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Dr Murray Chapman: Male mental health, associated challenges and a peak behind a psychiatrist’s office door

Dr Murray Chapman: Male mental health, associated challenges and a peak behind a psychiatrist’s office door

Written by Lauren Mason Jun 15, 2021

Dr Murray Chapman has been a Consulting Psychiatrist for over 25 years. Born and raised in London before moving to the Midlands, Murray completed his psychiatry training in London before being seduced by the ‘Great Aussie Dream’. He and his family have since lived in the Eastern states of Australia, Broome for 14 years and finally settled in Perth where they have been ever since. Dr Chapman now specialises in ADHD disorders, working with a range of patients from adolescents to fully grown adults.

For those who may not have come across a psychiatrist before, they are a medical doctor who specialises in mental health. Many people get confused between a psychiatrist and a psychologist; to be clear they are different professions. The key difference between the two are that psychiatrists can prescribe medication whilst psychologists cannot. Whilst both psychiatrists and psychologists treat mild, moderate, and severe mental health illnesses, psychiatrists often treat individuals with more severe mental illnesses.

Australia is a lucky country, a wealthy country compared to many. However, we are like so many other countries in a mental health crisis. Suicide is a prominent issue that our society faces, as is evident from the several awareness and fundraising campaigns such as Movember and more locally, the Hawaiian Ride for Youth charity ride which raises funds for Youth Focus, an organisation which delivers frontline services and education programs which aim at building long term mental wellbeing for young people in Western Australia. Psychiatrists playa major role in the care of young people and males, some of the key groups which are most prominent within Australian suicide statistics.

In Australia, males consistently have a higher rate of suicide than females and other persons. In 2019 for example, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported [1]2,502 deaths by suicide for males, and that is not counting attempted suicides which tend to be a lot higher. Another alarming statistic according to Lifeline is 75% of people who take their life in Australia are male[2].

‘When a patient suicides, just as the impact is colossal for those round them, it’s probably the most stressful thing that can happen for a psychiatrist. We are only human after all, and we try to believe that we have more control over other people’s lives than can ever be true. So, we take a big psychological fall. Of course you will never know how many lives you have saved, although I have been told several times in retrospect that how I intervened at a very stressful time helped prevent a person from making an attempt.”

Why are the figures so skewed in the direction of males? According to the Black Dog Institute supportive social relationships, a sense of purpose and effective help seeking are all protective factors that can shield men from experiencing ill mental health. For men particularly, there are additional barriers in place from society that can make these behaviours more difficult to engage in, including the macho “toughen up” attitudes that continue to pervade the Australian narrative, alongside the stigma associated with mental ill health more generally in society.

Psychiatrists make up just 3.5% of medical professionals in Australia, and in 2018 there were just 13.3 psychiatrists for every 100,000 Australians[3]. The long waitlists and wait times are easier to understand when you see the statistics.

Approximately, 72 percent of Australian males do not reach out for help for their mental health when they need it[4]. Dr Chapman has often been asked my male friends, family and clients how to reach out for additional support. He offers this sage advice:

“I think that people that care about you want to help and support. It is broaching the subject that is the challenge, from both sides. Often people do not want to intrude, but they can sense all is not well, and they are just looking for an opportunity to show their support. I know it’s uncomfortable at times but letting your guard down and letting someone in can be one of the most helpful things you can do to move forwards”.

When asked about what he thinks about male mental health and the impact of society on male’s unwillingness to reach out for support in challenging times Dr Chapman had a lot to say:

“We know that men on average find accessing help more of a challenge, whether that’s their own inhibitions or the perception that asking for help is not ‘manly’ - the old stereotypes. At the same time potential supporters and services are sometimes unsympathetic or not really configured with helping men in mind. It’s also a balancing act - we want men to retain their dignity and solve their own problems, when possible, but we also what men to feel that when they need additional support and help, it is going to be empathetic and 'therefor them'. That requires a certain flexibility, which is sometimes a challenge for ’society’ to embrace.”

Whilst psychiatrists’ are very good at helping others to manage their mental health, they too can also experience challenging times. So how do mental health professionals manage their own mental health alongside those of others? Like any other person, Murray has his moments and has a barrage of techniques to keep himself and his patients as well. When asked how he unwinds from a long day at the practice (and often multiple hospitals) he said: ‘I quite like walking the dog and listening to podcasts. I try to find humour in things if I can - although sometimes it is a bit of a stretch!”

Murray leans on a mixture of things: “Working with colleagues in a friendly and supportive environment is really helpful. I can ‘check-in’ any time with any of them and debrief or seek (or give) advice. Outside of the workplace I practice Yoga Nidra - a form of yogic practice that focuses on the act of ‘attention’. I find it helps me to relax and to be mindful and try to be in the present, especially when I’m feeling anxious.”

