Is Government Complicit in Death of Boys & Men?
February 7, 2021
by Sean Kullman
The mental health crisis has been a national issue for boys and men for decades. More recently, school lockdowns and a growing opioid crisis have intensified the anxieties of American families. Reports regarding male suicides (such as those experienced in Clark County, Nevada) are sparking new debates. At the same time, the American Medical Association (AMA) is alarmed at the “increasing number of reports from national, state and local media suggesting increases in opioid- and other drug-related mortality.”
Although we’re becoming more aware of school lockdowns and other social consequences of the COVID pandemic, male suicide and opioid deaths have gone mostly unnoticed. Professionals have attempted to address these issues for decades with several U.S. Presidential administrations as well as a number of local, state, and national officials and politicians. In 2009, Warren Farrell, Ph.D., and a group of 34 leading researchers and practitioners tried to establish a White House Council on Boys and Men, a male equivalent to the established White House Council on Women and Girls. Despite overwhelming data demonstrating the physical health, mental health, and other issues impacting boys and men and its social consequences, administrations have given a cold-culture shrug to our nation’s sons while expanding programs for our nation’s daughters. The Biden administration recently announced a new White House Gender Policy Council that would “guide and coordinate government policy that impacts women and girls” across a wide range of issues. Boys and men are excluded from the council on gender.
For many who care equally about the health of males and females, they are seeing decades of policy action magnified during the COVID pandemic, as the well-being of boys and men continues to go ignored. According to national data from the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Family Foundation, over 535,000 boys and men have lost their lives to suicide deaths and opioid overdoses from 2009 to 2018. And early reports from the AMA and other agencies suggest 2020 and 2021 may prove worse than previous years.
We've Known for Decades about Boys and Men but Still No Change
While suicide and opioid deaths have increased for males and females over the same 10-year period, the widening gender-gap of male deaths has created an unprecedented gender-gap problem few politicians care to discuss openly and support politically (Table 2).
Mark Sherman, Ph.D. and Professor Emeritus at SUNY New Paltz has studied gender issues for well over 40 years; and he has written extensively on the topic. Sherman says, “The data show clearly the ways in which boys and men are suffering in our country – especially those of color. It is imperative that the new White House Gender Policy Council truly be inclusive. Its mandate must include the urgent needs of the male population.”
Sherman's response is valid, but the Biden administration has indicated boys and men are not part of the White House Gender Policy Council despite mounting concerns.
Are the Courts the Only Place for Boys and Men to Go?
Some victims are now turning to the courts for answers. Lisa Moore is suing Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois after her son, Trevor, took his own life. Others are joining the suit. The attorney for the group, Laura Grochocki, of the nonprofit organization Remember America Action is suing on the grounds of violating equal protection clauses. Grochocki argues that elites in the professional and college ranks have been able to participate in sports while high schools have been denied the same access. Governor Pritzker of Illinois contends professional and college sports have “significant resources to protect their players,” but that argument may become more difficult; as 40 other states have successfully run high school sports and other activities safely. And medical professionals are speaking up as well concerning the serious consequences of isolation and lockdowns contributing to suicide and other mental and physical health issues.
The Let Them Play movement in California is creating challenges for Illinois and other states whose lockdown are generating parental and professional backlash. In a letter received by GIBM on January 29 from a parent of the Let Them Play CA movement, 60 California physicians responded to the consequences of the lockdowns and its impact on young people.
"We have data from 40 other states that are allowing children to safely participate in sports over the past 9 months….
Depression, obesity, suicide, and anxiety have skyrocketed in our youth in significant part due to the lack of sports and activities. As physicians, we are seeing startling increases in rates of mental health issues since March 2020. In fact, the CDC reports a 24% increase in Emergency Room visits due to mental health issues in 5-11 year olds and a 31% increase in ER visits for mental health issues in 12-17 year olds from March 2020-October 2020 compared to 2019 data. We are also seeing alarming increases in rates of childhood obesity due to lack of physical activity and sports. In addition, sports participation helps to combat anxiety, depression, social isolation, suicidal ideation and weight gain. Moreover, sports participation helps improve school attendance, academic achievement, and future success in college and beyond.”
On February 4, nearly 200 physicians and healthcare professionals in Los Angeles County responded, Los Angeles County Health Professionals Call for School Reopening, to the Let Them Play CA action. One California high school football coach, speaking on the condition of anonymity said, “Having two boys at home as well as coaching 100 boys this past year, I have seen firsthand the negative affects this lock down has had. These last couple months especially. I have seen the motivation to work and compete leave the hearts of these boys. They feel like there’s no hope in sight. As a coach and father, it’s getting harder every day to tell them to keep training and hang in there. They’ve been hanging in there for the past 11 months to no avail.”
While Let Them Play (supporting female and males sports) takes its case to the court of public opinion and policy makers, males have traditionally gone through the courts to fight for equal protections. From equal parenting rights to equal protections as victim of abuse, suicide, academic challenges, and drug deaths, boys and men’s issues tend to be handled in the courts instead of actualized in policy actions.
While Gender policy councils (focused solely on women and girls) and councils on women and girls at state and federal levels continue to receive public and private support, little has been done for boys and men. My Brother’s Keeper and race-based programs have attempted to address issues for boys of color while simultaneously ignoring other boys. This approach has not been the practice by councils focused on women and girls, which takes a more inclusive approach to address the needs of girls and women of all races. Policy councils on boys and men tend to separate males by race instead of promoting inclusive programs that unite boys and men of all races to work together toward targeted and common goals. Although we can rightly argue boys of color face serious challenges, data reveals all boys of all races do worse than their female counterparts of the same race in California schools and nationally (Table 1). Much of the policy action has happened around race, while full, male inclusion in equality and equity policies continue to go largely ignored.
We need to acknowledge males and females have suffered during the pandemic and its lockdowns. But the number of gender councils and other programs dedicated to girls and women (which GIBM supports) will ensure our nation’s girls and women receive the types of protections boys and men are unlikely to see.
After Dylan Buckner took his life in January, his father Chris Buckner told Fox News that “the stress caused by Chicago’s coronavirus restrictions, including school closures and the inability to participate in school sports ‘contributed’ to his son’s death.” The isolation Dylan Buckner, Trevor Hill, and 12-year-old Hayden Hunstable felt in the final moments of their lives should haunt us all. Their untimely losses and the aftermath of parental loneliness speak to a terrifying social reality. There is a political complicity, a willful-ignorance on behalf of policy makers at all levels of government to knowingly ignore the struggles of boys and men. Government policies continue to demonstrate a lack of love, compassion, and equal protection for our nation’s sons.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255
To learn more about the Let Them Play CA Movement, go to their Facebook Group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/850089599174086/ or find them online at Let Them Play CA (#LETTHEMPLAYCA).
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