Op-ed: When it comes to mental health, men need to feel more heard

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"Internal Struggle and Depression" by unnibabu is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Men, being human, are just as susceptible to mental illness as individuals of other genders.

Jethro Ronald Lee, contributor

Editor’s note: The Huntington News wants students to know Northeastern University and elsewhere provide mental health resources for students.

  • University Health and Counseling Services (UHCS): [email protected], 617-373-2772, Forsyth Building, 1st Floor
  • 24/7 Mental Health Support: for students by phone ([email protected]) – 877-233-9477 (U.S.), 781-457-7777 (international)
  • Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

The last few years have been difficult for everyone. There has been a growing trend in individuals speaking up about their mental health issues, and encouraging others to do the same.

The first high-profile example demonstrating this phenomenon that comes to mind is Simone Biles, who decided to not participate in most of her gymnastics events in the 2021 Summer Olympics due to mental health concerns. Similarly, Chrissy Teigen was open about the heartbreak she felt when she suffered from a miscarriage in 2020, which added an unnecessary stressor to an already difficultyear. In the documentary Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry on AppleTV, Eilish, who struggles with Tourette Syndrome, body dysmorphic disorder and depression, emphasized that reaching out for help does not correlate with signs of weakness. Kristen Bell, who has dealt with anxiety and depression, echoed Eilish’s thoughts that being mentally fragile does not make you weak in an essay written for Motto.

But what about men? Twenty-one percent of adults in the United States have some form of mental illness, yet while 51.2% of female American adults get treated for their mental health issues annually, only 37.4% of men do so. In England, three times as many men as women have killed themselves as of October 1, 2021. Men, being human, are just as susceptible to mental illness as individuals of other genders. So why does it seem that men are not getting access to the assistance they need to have a stable life?

Gender norms are a factor in why men are less likely to seek advice or help for their mental health problems. “I think it may be this macho thing… a lot of guys don’t want to admit they have this problem. They still see depression as a sign of weakness,” said Dr. Raymond Hobbs, a physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan in an interview with Healthline. 

Just as society expects women to behave or appear in particular ways, men are expected to be strong leaders. This toxic expectation pushes many men to be as ambitious as possible while ignoring signs that they are mentally straining themselves. Due to their insensitivity towards their own vulnerabilities, men may be less likely to contact others for mental support. This could either be because they can’t recognize their mental issues, or they simply ignore them. Men that do feel like they are struggling tend to be too ashamed to contact family or friends about their mental illnesses. Thus, they may start to abuse unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drugs or alcohol. This phenomenon could explain why, in 2019, 6.3% of individuals 18 and older, 8.3% of them being men and only 4.5% being women, had participated in heavy alcohol intake in the past month at the time the survey was conducted.

Trying to obtain sources of profound and reliable support is another struggle that men face. Research finds that men tend to have a more difficult time creating social connections. The idea of “toxic masculinity” forces men to be strong and less reliant on others around them, which may contribute to this concerning situation. This concept is also linked with increased rates of depression in men, who tend to underreport their depression symptoms when facing mentally pressuring circumstances.   

The best thing we can do to address this situation is to break the stigma that men who address their mental health are weak. Men, like Michael Phelps who commented about his suicidal thoughts when he struggled immensely with depression, lead the movement for normalizing discussions about mental health issues. Justin Baldoni echoed this sentiment in his 2017 TedTalk “Why I’m done trying to be ‘man enough.’” “I also think that we’ve been socialized to think that by sharing our struggle then we are giving away our power, giving away our secrets, and that those secrets can be used against us, and that’s really sad,” Baldoni said. We must follow their lead and listen to their wisdom. Having the courage to speak up about your mental health may be one of the most “manly” things that a man could ever do.

Check in with your friends about their mental health: both men and women. Knowing that they have sources of support to aid them in the struggles they face through life will encourage them to be more open about their mental health. Having experience with mental health issues myself, I was initially nervous about reaching out to my friends about my struggles since I didn’t want to be a burden to them. However, reaching out was one of the best decisions I made in my life. Even if my friends couldn’t provide advice that perfectly addressed my needs, the fact that they cared and were willing to listen affirmed that the world I live in contains good people who make persevering through life worth it.

Jethro Ronald Lee is a first-year data science and psychology major with a minor in music. He can be reached at [email protected]