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"Boys do cry". Trigger warning- an important conversation about suicide prevention with Ken Loftus.

Updated: May 3, 2022

"Boys do Cry". Opening an important conversation about suicide and what we can do to prevent it. Making sense of Mental Illness.

Ken Loftus has 20 yrs experience as a counsellor and Founded the Sunlight Centre. On episode #86 of the Thriving Minds podcast, Ken and I discuss what can be done to actively help youth and adults in suicidal distress.

Listen to the podcast here:

Ken was told stories of people who had asked for help and were told to “go to emergency department ”, or “Go home and go to your GP tomorrow”, and “You need a Mental Health Plan”, and knew more needed to be done. We are really fortunate that Ken has given us his time and expertise so we can openly discuss this important topic. (If you are struggling and have suicidal thoughts, please know you are not alone and help is available. Please contact any one of the following organisations in Australia are listed below, at the bottom of this post.

We are all normal and abnormal across our lifespans

"People may feel like they’re abnormal if they are told, “You have an anxiety disorder, you have a depressive disorder.” Talk with them a little bit about the fact that there are advantages to anxiety and that low moods might have meaning. It might not just be something that’s broken in you, it might be that your emotions are trying to tell you something. I think that makes many people feel less like they’re defective" .

Help someone today to light their spark

Meaningful message without words. - such a wonderful way to capture such a complex world and find small ways forward.

75% male and 25% female- Perhaps evolutionary psychology?

Males have consistently higher rates of suicide than females. Since 1907, the male age-standardised suicide rate has been consistently higher and more variable than the female rate. (Data collected from the Australian Institute of health and welfare.

Data for each year from 2016-2021 show that in Victoria (Coroners Court 2021, 2022a):

  • around three-quarters of suspected deaths by suicide are among males

  • the majority of suspected deaths by suicide for both males and females occur among those aged between 25 and 54

  • around two-thirds of suspected deaths by suicide occur in metropolitan locations.

From the "Boys Do Cry" campaign.

Ken discusses the possibility of this arising ~50, 000 yrs ago, where the men heading the tribe had to be physically strong, for the whole tribe to survive. Being seen as weak becomes a problem to our very survival and being the chief of the tribe.

Picture by Charles R. Knight -, Public Domain,

This leads to a basic instinct - don't be seen as weak. Then somewhere along the way this was transferred to being that you are not allowed to emotionally weak either, that is a man crying became viewed as being weak. Ken discusses the observation that physical and emotional strength became confused with survival instincts and how this has led to " men don't cry". The moment, when men realised they are not that strong, but still wanted the top mates in the tribe, they started saying, I think the sun is a god using the expanding thinking parts of the brain.

From the strongest men being the chiefs of the tribes, it shifted to the witch doctors. As our cortex expanded and we started using our brain to become the chief of the tribe, this is when mental health problems started. It is how we use our enormous brain to manipulate, control and remain competitive. Changing evolution is no easy task.

By Photo Credit:Content Providers(s): CDC - This media comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention&Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #1322.

Listening and community connection are the keys and not trying to fix the problem.

It is Ok to talk with and share our feelings with our kids. As we create an environment of awareness. Parents being open and aware that they don't have the answers and that we are on the same evolutionary journey as our kids. Working with the brain and overcoming our instincts rather than avoiding it. Dealing with the anger rather than the trigger of the anger. Reality TV shows are the equivalent of modern gladiatorial centres, showing the most embarrassing aspects of people and making us feel that the people we watching on TV are worse off than we are. Suicide prevention means helping the community come together as a village again to help us raise our families and ourselves.

Train the supercomputer brain like a muscle. Healthy Minds mean finding one thing to do everyday to build the physical connections in the brain.

Know the supercomputer is doing an amazing job at keeping us alive. Many times our phobias, anxiety and depression are survival responses and they serve us well but may not benefit us across our whole lifespan. Understanding the supercomputer brain makes all the difference to help us understand why we do what we do and to be more compassionate to others.

"Susceptibility to Mental Illness May Have Helped Humans Adapt over the Millennia" excerpt from Scientific American.

Randolph Nesse, is a professor of life sciences at Arizona State University, attributes high rates of psychiatric disorders to natural selection operating on our genes without paying heed to our emotional well-being.

What’s more, the selective processes took place thousands of years before the unique stresses of modern urban existence, leading to a mismatch between our current environment and the one for which we were adapted.

In his book, Good Reasons for Bad Feelings: Insights from the Frontier of Evolutionary Psychiatry, Nesse recruits the framework of evolutionary medicine to make a case for why psychiatric disorders persist despite their debilitating consequences.

From Randolph Nesse's book on GOOD REASONS FOR BAD FEELINGS asks a fundamentally new question. "Instead of asking why some people get sick, it instead asks why natural selection left all of us so vulnerable to mental illness. The limits of natural selection offer one kind of answer, but several others are equally important. Our environments are vastly different from those we evolved in, making us vulnerable to addiction and eating disorders. Bad feelings like anxiety and low mood are, like pain and cough, useful in certain situations, but they often help our genes, not us, and, like smoke detectors, they are prone to false alarms. Social anxiety is nearly universal because our ancestors who cared what others thought about them did better than other people. Guilt makes morality possible, and grief is the nearly unbearable price of love. Recognizing the evolutionary origins of such symptoms helps to distinguish them from diseases. Trying to understand an emotion requires understanding individuals as individuals."

"Some conditions, like depression and anxiety, may have developed from normal, advantageous emotions. Others, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, result from genetic mutations that may have been beneficial in less extreme manifestations of a trait".

