Male mental health a silent crisis on campus

Eliminating stigmas surrounding young men and mental illness requires cultural shift

Scarlett outside Stauffer library.
Credit: 
Tessa Warburton
The Canadian Mental Health Association labels men’s mental health as a “sleeper issue,” which—until recently—has rarely been taken seriously. 
 
Although steps have been taken to dissolve stigmas surrounding the issue of male mental health, Queen’s campus represents a microcosm of a much larger cultural problem.
 
By making the conversation about depression and anxiety a more open one, more male students might be able to self-identify their behaviour and struggles, and seek out resources for help.
 
Many factors contribute to the issue, but the high-octane academic environment fostered at Queen’s makes the pressure to ignore mental illness even greater for men.
 
Male students are often caught between feeling they need to meet the standards of masculinity while they effectively manage their academic stresses. One in five men will experience some form of a mental health issue, with 50 per cent of those not even aware they have it, according to data from Psychology Today.  
 
While it often goes undiagnosed, the most common cases of mental illnesses for men in their formative years are depression and anxiety—diagnoses that men statistically are unlikely to share with those around them.
 
We’ve fostered a culture on campus where men have to perpetuate an image of being tough.
 
But if our definition of what it means to be tough shifts to include men engaging in healthy methods of coping with mental health, this problem wouldn’t exist. 
 
Men have long faced social humiliation for any form of gender deviation. Through shame tactics and ostracization, those falling outside the norm of a tough man face rejection from their peers. 
 
Attributes such as emotional vulnerability aren’t truly considered to be masculine, and some men may feel weak when they conceal their feelings of self-doubt. 
 
But being open and honest is a sign of mental strength and fortitude. We simply haven’t been socialized to think as such.
 
Increased conversations on campus promoting openness on issues like binge drinking or peer pressure could make all the difference to young men who may be hesitant in seeking help. 
 
A study by Psychology Today said that men with a mental illness are twice as likely to have a substance abuse problem compared to the general population, which highlights a significant amount of men tending towards unhealthy methods of coping. 
 
Queen’s is no exception. 
 
In a 2016 study I helped conduct with two Queen’s faculty in the Department of Health Policy Studies, Heather Stuart and Kate Humphreys, we found Queen’s has one of the highest rates of alcohol abuse and binge drinking culture in Canada—especially amongst males.  
 
Although this can be credited to a myriad of factors, there’s no escaping several of our male peers engage in unhealthy drinking behaviors to copewith their mental health struggles.
 
Whether it’s stress stemming from school work, time management, relationships or something else entirely—binge drinking and substance abuse are some of the more prevalent coping methods for many male students on campus. 
 
That needs to change for the betterment of our gender as a whole. Making the conversation about getting help in a healthy way is non-negotiable.
 
In my work serving as the co-director for Queen’s for the Boys, I help our work to increase conversations within male-identified communities on campus and eliminate stigmas surrounding male mental health. We strongly believe that through relatable, succinct, and powerful messaging, we can be a part of the movement that seeks to mediate what’s becoming a crisis in our society. 
 
However, one club can’t solve the issue entirely by itself. 
 
For the remainder of the student body, particularly the male community, we all have the opportunity to offer our collective voices to support young men affected by mental health. 
 
When conversation increases, the barriers to seeking help slowly disintegrate.
 
This problem isn’t necessarily entirely on he University’s shoulders—they haven’t let the issue take a back seat. From the AMS Peer Support Centre to counselling services, there’s an abundance of resources available to students on campus.
 
Eliminating stigmas around male mental health requires a culture shift and everyone on campus, regardless of gender, to be a part of a constructive, healthy conversation. 
 
Reaching out to a male friend who has been “off,” or quiet lately, a buddy who’s been hitting the bottle a little harder than normal, or even checking up for the sake of checking up. The smallest gestures and actions can completely alter a situation and impact someone’s life. 
 
Your side of the conversation is imperative, and makes a difference in the cultural shift of making young men more comfortable to talk about their mental health struggles.
 
Quinn Scarlett is a fourth-year Biology major.

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