Utah doctor talks about opening a conversation on men’s mental health

May 1, 2023, 7:30 PM

mental health...

(Adobe Stock Photo)

(Adobe Stock Photo)

SALT LAKE CITY — May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It has been observed in the United States since 1949. Find out more about mental health at the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). The month kicks off at KSL NewsRadio with the subject of men’s mental health.

Dave & Dujanovic talk with Dr. Richard Ferguson again about men’s health. He is the chief medical officer of Health Choice Utah and the founder of Black Physicians of Utah.

Find out more about the Black Men’s Mental Health Forum Wednesday, May 24, from 6 to 8 pm at the Black Cultural Center, 95 Fort Douglas Blvd., Building 603, Salt Lake City.

Last week the discussion was about the physical health of men. Here is the podcast:


But this conversation is focused on men’s mental health.

Dr. Ferguson said 1 in 5 adults will be impacted by mental illness this year. 

What are the numbers?

The life expectancy gap between women and men in U.S. is growing

In 2011 in the United States, life expectancy at birth was 76.3 years for males and 81.1 years for females, a 4.8-year difference, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In the United States, life expectancy in 2021 was 79.1 years for women and 73.2 years for men; that 5.9-year difference is the largest gap in a quarter-century. Across a life span — from infancy to the teen years, midlife and old age — the risk of death at every age is higher for boys and men than for girls and women, according to the Washington Post  article “A silent crisis in men’s health gets worse.”

Life expectancy in the U.S. and peer countries generally increased from 1980-2019 but decreased in most countries in 2020 due to COVID-19. From 2020 to 2021, life expectancy at birth began to rebound in most comparable countries while declining in the U.S., according to Health System Tracker.

Talking to the man, the patient

Dr. Ferguson said to broach a discussion about mental health with a man can sometimes be difficult. But it starts with a question: “Have you been happy lately?” The male patient likely has not been asked that for a while, he said.

“He is not asked that in his personal life. He’s not asked that at work. You may get the generic: ‘How’re you doing?’ But to actually ask, inquire about happiness. And then that sometimes will lead to many men opening up to their provider, to their counselor, to their therapist, but also  . . . to a significant other.”

‘Mental health is real health’

Dr. Ferguson said an untreated mental illness has the same ripple effect as a physical illness left untreated.

“I’m going to speak from my own experience when I had anxiety on set, back about 12 years ago. . .  It came out of the blue. The most complex thing for me to do was to admit it,” Debbie said. “Many, many, many men I have known and been friends with over the years and I’ve worked with — I believe men suffer from embarrassment as I did. Why is that? Why do we suffer from embarrassment? Is it because society has made mental health not seem like it’s health for so, so many years.”

“It’s the stigma associated with this,” Ferguson said. “So just like when men weren’t going to appropriately seek health care, sometimes seen as being less masculine, because often you have to be vulnerable to open up to a provider.

“You got to be vulnerable now to talk about something that isn’t maybe physically apparent, but the thing is, mental health is real health. It has a ripple effect on families, has a ripple effect on our economy. People lose work time. Depression is right after back pain for the loss of work time,” he said.

“I felt like I lost a year — one year of my life just like wiped off of the calendar because I was internally struggling with anxiety and afraid to admit it,” Debbie said.

‘ It’s OK not to be OK ‘

She wants to know how to get men to say the words, “I need help.”

“I think one statement that rings to me true often is: ‘It’s OK to not be OK.’ It’s OK to voice a concern that you aren’t comfortable when you go to sleep tonight. You have fears. Men, it is OK to vocalize and voice your fears to your significant other, to your provider, and to your family. Let’s do less to judge men when they’re seeking care,” Ferguson said.

“Part of the reason I think it’s so crucial that we catch men early so to speak is because I remember reading this statistic that women are more likely to attempt suicide. Men are more successful at it,” Dave said.

Ferguson said a sign of suicidal ideation is self-harm. Also, men don’t express depression and anxiety as women do, he said.

“We’re often told as young men not to cry. We’re discouraged. We keep everything internalized. Sometimes it’ll come out as aggression,” Ferguson said. “They’ll also be more disengaged.”

“Promise us — if your ER schedule allows — Dr. Ferguson that you will rejoin us at some point during the month of May to continue this conversation,” Debbie said.

“Definitely,” he said.

Related: Why bipolar episodes tend to rise in the spring


  • If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Utah Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, which is answered 24/7/365 by crisis counselors at Huntsman Mental Health Institute.
  • 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals in the United States.



Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play. 

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Utah doctor talks about opening a conversation on men’s mental health