminate suicide from not having anything.

Well, I think a really important part of that is being able to either create or sustain just a safe place for men to have conversations with other males. Because speaking as a person of the male gender. One of my terminal problems is not asking for help either soon enough, often enough, or deeply enough. And I know I’m not the only person who deals with that. And so I think that’s one of the hurdles that we have to overcome is that whether you want to say it’s cultural conditioning or whether it’s evolutionary conditioning, I don’t know. But men very it’s very infrequent that men will ask for help of their own volition. I think that’s one of the reasons why the mental health situation is so bad is that there is a really great reluctance to ask for help or to seek out help.

Yeah, and it’s crazy because I’ve always said this type of thing, it’s like closed mouths don’t get fed. So if we know that there’s a problem or we need to address something in order to serve or help somebody, we can only do what we know. Right? So if you guys stood up and said, these are the things that men need, these are the things that we’re going through, and then we could help provide that, like, there should be a solution to what you’re saying. And so if we could get more men to recognize that it’s okay to not be okay I mean, I know that’s the slogan too, but promoting and this is what I love about podcasting and where we are now with social media, it’s broadened communication, it’s broadened networking, it’s broadened just connection in general to getting people serviced. And it’s really important to promote that. So I would really encourage men to come forward and just say, hey, I need this or I need that, and where do I go? Because at the end of the day, you’ll be surprised more people will come forward with helping or providing those resources if we knew there was a problem.

Yeah, precisely. And I think one of the things where I was headed next was to say, what can people do to help? But I think you really just gave us the answer, which is to start having the conversation and really keep it going. Because I would say probably the single most important thing that can be done is if there is a greater sense of psychological safety for men who are facing some kind of difficulty, to basically find a safe space to be able to talk about it. Because there won’t necessarily be a magic bullet. Like if you’re going through a custody battle, there is no magic bullet for that. There is no way you can make it not painful, but you can hopefully make it not catastrophic. 

Yeah, and I think the more that I mean, it’s really sad again, when you start to really unveil even just something like a custody battle. Right. It wasn’t designed for men. And the fact that men have to take three more parenting classes versus women to have access to their children, it blows my mind. It’s 50 50. That is your childhood. You know what I’m saying? So it’s so frustrating to see that men have to go through so much that what ends up happening is like putting your head through a brick wall over and over and over again because you’re not feeling like you’re getting anywhere. You might get 5 hours a week visitation. When you’re a great guy, when you’re a great father, when your kids love you and want to see you, guess what? You’re on child support. We’ve had these conversations before on my show. And you see that you’re on child support, but then you got to work so then you can’t see the kids. So then you’re still a deadbeat because you didn’t see your kids. But you got to work. But then you can’t make your payments because you’re trying to juggle everything and pay bills and live. Now you’re going under right now. They start garnishing your wages. They start taking away your license, any type of license, whether it be serving license, construction license, anything that’s in your passport, and then what? It just keeps you further away from the kids and it keeps you racking up in debt and it just doesn’t feel like it’s a solution. So many guys are in this hurt place not only for the circumstance of being away from their kids or having to go through a divorce. That wasn’t something that they signed up or there’s trauma in that, especially if it’s really dirty, right? And then you’re trying to struggle and just make ends meet, trying to figure out how to do it by yourself. There’s so many men that are cooking for the first time or doing their laundry. I mean, just real basic stuff sometimes. But to them it’s like learning a whole new environment, a whole new thing, and then to push it over the edge if you don’t actually meet those requirements that are set up by our state or whoever, put this in perspective. And now you’re at your wits end. And then we start to see drugs and alcohol. We start to see some behavior issues that come out, or we see suicide. And again, this is all about prevention. And when you start to see these numbers and how disturbing it is, it all leads back to that. It’s never just waking up one day and deciding, I want to take myself out. It’s a series of life things that can be prevented by if I just supported you better, if I had a system that worked 50 50, if I had resources for you that actually people cared about you and not just made you a number, but actually cared about your feelings and what you’re going through as a man, we would do so much more work. 

