Men (and) Mental Health

By Jacob Martin and Sean Kuo

Content Warning: The following blog post discusses mental health, mental illness, and suicide. 

The title of this piece is symbolic in the fact that we usually hear the words “men and mental health” however we thought that the word “and” allows for a disconnect from the problem we are trying to combat and that it can hinder this process of acceptance. With the information we have now, it's important to realize that over 30% of US men have suffered from anxiety and depression at some point in their life according to the American Psychology Association. Furthermore, the Better Health Channel of the Government of Australia found that men have harder times telling others about their mental health than women do. This should no longer be a one sided or minded fight, the goal of this writing is to bring light to some of the darkest moments that men go through. 

It’s no secret that several people, especially men, deal with mental health issues. They can be in the form of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and being overstressed to name a few. These detriments to mental health can be influenced by the several societal pressures that inflict men today. There was a great discussion surrounding men’s mental health with Dr. Torrance Wimbish (Therapist, Mental Health First Responders, Huntsman Mental Health Institute), Brian McCloud (Counselor, University of Utah Athletics) and Alex White (Mental Health Specialist, Satellite Campus Telehealth Specialist). One example of a key issue brought up was the idea of body image. Rarely do many associate body image issues with men. Men suffer from pressure to look a certain way and to mold themselves to societal standards. Another discussion point was the idea of relationships and how to navigate having conversations around these relationships and developing meaningful ones along the way. As Brian McCloud said, a lot of men's relationships surround what they do rather than who they are. Men tend to associate self-worth to what they’ve accomplished - whether being a student athlete or a part of student clubs/fraternities. There are several complex factors that contribute to men’s mental health issues and that complexity is a primary reason that the issue needs to be discussed today. 

Upbringing is a heavy contributor to how everyone acts. Whether that be directly through parents or peers and friends. One common old school saying is the idea of ‘be a man’. That phrase itself can prove to be problematic. The phrase is often associated with the idea of a man trying to show strength. The way society has conditioned the phrase is to view emotion as a negative expression. By that means, suppression of emotions is seen as the solution. Often, when sharing too much of one's personal lives and emotions, one can feel that they are losing their identity as a man. Furthermore, a lot of male role models, whether that be public figures or even personal ones like dads, often model themselves to show little emotion. All these ties into pressures of dampening one's own emotions. Dr. Wimbish discussed the idea of how men often are not given the proper resources to explore their emotions. When one cries, why do we often apologize for it? What is wrong with being able to express your emotions through tears? This awareness opens up some of the prominent issues behind men's mental health. One of the big ones: When did we tie strength with silence? 

Silence: It’s not often that you hear about men’s mental health even though as stated before over 30% of US men have suffered from anxiety and depression at some point in their life and you might say to yourself “this isn’t affecting me” however the chances it’s affecting someone you know is higher than you might think.  Therefore, it's imperative to break the silence of being, well, silent. Men today are placed in a box from the moment they are born their lives are looked at through a lens telling how to act. One of the main things that men are conditioned to think is to be silent when it comes to mental health because “men shouldn't talk about those things.” This is such an outdated concept especially now with mental health struggles on the rise, men’s mental health should be a topic being discussed constantly, however, the societal expectations that men have to deal with are often tossed aside or put on a backburner. Sadly 7% of men diagnosed with depression die by suicide. This number is changeable. By opening up the conversation about men’s mental health, there is an opportunity to promote a positive change.  

With addressing the issue of hiding or burying emotions, there are also issues in how men cope or express their emotions. The idea of coping with emotions can have a lot of gray area on what is deemed healthy or unhealthy. A lot of people tie healthy ways such as doing things you are passionate about, working out, staying connected with friends, and conditioning the mind to be happy by doing something new every day. Unhealthy coping mechanisms are tied usually to substance abuse, alcohol, sex, or running away from the problem. The big discussion behind coping mechanisms and what makes it healthy is the intent and result behind these methods. If one decides to workout but avoids all personal responsibilities, that is a healthy way of coping used in an unhealthy manner. The defining factor is the purpose behind the coping method and whether it is used to address the issue (although it doesn’t have to be directly) or run away from it. Everyone’s avenue to let their emotions loose is different - just be aware of the potential negative impact on yourself as well as those around you. 

When talking about mental health there are numerous challenges we face and they can be intimidating, when facing them alone it can seem like climbing a mountain. This isn’t impossible; however, we want to make it easier for all people. We want to make it into a metaphorical ladder and challenge you to climb one prong at a time at whatever pace you are comfortable with. The idea behind this is to start out small, go for a walk to let out some pent-up energy, the social pressures of being seen as weak asking for help. One thing is assured, asking for help is okay. Men’s mental health isn’t an issue that can be solved overnight, but rather by taking it one step at a time - doing little by little, asking those in your friend group how they are genuinely doing - we push closer to a community that listens. 

Unfortunately, most people find information about men’s mental health shocking or new.  This stems from the societal expectation that is placed on men with mental health issues being seen as weak or less than. Men’s mental health isn’t talked about enough. And hopefully by reading this, you have found different ways to open the conversation and help combat the stigma.  

Resources 

  • University of Utah Counseling Center: the on-campus counseling center will get you linked to a personalized therapist, affordable. 
  • University of Utah Center for Student WellnessCenter to create a holistically well and safe campus community. 
  • Mindfulness Center: The Center offers a range of self-guided meditations, self-help resources, and various workshops. Students can find resources to assist in moments of stress, anxiety, and chaos.  
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-TALK (8255)