As the calendar month comes to a close, so does No Shave November, an awareness and fundraising campaign. Participators forgo grooming all month to draw attention to high testicular cancer rates. Another campaign, Movember, piggybacks on the no-shave movement. Movember is meant to bring awareness to men's mental health in addition to cancer rates. Men are encouraged to grow a mustache and raise money for research causes. Jace Pesina is an emergency medical technician in DeKalb County. He says men's health and mental well-being are in a state of crisis that'll continue after the calendar month.
As an emergency medical technician with basic certification, Pesina works within the emergency medical services, or EMS, system.
"So EMS is basically the totality of the very first vehicle that shows up to your house, 'til you walk out of the hospital, essentially. Assuming you walk out of the emergency room and not somewhere else. In the ambulance specifically, you know, the EMT is almost like a sidekick to a superhero," he said. "Batman would be the paramedic and Robin would be the EMT in a sense."
Pesina sees enough people working with the local fire department agency to say the amount of people living with a mental health issue is alarming.
"It's a pretty safe bet to say, and I think anybody would agree that in the United States as a whole, there's a pretty serious mental health crisis that people are trying to address," he said. "But it's something that I see almost every day in my line of work, both in and out of hospital, and I think it's something that if you ask anybody, you know, 'Do you know somebody that has mental health issues?' I think that just about anybody you ask will say yes."
Pesina said, in an ideal world, responders who administer medical aid begin by stabilizing the person physically. Mental healing, if someone is dealing with a mental illness, comes afterwards.
"Obviously the first step in getting somebody to the healing process is doing everything that you can to fix what is medically wrong with them in order to get them to a point where they can start healing or ideally heal them outright," he said. "In an ideal world, you fix what is medically wrong with them to try to fix what is mentally wrong with them, and vice versa."
Medical providers in the area are working to address the complete health of their patient.
"The providers that I have come across, they do genuinely care about the well-being of their patients both mentally and physically. I would say that, as a whole, the EMS providers of DeKalb County have done an excellent job in trying to mend all issues that their patients have," Pesina said.
Pesina is participating in Movember this year by growing a mustache and repeatedly sharing a donation link on Facebook to the official Movember Foundation. He has reached and exceeded his $100 goal.
"In today's society, mustaches are kind of a silly thing, generally. Amongst the youth especially I think. Mustaches are kind of this silly fun way to grow out the hair on your face. So it keeps things light and it also spreads awareness to a serious issue," he said.
The issue hits close to home for Pesina because of his time in the military, where he said he used to do funeral honors.
"I'll start off by saying, in men especially, mental illnesses and especially depression and suicide rates are typically significantly higher than that of women. In fact, in suicide alone, men are over three and a half times more likely to commit suicide than women are. And in the first responder and veteran populations, you're actually more likely to die of suicide than you are from a line-of-duty related injury," he said.
Pesina said a way to decrease the high numbers of suicide nationwide is to invest in long term care facilities. Long term care can also just look like a strong support system.
"If you don't have a good support system in the way of a long term care plan -- whether that be a support system through a hospital, through your family, through your friends, or whoever it may be -- in the long run, you're being set up to fail, ultimately," he said.
Conversation also helps significantly in ending the stigma around men's health, said Pesina.
"I think especially in the more male-dominated professions, and in men in general, there's a stigma surrounding mental health and that's just not to say depression and suicidal ideations, but also more behavioral disorders, you know -- ADHD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, you name it," he said. "Men have this stigma that if you seek help from somebody else, generally speaking you're viewed as weak. And again, generally speaking, men don't like being viewed as weak and that's just something that has been instilled in our culture for years and years and years. So by encouraging people to open up the conversation and start talking about these things, I think that definitely puts us on a path to solving this issue, and obviously you're not gonna solve it outright but helping to solve it."
Campaigns like No Shave November and Movember are supported in the EMS community that he's come in contact with, he said.
"Most of the people that I've spoken to, all of them actually, that I've had these conversations with, they are very much in favor of opening up the discussion. And they want to see this problem fixed. Although everybody has their own idea of how to start fixing the problem. But everybody wants to," said Pesina.
For him, the solution lies in a change of community interaction.
"I think it definitely starts with ending the stigma in the male population. Opening up the discussion, reaching out to people in your community -- even if you're not a health care provider or behavioral health specialist. You know, sometimes all it really takes is reaching out and starting that discussion and letting somebody know that you're there for them and being a part of their support system. And while that can be taxing at times, especially for more severe cases, that is ultimately I think how we're going to see a decline in not necessarily the issues, but the results of the issues," he said.
As a first responder who deals repeatedly with trauma, Pesina said he takes care of his own mental health by recognizing that he can't be in control of every outcome.
"You're never going to be able to fix everybody's problems. And that's not what I'm trying to advocate for because it's just not realistic. But just reaching out to people that you know have these issues," he said, "being neighborly, being a member of your community -- It goes along way for a lot of people. And if you do that, I think we're going to see a decline in these issues nationwide."