After struggling with depression, Arvada man tells his story

Family speaks up to challenge mental health stigma for men

Posted 6/25/19

Twenty-two years after he first started struggling with depression, Geoff Grandi’s symptoms hadn’t gone away. They had only intensified, exacerbated by a number of factors — his job, his …

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After struggling with depression, Arvada man tells his story

Family speaks up to challenge mental health stigma for men

Posted

Twenty-two years after he first started struggling with depression, Geoff Grandi’s symptoms hadn’t gone away. They had only intensified, exacerbated by a number of factors — his job, his mother’s death, an earlier divorce and the stress of being a new dad.

But what bothered him most was the way these stressors made him irritable toward his family. And he found himself constantly worried about his relationship with his second wife, Whitney, and their newborn son, Woods.

“That’s such a fear to say, `I think my depression has pushed me into a violent tendency,’ ” the Arvada resident said. “I would just tell her to leave me. I needed to get away, and I thought everyone else would be better off.”

As he prepared for a friend’s bachelor weekend in Breckenridge last summer, he said he also prepared to take his life, bringing a loaded gun with him.

“But it was a fulfilling weekend. I felt loved,” he said. “I ended up not following through.”

When he returned home, Geoff, now 35, gave his gun to Whitney and visited the ER and was transferred to West Pines Behavioral Health, a psychiatric hospital at 3400 N. Lutheran Parkway in Wheat Ridge. It was the first time he’d sought professional help for his depression.

“As men, we need to be tough. We can’t let our families down, we can’t let our friends down,” he said about why he waited so long. “It’s because of society’s expectations.”

Now in an outpatient program with the hospital, Geoff — with Whitney — has been sharing his story as part of Let’s Talk Colorado, an annual mental health campaign by the Tri-County Health Department. The campaign seeks to raise awareness around mental health with a goal of lessening the stigma associated with it and has focused this year on men in particular, encouraging them to speak up about their struggles.

“Men don’t seek care at the same rate women do,” said John Douglas, executive director of Tri-County Health, “even though numbers show they suffer from depression, anxiety and other obstacles to their well-being the same as everyone else.”

Looking for solutions

Those involved with the campaign have pointed to the significant difference between suicide rates for men and women. According to the Colorado Health Institute, in 2017 nearly 900 of Colorado’s 1,175 suicides were committed by men.

“We need to be talking about mental health in very much the same way we talk about physical health,” said Glenn Most, executive director at West Pines, a campaign partner. “If people in the public eye can talk about it, that certainly helps lift that stigma.”

Experts say that stigma stems from traditional gender roles and societal expectatiions, which lead many men to avoid talking about psychological or emotional struggles.

The Grandis suggested that new resources for men could contribute to the conversation, including more advertisements and coverage about the topic in the news or in podcasts, which, Geoff and Whitney said, have made a difference for them.

“We need these things showing what the symptoms look like,” Whitney said, “not just for dads and their families, but for all relationships.”

Phil Stockton agreed. As clinician and program manager at Khesed Wellness in Denver, which provides affordable mental healthcare services, Stockton sees far fewer male patients than female patients, he said.

He suggested city leaders, such as police and fire chiefs, could affect change by encouraging men in the community to talk more about mental health. This would especially benefit men older than 30 years old, who are the least likely to come to his practice, he said, though he has seen an increasing number of male patients younger than 30.

“There’s this new acceptance amongst that generation that I find really exciting,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m not seeing anything near that for people who are 30 and up.”

He also believes the stigma may change if more men take up careers in mental health. According to a 2016 report from the American Psychological Association, only 35% of psychologists are male.

“If a male client is reaching out and they’re wanting to see a male clinician, and then you factor in insurance, the choices get narrower,” Stockton said. “It’s important to look at how we can make the field appeal to men.”

Steps in the right direction

While those seeking to support men acknowledge there’s plenty of work to do, they also feel the past few years have heralded in progress.

“It may seem small, but even the fact that Geoff is sharing his story and the media is willing to cover this topic is progress,” Most said. “I’m not sure that would have happened years ago.”

The Grandis continue working toward progress.

“It’s something we have to work on every day,” Whitney said. “There are still bad days, but there are also good days.”

Geoff agreed, saying the family makes constant improvement through regular communication, couple’s counseling and the embracing of life’s ups and downs.

“I’ve been taking more time for myself and realizing I, as a person, am important,” Geoff said. “It’s showed me that yes, I can be a good dad.”

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