Breaking the Silence:The Stigma around Men's Mental Health in University
In the quiet corners of university life, there exists a profound struggle that often goes unnoticed. It’s a struggle that affects men from all walks of life, irrespective of background or ambition. It’s a struggle with mental health that takes place internally.
While the stigma around mental health is an ongoing battle, men’s mental health is a topic that often gets overlooked. This is why, in this blog, we will discuss the reason behind the stigma, how you can spot someone who might be struggling and resources that could help.
What causes the stigma around Men’s Mental Health?
According to research, 77% of men struggle with some of the common mental health issues like anxiety and depression. 29% of them state that they are “too embarrassed” to speak about it while 20% of them believe that there is a negative stigma surrounding it.
While this research included a total of 1,000 participants, there are still a lot of men from all walks of life who struggle with mental health on a daily and don’t seek out professional help or talk to somebody about it.
There are several factors that contribute to the stigma around men’s mental health. Understanding these factors can help better understand how this can be improved so that people can reach out for help when they need it instead of feeling ashamed.
Traditional Gender norms
Men are often expected to be emotionally stoic and not express any sort of vulnerability as this might make them seem “weak”. They are also told to be “strong” and always “ in control” of their emotions. These norms being taught to people from a very young age make them believe that they should always suppress their feelings and never speak about them.
Moreover, many men fear that acknowledging any mental health issues that they struggle with, makes them appear weak in the eyes of others. These harmful norms manifest negatively in many other aspects of their lives but also when it comes to acknowledging their mental health.
There are a lot of derogatory terms like “crazy” or “nuts” that are used carelessly when addressing different mental health struggles. The use of such terms can instill a sense of fear in someone who might be going through the same as they don’t want to be reduced to such terms and they want to be perceived well by society. This makes them scared to come forward and ask for help.
Lack of Representation
There is a significant lack of the right representation of men’s mental health in popular media. Whenever it is portrayed, it is usually inaccurate and shown in a negative or sensationalised manner. The absence of positive depictions of men addressing mental health can give the impression that such issues are rare or unlikely.
This perception can stigmatize those who do come forward, making them feel abnormal. This further contributes to the negative stereotypes surrounding mental health issues and stops people from understanding the real implications of it.
Lack of Awareness
When people are less aware of men’s mental health, they are more likely to believe the stereotypes or hold incorrect beliefs like men are less susceptible to mental health challenges. Moreover, men who are unaware of the symptoms of declining mental health will not be able to spot it and delay seeking the right support. They might dismiss their own struggles which could lead to more difficulty and further deterioration of their mental health.
How are mental health problems different between Men and Women?
There are some differences in the way mental health struggles show up in men and in women. Previous research on this subject collectively agrees that both men and women have equal rates of disorders. The research also indicated that although there aren’t any overall psychopathological differences in mental health problems between men and women, men and women tend to experience different kinds of disorders. Internalising disorders are more common in women while externalising disorders are more common in men.
However McHugh, a researcher cautioned against considering biological factors are the sole reason for these differences and cultural, social, and environmental factors also contribute largely to the differences.
She also insists that there is a dire need for further studies that consider what could be the differences in treatment needs, doses, and psychosocial and behavioral treatments due to the historical underrepresentation of women in clinical trials.
How to spot someone who is struggling with their mental health?
University can be a stressful period of time for many people due to the constant pressure to excel. This is also the time many people move away from their homes and this sudden change can make people feel isolated and lonely. Due to the different factors in university that can contribute negatively to someone’s mental health, it can be crucial to know the signs and symptoms so that you can offer a helping hand when they need it.
Change in academic performance
If someone you know is a studious person who has always kept on top of their grades and you suddenly notice that there is a significant change in that, this could be a worrying sign. If they seem to be absent from a lot of classes, less active in class, or seem to have difficulty concentrating in lectures and study sessions, there is a chance that they might be struggling and it is something you need to look out for.
If a person is suddenly withdrawing from a a lot of social events that they were initially a part of like clubs, sports, and societies, that could mean something. A lot of people who struggle with their mental health tend to isolate themselves and stay alone most of the time. This could be because they are struggling and it shouldn’t be ignored.
Sudden decline in interests
Similar to the previous one, people who are struggling with mental health issues tend to lose interest in everything that they used to enjoy. So if you notice someone you know, showing a significant and sudden lack of interest in things that used to consistently take part in, this could be a sign that you should look out for as well.
Decline in Self-Care
Sometimes mental health struggles can get so bad that the person might not be able to take care of themselves adequately. This could be a lack of sleep, poor eating patterns, significant differences in their grooming habits, or frequent mood swings. These are all signs that you could look out for.
Remember, the signs of someone struggling are not always external. If you just notice that someone is behaving or seeming drastically different even in ways that were not mentioned, you should always take it seriously.
How can you help someone who is struggling with their mental health?
There are several ways through which you can help a person who is struggling. This is not an exhaustive list but rather a few options that you could consider when you are trying to help someone.
Listen to them without any judgment.
If someone is sharing something they are struggling with, they are in a very vulnerable state. You should not make any remarks that might come off as rude or insensitive. Sometimes they just want someone to listen to them without jumping to any conclusions.
Remind them that what they are going through is nothing to be ashamed of and this does not make them “weak”.
Make sure you set aside some time when you are not distracted with something else and give them the space and time they need to be comfortable and listen to what they are saying patiently.
Keep Questions Open Ended
It might be incredibly hard for someone to share details about their personal struggles. This is why you shouldn’t force any details that they might seem hesitant about. The best way to approach this would be to keep the questions open-ended so that they have the chance to think and let out whatever is on their mind.
Ask them what could help them
Different people have different needs and methods of coping. What works for you might not work for someone else. So when you are talking to them, it is vital for you to ask them what is the help they need. This could be having someone to talk to, support groups, or professional help. Allowing them to decide what can help them will allow you to support them in the right way.
Encourage them to seek professional help
A lot of the time, you won’t be able to provide the support that can help them entirely. This is why you should inform them of the different resources available. Universities usually have resources on campus that can help students in this matter. This could be support groups, counseling sessions, or other resources that can help them academically if needed. Check with your university to find out what services your university offers.
To read more about mental health in university and how friends can help click here.
If you would like to learn more about how to support a friend who is struggling with their mental health, click here to read the complete article by Mental Health Foundation.
There are several organizations that are focused on providing support to people who are struggling. Samaritans offer free emotional support to anyone who needs it. You can call them during the day or the night or even email them.
Rethink Support offers a range of varying services like support groups (online as well), among others that can help you identify what help is available and how you can make use of them.
It’s on all of us to continue this conversation, challenge stereotypes, and create spaces where men feel safe and supported in discussing their mental health.
Together, we can break the silence, normalize seeking help, and celebrate the strength it takes to confront mental health challenges head-on. We can build a world where no one has to suffer alone, where asking for help is a sign of courage, and where the stigma surrounding men’s mental health becomes nothing more than a distant memory.