Yeah, well, I think there’s an important second order effect, too, which is that the numbers are very clear that an extreme disproportionate share of the prison population came from single parent households. And so, of course, in the cases where you have violence or serious abuse, then of course, right, obviously, you have to do something there. But there is a definitive benefit to having access to both parents. And also just, I think, from a mental health perspective, again, from a male mental health perspective, I think if you have detachment from your father, either because you couldn’t see them because of a custody situation or other items that very typically result manifest in it, usually it ends up being external validation seeking. And eventually you’ll have kind of a self confidence crisis, which is where for anybody who’s new to this idea or hasn’t heard it before, essentially anytime that you’re seeking validation from any external source, then you will eventually become depressed because to the extent that you get external validation in the first place, it will never keep up with what you actually need. Whether that’s from social media, whether it’s from a spouse, whether it’s from friends, whether it’s from, say, whoever, if your self worth, self esteem, whatever, is dependent on external validation. If it doesn’t come from internally, then you will inevitably be disappointed. And for men, one of the things that typically tends to cause that is when you have when there is a significant disassociation from the father figure in their life, either because they were emotionally distant or not present or any number of other things. And so I think that’s a second order factor that doesn’t even get considered in the current legal system.

 Yeah, and I think it’s crazy how some things evolve, like full speed and then conversations like this are like snail pace. We’re not getting it. And yet these are people’s lives. These are children coming up without that support or like you said, that father figure. And we start to see the aftermath of those problems, but then we act like we’re oblivious to it. Right? So then you and me have to have these conversations. I have to go through something traumatic and then find a reason to say something. And I didn’t want any other mail, and I said this in my presentation my goal is to make sure no other male I mean, to my ability, right, there’s only little me, but to my ability of having these conversations providing a space where you’re not a number. You’re actually a human being with feelings. And however, we can navigate you as a vessel to get you the resources you need, whether it be counseling, like I said, legal matter, a job, a suit to look good. I mean, I’ve had all sorts of emplacements. I’ve had men that were, worst case scenario, homeless looking for they needed the whole kitten caboodle. Yeah, but I’ve had some guys coming in to say, hey, I want a career changer. I lost 100 pounds, and I want to start dating again. It’s really, like you said, about grabbing a hold of yourself and your self esteem and your worth and building off of that to actually get to those goals and those marks that you want to be at. And I think supporting people along the way is really what it’s about. And it was really bothersome to me that having these conversations with men in general, from my podcast, from just community work, everybody felt the same, and yet it felt like nothing was evolving for you guys. And I feel like there’s even more of a crisis when you start to see women, which, again, I’m not women bashing. I’ve had my fair share of things, but there’s a lot of trauma that no one’s really trying to pull through that I feel like because we shouldn’t be demasculating anybody. We shouldn’t be making and saying, oh, you’re toxic because you’re mad that you lost your custody battle to see your kids. Of course you’re mad. Like, there’s reasons behind action. And so we just got to pay attention. Again, I just didn’t want any other man to feel hopeless, and we wanted to kind of bring this to the surface and hopefully change and save. 

First of all, I really appreciate and support your mission, but I’m also interested to hear your experience, of course, as a female who is involved in bringing awareness to men’s issues that puts you in I don’t want to say it difficult, but a potentially tricky situation. What’s your experience been, and how have you navigated that? 

