Men and mental health: Often pushed to the side, buried

Rodney Pelt is a father, grandfather and founder of youth mentoring program Mind Changers. He is also an author, a recent college graduate and retired veteran. And like many men and women in the military, he served time overseas fighting for our country.  

Pelt’s struggles managing his mental health started when he was fresh off combat duty. He said transitioning to civilian life after being under so much strain every day was a struggle.

“Coming from a combat zone, being away from home 14, 15 months, dealing with the stresses of combat, dealing with fire fights, IED blasts, seeing people get killed, seeing my best friend killed over there,” said Pelt. “Really, I had a lot to unpack. It had a big impact on me once I got back and tried to assimilate back into normal life.” 

Pelt said he developed post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety after his tour of duty in Iraq. Those stressors alongside being a father, husband and provider made it easy to turn to drugs and alcohol for relief. It got so bad, he said, he considered ending everything.  

“It came to a head one night on the side of the road, where I figured I’d rather not be here and rather not face all those realities again,” Pelt said.  “I’d rather not face having to drink myself to sleep because I can’t go to sleep. I couldn’t face going to work and being around people without popping a couple of pills to calm myself down. It just came to a head, but by the grace of God it didn’t fire.”  

Studies show men are more reluctant to seek treatment for mental health because of the stigma surrounding the topic and traditional machismo stereotypes suggesting men should “suck it up” and aren’t allowed to express vulnerability.

But allowing that side to come out with a qualified therapist, Pelt said, was imperative for his life. Those therapy sessions offered a chance for him to release complicated emotions including anger and frustration in a supportive environment.

“When I started learning the why, I was able to break those things down and use my coping skills to deal with those on a day-to-day basis,” Pelt said. “So I unpacked a lot of things that I was dealing with as a youth when I started therapy at the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center.”  

Lowanda Vanhorn is the community engagement and partnership coordinator with the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center. Aside from taking care of service members, veterans and their families, her role is suicide prevention and promoting mental health care.  

“Every one of us has struggled with something,” said Vanhorn. “So, we’re getting that message out there that it is OK to let someone know if you are in need, if something is not right in your thought process. We certainly do not want to lose anybody.”  

Vanhorn said starting conversations about managing mental health can begin something simple.  

“A smile, to me, goes a long way with changing somebody’s day,” said Vanhorn. “I believe that if we can openly talk about mental health more freely and encourage people to access care and access services or just go to someone close to them who they trust will be beneficial.”  

Pelt said therapy has been the thing that most improved his outlook on life. In fact, his therapist calls and does regular check-ins, he said, ensuring he’s still prioritizing his mental health.  

“I am happy with what I see I the mirror,” said Pelt. “I used to wake up daily unhappy. I woke up daily with anger on my mind. I hated being in this situation. I hated having to go to therapy every week. I hated to sit in front of the therapist. But I finally woke up with a smile and looked in the mirror, and now I see I love what I see in the mirror.”

If you’re concerned about your own mental health or the mental health of a friend of loved one, you can call the national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988 on any phone. Help is available 24/7. 

 WVUA 23 will continue to highlight issues surrounding mental health throughout the month of May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month. If you or someone you know needs help, a new nationwide hotline has been established. Anyone can call 988 to get help. 

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