So it’s not saying that these emotions are useful all the time. It’s the capacity for these emotions that is useful. And the regulation systems [that control emotion] were shaped by natural selection—so sometimes they’re useful for us, sometimes they’re useful for our genes, sometimes it’s false alarms in the system and sometimes the brain is just broken. Nesse suggests that low mood could be advantageous for two very separate reasons. One of the motivators is to shift strategies to escape a situation, and the other is to have people stop striving and conserve energy. How do you reconcile these opposing theories?

Evolutionary explanations for our "emotions" by Randolph Ness

Click here to read his whole paper.

Download PDF • 324KB

Fear, an important emotion to keep us alive but when left can drive many of our negative emotions.

Excerpt from Randolph Nesse's paper -below.

"Imminent danger of attack elicits panic, a coordinated pattern of physiological, psychological, and behavioral alterations. The adaptive significance of the physiological changes that accompany panic were astutely recognized by Cannon (1929:193-224): increased sugar in the blood is available for metabolism; epinephrine reverses fatigue; the nervous system, re-routes blood circulation to support maximal exertion; increased muscle strength and tension facilitate action; higher concentration of blood corpuscles and rates of respiration increase exchanges of oxygen and carbon dioxide; and increased blood coagulability prevents excessive blood loss. Panic alters cognition and behavior as well as physiology. The mind becomes focused on finding escape routes. If none are obvious, anxiety rises quickly. Motivation to flee towards home and trusted relatives becomes overwhelming (Marks 1987). Facial and vocal expressions of fear solicit aid and warn kin of danger. The state of panic is a coordinated syndrome whose components occur together, not because they arise from a neuroanatomic locus, but because they are useful in the face of imminent attack.

People who repeatedly experience panic develop agoraphobia, a remarkably consistent syndrome that includes fears of specific cues: wide open spaces, closed in spaces, places where intense fear has occurred before, and being far from home, especially if unaccompanied by a trusted relative. These characteristic agoraphobic fears are well suited to avoiding attack in a dangerous environment (Nesse 1988). A person who lacks the tendencies to panic in the face of danger and to experience agoraphobic fears in dangerous situations will, in a natural environment, be at a selective disadvantage. Panic disorder is a disease that results from faulty regulation of panic, but panic itself, like cough, is not a disease, but a defense against a particular kind of danger"

Here is a list of the advantages of the fear response to our survival.

"The first is that we have bad feelings for good reasons. Fear, anger, sadness, and loneliness are not abnormal, they are defenses that help us to deal with situations that decrease fitness. In order to explain them, we should look first not to brain mechanisms or personality characteristics, but to the current life situation of the person experiencing this feeling. What resources are being deployed using what strategies to attain what goals? What is the outlook for the future of this person's ability to achieve his or her goals by these means? These questions are the essential core of an evaluation for a possible emotional disorder. An outline for an evolutionary psychobiological life-situation analysis is proving enormously helpful to me in understanding the origins of my patients' difficulties" Randolph Ness says.

"We shouldn’t try to make any global generalizations, we should examine every patient individually and try to understand what’s going on".

Meet Ken Loftus, Founder of the Sunlight Centre.

Ken has been working in the Healthy Mind field for over 20 years, and moved to Brisbane 5 years ago from Ireland. Ken has worked in residential care with under 18's, suicidal crises centres and school settings, and founded the Sunlight Centre 4 years ago in South Brisbane. Ken's favourite therapy is CBT and loves Evolutionary Psychology too! In early 2017 Ken moved to Brisbane, began private practice and founded the Sunlight Centre.

The Sunlight Centre was created in 2017 and began seeing its first client in October. As a new charity, grants and funds were hard to come by, so Ken and his team created their own fundraising events to help keep the doors open and the lights on in the Sunlight Centre. With that came unique fundraisers such as our Retro Movie Nights, and ANON, the Sunlight Centre’s annual anonymous art exhibition. During Ken’s studies obtaining his Psychology and Psychoanalysis degree, he started his work in Child Protection and mental health with residential care work. After returning from travelling, Ken worked in the ISPCC as a national supervisor for Childline, where he trained volunteers around Ireland in Active Listening skills, Children’s First and Child Protection policies and procedures.

Ken moved back towards residential care work as a Social Care Team Leader, and during this time he completed his Diploma in Clinical and Therapeutic Guided Imagery and then his integrative Counsellor and Psychotherapist Diploma. After working as a tutor in St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia, Canada, Ken returned to Ireland and worked as an accredited counsellor and psychotherapist in a crisis intervention centre, his private practice, and creating and facilitating workshops, completing his Diploma in CBT and studies in therapeutic Mindfulness. In early 2017 Ken moved to Brisbane, began private practice and founded the Sunlight Centre.

Suicide Helplines.

If you are struggling and have suicidal thoughts, please know you are not alone and help is available. Please contact any one of the following organisations in Australia are listed below.

1. Sunlight Centre Ken Loftus, Clinical & Executive Director, 1300 259 724

2. Lifeline Australia - 13 11 14 This service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also chat online with the Lifeline support service, available 24/7.

3. Suicide Crisis Text Line - 0477 13 11 14 For those who feel more comfortable with texting rather than talking to someone. Confidential one-to-one text with a trained Lifeline Crisis Supporter

4. Beyond Blue - 1300 224 636 This service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also chat online with the beyondblue support service every day from 3:00 PM until 12:00 AM (AEDST).

5. Samaritans - 135 247 nBased in WA

6. SuicideLine - 1300 651 251 Based in Victoria

Please know you are not alone and help is available.

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