It’s been interesting in a few ways, actually. So kind of funny you say that, because when I looked up, let’s say, equality rights, and we saw these equality marches, there was more men showing up for women. Now, if you were to flip that, you wouldn’t see it at all. Yes. Unless you’re, like, in a relationship or you’re married or you’re really out here trying to do some great work with the opposite sex. So it was really sad to me, like, how come women aren’t not I have a father. I mean, I have another brother, I have a son. Why wouldn’t I want to create a space for them if they needed it? So it wasn’t just about a relationship or a husband. Now, there’s that. The other piece is I’ve been through a divorce. I have been through the ringer with relationships and how I was treated, and things didn’t work out. I didn’t allow those things to jade me as a woman. I didn’t allow that to I mean, it hurt. There was times where I was hurt, but I found a way to overcome that and embrace who I am and work through my things because it’s 50 50. So I take responsibility and ownership, which helps me in a very gracious way. So I’m not jaded towards men, which is great. And then the other thing, of course, my experience with losing my.

As a male. I appreciate that.

And I can’t speak for all women, right? There’s a lot of people because they’ve been hurt. And so I totally get how it’s all connected. And for me, with losing my brother and the things that he was going through couldn’t have been prevented. I feel in my heart yes, because there was something inside of him that was losing hope. And again, I don’t have a magic wand. I don’t have the quick fix. It’s all really about addressing what it is you need and what you’re going through. Being honest with that, I was really afraid that I was going to get a lot of hate mail from women saying, why are you helping men? And if they were that type of woman. But in all honesty, everything that I have gotten from women have been very supportive. I appreciate what you do. How can I help? And so that’s really good to hear. It started to happen because I had to be almost not like I’m the only one by any means, but I felt like putting your best foot forward and bringing this attention allowed more women to say, wow, I don’t want my son to commit suicide, I don’t want my family members to hurt. So I need to step up too, and be a resource, be a vessel, be the help. And it’s created, actually, some really good transitions and not a lot of lash. So interesting enough.

 Yeah, I’m a big believer that in times of adversity, you’ll find stories of inspiration. So I am glad to hear that. I am glad to hear that. There are at least some points where, I guess I would say where the gender battle appears to be at least it’s not as much of a pitched battle as everybody likes to think. That’s how it gets reported. But there are people who see the bigger picture.

 Right? And like you said earlier, I mean, there’s good guys and there’s bad guys, right. I’m not going to stop pursuing or helping those who want the resources and the guidance. And it’s kind of funny, I’ve had people ask me, when you’re going to start elevating her? And I’m like, It’s just not a crisis right now. And I don’t want it to be by any means, but I think we are kind of in a position where and I hate to say this, but we’re kind of spoiled. And I know this is a podcast and this might be out, but here’s the thing, we have a hard time getting told no, and yet men have been told no over and over. And so they’ve built like this tough skin around it. And I just think, now let’s shed everything and start fresh and understand that there is both good and evil and everybody, but I’m not going to stop serving and helping those who do want a chance. 

Yeah. I really do appreciate your mission. Again, I really like the approach that you’re taking, which is that you don’t need to tear someone else down to build someone else up, especially because historically, this is one of the after your talk, I started doing some Google searching. Kind of went down a little bit of a rabbit hole. But the thing that sort of clicked in my mind from a male perspective is men are the ones who go to war. We do it to keep you safe. Men are the ones who do the dirty, dangerous jobs. We do that so that you don’t have to. This isn’t saying that we want to denigrate women in any way, but I think we don’t want so many men to fall through the cracks because it’s really at the scale of the humanitarian crisis. I think there’s something like 40,000 ish suicides a year. So I did the math. It was like 36,000 of those for men. I mean, that’s a lot. Yeah, that’s a lot.

 And what if we were to change our perspective and our thinking, right? Like, you just nailed it. Like, here you have men who have done all these more risk taking things, and instead of saying, oh, you just don’t want women to do that, it’s more like, wow, they’re really stepping up to the plate and taking on risk jobs, or they’re taking on battles, or they’re taking on to protecting us and our families one way or another. You just never know what someone’s going through or what they’re going through. And so I always again, humanity being just a part of humanity and just loving everybody across the board is huge for me. I always greet people with the smile. I’ll talk to complete strangers, and I think just having that positive perspective, instead of thinking that men are taking something from us or trying to do us wrong, but really trying to think more positive to where if we showed a little bit more compassion, it’ll come back full circle. Maybe men would start to be like, we should probably treat women a little bit softer, or whatever the case, whatever people are going through, because there are so many scenarios. I mean, this could be a total battle of the sexist all day long podcast because it’s easy to get into. 