 If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health difficulties please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

[1] Deathsby suicide over time - Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (aihw.gov.au)

[2] Data &Statistics - Lifeline Australia

[3] Mentalhealth services in Australia, Psychiatric workforce - Australian Institute ofHealth and Welfare (aihw.gov.au)

[4] 1-facts_figures.pdf(blackdoginstitute.org.au)

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Dr Murray Chapman: Male mental health, associated challenges and a peak behind a psychiatrist’s office door

Dr Murray Chapman has been a Consulting Psychiatrist for over 25 years. Born and raised in London before moving to the Midlands, Murray completed his psychiatry training in London before being seduced by the ‘Great Aussie Dream’. He and his family have since lived in the Eastern states of Australia, Broome for 14 years and finally settled in Perth where they have been ever since. Dr Chapman now specialises in ADHD disorders, working with a range of patients from adolescents to fully grown adults.

For those who may not have come across a psychiatrist before, they are a medical doctor who specialises in mental health. Many people get confused between a psychiatrist and a psychologist; to be clear they are different professions. The key difference between the two are that psychiatrists can prescribe medication whilst psychologists cannot. Whilst both psychiatrists and psychologists treat mild, moderate, and severe mental health illnesses, psychiatrists often treat individuals with more severe mental illnesses.

Australia is a lucky country, a wealthy country compared to many. However, we are like so many other countries in a mental health crisis. Suicide is a prominent issue that our society faces, as is evident from the several awareness and fundraising campaigns such as Movember and more locally, the Hawaiian Ride for Youth charity ride which raises funds for Youth Focus, an organisation which delivers frontline services and education programs which aim at building long term mental wellbeing for young people in Western Australia. Psychiatrists playa major role in the care of young people and males, some of the key groups which are most prominent within Australian suicide statistics.

In Australia, males consistently have a higher rate of suicide than females and other persons. In 2019 for example, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported [1]2,502 deaths by suicide for males, and that is not counting attempted suicides which tend to be a lot higher. Another alarming statistic according to Lifeline is 75% of people who take their life in Australia are male[2].

‘When a patient suicides, just as the impact is colossal for those round them, it’s probably the most stressful thing that can happen for a psychiatrist. We are only human after all, and we try to believe that we have more control over other people’s lives than can ever be true. So, we take a big psychological fall. Of course you will never know how many lives you have saved, although I have been told several times in retrospect that how I intervened at a very stressful time helped prevent a person from making an attempt.”

Why are the figures so skewed in the direction of males? According to the Black Dog Institute supportive social relationships, a sense of purpose and effective help seeking are all protective factors that can shield men from experiencing ill mental health. For men particularly, there are additional barriers in place from society that can make these behaviours more difficult to engage in, including the macho “toughen up” attitudes that continue to pervade the Australian narrative, alongside the stigma associated with mental ill health more generally in society.

Psychiatrists make up just 3.5% of medical professionals in Australia, and in 2018 there were just 13.3 psychiatrists for every 100,000 Australians[3]. The long waitlists and wait times are easier to understand when you see the statistics.

Approximately, 72 percent of Australian males do not reach out for help for their mental health when they need it[4]. Dr Chapman has often been asked my male friends, family and clients how to reach out for additional support. He offers this sage advice:

“I think that people that care about you want to help and support. It is broaching the subject that is the challenge, from both sides. Often people do not want to intrude, but they can sense all is not well, and they are just looking for an opportunity to show their support. I know it’s uncomfortable at times but letting your guard down and letting someone in can be one of the most helpful things you can do to move forwards”.

When asked about what he thinks about male mental health and the impact of society on male’s unwillingness to reach out for support in challenging times Dr Chapman had a lot to say:

“We know that men on average find accessing help more of a challenge, whether that’s their own inhibitions or the perception that asking for help is not ‘manly’ - the old stereotypes. At the same time potential supporters and services are sometimes unsympathetic or not really configured with helping men in mind. It’s also a balancing act - we want men to retain their dignity and solve their own problems, when possible, but we also what men to feel that when they need additional support and help, it is going to be empathetic and 'therefor them'. That requires a certain flexibility, which is sometimes a challenge for ’society’ to embrace.”

Whilst psychiatrists’ are very good at helping others to manage their mental health, they too can also experience challenging times. So how do mental health professionals manage their own mental health alongside those of others? Like any other person, Murray has his moments and has a barrage of techniques to keep himself and his patients as well. When asked how he unwinds from a long day at the practice (and often multiple hospitals) he said: ‘I quite like walking the dog and listening to podcasts. I try to find humour in things if I can - although sometimes it is a bit of a stretch!”

Murray leans on a mixture of things: “Working with colleagues in a friendly and supportive environment is really helpful. I can ‘check-in’ any time with any of them and debrief or seek (or give) advice. Outside of the workplace I practice Yoga Nidra - a form of yogic practice that focuses on the act of ‘attention’. I find it helps me to relax and to be mindful and try to be in the present, especially when I’m feeling anxious.”

 If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health difficulties please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

[1] Deathsby suicide over time - Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (aihw.gov.au)

[2] Data &Statistics - Lifeline Australia

[3] Mentalhealth services in Australia, Psychiatric workforce - Australian Institute ofHealth and Welfare (aihw.gov.au)

[4] 1-facts_figures.pdf(blackdoginstitute.org.au)