Mental Health Stigma and Men: WHS Males share their thoughts and feelings

Sydney Allen '23, Contributing Writer

Stigma not only prevents men from speaking up about their mental health, but from seeking help and understanding what they are going through. Depression and suicide are ranked as the leading causes of death among men and still, they are far less likely to seek mental health treatment than women.

According to Dr. Raymond Hobbs, a physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, “We know so much more now, and we recognize the chemical changes that take place. In many ways, mental illness is just like diabetes, or any other physical condition, but a lot of people don’t look at it that way. Instead, they still see mental health struggles as a personal issue and a lack of personal fortitude.”

Not having someone to talk to results in men feeling like they do not have many options. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, men died by suicide at a rate of 3.54 percent higher than women in 2017. Not many people talk about the fact that men are more likely to die by suicide than women.

This is a huge problem and it stems from the social view that men need to be strong and that showing emotions makes them weak. Mental Health America reports that 6 million men are affected by depression in the United States every single year. However, only 11.3% of men received help in 2020.

Not only should families be more open in talking about mental health and making sure their children know that it is okay to speak up and ask for help, but friends need to feel comfortable doing the same. Having a mental illness is not something one can control, and it is not anything to be ashamed of. Asking for help shows how strong you are in itself. To be able to realize that you can’t do it all on your own and speaking up about your struggle shows how strong you have been to struggle through it all.

If you are not able to speak with your parents, there are always friends, siblings, or adults that you can go to. Friends can be good to talk to whether its asking for help or just letting them know what you are going through. Many people may being struggling with the same things as you, so reaching out and being able to talk about it with someone who understands you can help much more than one would think.

Recently a group of male juniors and seniors answered anonymously a few questions about their experience on mental health. Almost all of them said that they noticed the stigma at school and online the most. There shared that there is a number of online posts about how “manly” men should be and what that looks like. However, there are also posts about how men should be able to speak up no matter who they are, but when they do, people either do not take them seriously or nothing is done about it because men “are not supposed to show emotions.”

When the males were asked if they feel comfortable talking to their families about their mental health there were different answers. One student answered they feel somewhat comfortable with speaking to their family because “invalidation often occurs for lots of young men in households, whether inadvertently or purposeful.”

Another student agreed with this statement and said he does not really feel comfortable with it, because “it is either the only thing I hear for weeks or when they ask how I am, I lie so I don’t need to listen to them only talk about it to me.”

Where as some other students said “Yes, I am comfortable talking to my family, whenever something is up talking about it always helps. It helps to have somebody on your side regardless of if they’ve gone through it or not.”

When asked if they feel comfortable talking to friends, their responses were more similar. “Naturally, it depends on the friends in question. In general, talking to other guys about mental health issues is overwhelmingly difficult and not very effective. It’s often easier to talk to girls, but there is still fear of judgment or misinterpretation. I think it is easiest to talk to people who can relate to your struggles and empathize.”

Another student answered, “Yes, only some friends I am comfortable with and that actually listen to it. No guys though, only a select group of girls seem to be able to help.”

One student said “Yes, however, there are some friends I can think of that if I were to talk with they would say something like I’m just being a baby and I need to take control of myself, or that I shouldn’t be feeling this way and that it’s not a big deal at all.”

There is a trend happening here, where many males only feel that they can 1. only talk to a select few girls about their emotions and 2. that they will feel judged for spea

“I think for me, and most of my peers I have spoken with, it is a matter of how we may be perceived if we talk about our struggles or even successes in regards to our mental health.”

— Anonymous WHS student

king up. Knowing that many other students around you go through the same or similar struggles as you should not only make students feel more comfortable expressing their emotions, but people’s feedback should be more sensitive and understanding.

When aked what holds them back from speaking up, the response was for one student, “I think for me, and most of my peers I have spoken with, it is a matter of how we may be perceived if we talk about our struggles or even successes in regards to our mental health.”

The trust aspect comes into play again, “I honestly believe the stigma holds me back because as a male I’ve grown up watching movies that show the strong independent man as the protagonist and those movies and shows really push the thought of showing no emotion and keeping to yourself. I also sometimes feel like I will just be shut down or told that it’s not worth stressing over. I fear that what I tell a person could be spread to other people or that the person that I talk to will not keep it between the two of us.”

A common feeling was “no one actually helps when I spoke up so I stopped.”

The last question they were asked was what their thoughts were on the stigma. One student responded, “The statistics, whether about suicide, crime, or drug use, speak for themself. Men are disproportionately affected by mental health conditions, and a large part of this affliction is the aforementioned stigma around the topic. I think it is something that is being discussed more and more, but discussion does not necessarily correlate with destigmatization. People may say or think it is important, but the reality is that there is still very little being done about it. Discussion is a good first step, but solutions and action need to be taken for us to see long term success with mitigation of this issue.”

More action needs to be taken and shown to support men, not just online posts or comments. “I think it’s completely unreasonable that men are “expected” to stay strong and to be as masculine as possible. Men should be able to speak up and have what they say be protected. Everyone should have an outlet and the right to speak up without being judged or shut down,” shared one male.

Another students answer stood out when he said, “The stigma is definitely always around, from the school admin especially, they will help you for a few days or attempt to, but then will completely forget about you by the end of the week.”

This has been an increasing problem as well and people have taken it to social media, but school systems in general tell students that their mental health is important and then show no action to back their words. Students have come to the conclusion that school is more important than their mental health and students are taught from a young age that school comes over everything else in our lives. The general consensus among all the students that answered questions about mental health, was that there needs to be more opportunities for men to talk about mental health with provided support and strategies. It does not make you weak or any less of a man if you talk about your mental health or your struggles.

If you are experiencing a crisis or suicidal thoughts, please text 988 and/or go to this website
https://988lifeline.org/

Sources:
https://www.healthline.com/health-news/how-can-we-reduce-mens-mental-health-stigma
https://www.statista.com/statistics/673172/mental-health-treatment-counseling-past-year-us-men/