If I could do a quick interjection, I saw Mr. On what? You finished, but I can’t help but get my dad joke out there. Whenever I hear women talk about how men are so whatever, or men talk about how women are so whatever or whatever, I say, okay, well, without men or women, the entire world population would cease to exist in about 40 years. We’re stuck with each other. 

Exactly. And I just think it’s really, like I said, compassion. Just playing fair, playing nice. We’re not here very long. And I said something, and when I did a podcast for the Oregon State Penitentiary, they actually aired it in there. And one of my things was, if we don’t speak love, it dies. And it’s just that simple. If I. Don’t speak love or I don’t demonstrate compassion, whoever I’m around or I touch could potentially die. And not in such a graphic way. It’s just more like spiritual, mentally, emotionally, because as you said, it could be just a little trigger for somebody to just go down that road. And so I always think being mindful and just having a positive outlook of helping people versus, again, this guy hurt me, so I’m not going to help anybody or he’s a deadbeat. Well, you really can’t say that. You’ve made it very hard for him to actually be a father when he’s dying inside because he wants to be a lot of men want to be good dads. And so, again, that was my brother’s perspective on things. And he just felt like it wasn’t an opportunity, it wasn’t to show him and his kids what he can provide for them. It was just if you don’t do these things, then it’s a wrap. And then unfortunately, that happens across the board. So again, we got to put the baggage aside and start over and just say, hey, what are your needs? What are my needs? Cool. Can we work this out and have solutions for everybody? Excellent. All right, well, the kids suffer, honestly. And then we got that group coming in and then we see juvenile systems exploding and we see a lot of violence and we see dropouts. It just becomes really gruesome. We have a chance. I’m very hopeful, and if it’s not even in my lifetime doing what I do now, I’ve been able to serve about, I would say, between 50 to 60 men. And my goal is to continue to grow and to get them as much support as possible. And we’re going nationwide. So I definitely feel like this can be anywhere. Just like our conversations.

I think in order to bend the thing that it takes to bend the curve right. You can’t move to aggregate numbers by yourself. I can’t by myself, but if you and I have conversations with people and they have conversations and then they have conversations, then you can start to bend the curve. Because I would absolutely love to be able to stop suicide altogether. Probably not realistic, but if we can at least reduce the amount of damage, I think that it will still be a very worthwhile endeavor. 

Absolutely. Like I mentioned before, we haven’t even really tapped into what the         pandemic is destroyed. 

We’re only starting to see that. 

And now is a perfect time. I think a lot of people are addressing more mental health issues. I think people are doing, again, podcasts for reaching a broader spectrum of people. People are tapping in to watch the shows. You don’t even have to be a counselor anymore to get great advice or where to go for things. And so, again, it’s going to take a tribe and we just really have to come together as a community love one another and just really put in the work to make sure that we all survive. So, yeah, it’s a big deal, and I’m just really glad to have like minded people like yourself believe in it as well, and we can do a lot. 

All right, well, hey, Nickole, I really appreciate you coming on the show today and let everybody know where they throw out your website one more time so everybody knows they can go to learn more. 

So it’s www.elevatehimnow.org. We are on all social platforms. We got Facebook, Instagram. Again, it’s elevate him for Instagram. Facebook is just elevate him. The email, the phone number, everything is online. We do have a merch collection, so check everything out. And it is, again, like I said, nationwide. So we’re easy to connect resources wherever. 

Excellent. All right, well, hey, Nickole I really appreciate it. 

Yeah, thank you so much.

Thank you.

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