November is Men’s Health Awareness Month. Despite actions taken to address men’s mental health, some male students at Western University feel unheard and their health stigmatized

While Western students have access to individual counselling and various mental health resources, this doesn’t mean psychological help feels accessible to men on campus. 

“Certain things should not be talked about or aren’t encouraged to talk about among men,” says Jack Zaluski, a first-year criminology student. 

According to Public Health Canada, men account for over 75 per cent of suicides in Canada with an average of 50 men taking their own lives each week. 

Michael Newmark, a doctor of psychology, believes culture and stigma affect a man’s willingness to seek treatment. 

“For lots of men, both white and of colour, seeking help is a sign of weakness and we still have this awful misbelief — not just in this country, but in other countries too — that mental illness is shameful and means you were not strong enough to overcome it,” explains Newmark. “If they think that being emotional with their friends isn’t manly, it is easy to see how that leads to social isolation, anxiety, and depression.” 

Pride and unsupportive individualist societal standards are the reasons Zaluski did not pursue professional help, and was told that he had to fix his problem himself. 

“I don’t know anyone who has used [mental health resources],” says Zaluski. 

Men are underutilizing resources provided to them. The International Journal of Mental Health found women are almost three times more likely to use mental health resources than men. 

”[The lack of resources] has as much to do with their concern for how society looks upon them as it does with the ‘father’ inside their head that’s judging them, which in psychology we call the harsh superego,” says Newmark. 

This coupled withfear of judgment and experiences they’ve had being judged can keep them out of doctors’ offices.

“It goes to what men are taught by society to do: be cool-headed, be logical [and] be strong,” Newmark says. 

Zaluski explains he understands other people’s need for support but can’t justify it for himself. 

“It feels like there’s something wrong with me,” he notes. “I know that’s not the case, or shouldn’t be the case, but it’s something in my head that I just don’t know.” 

In his practice, Newmark says men struggle with a lack of emotional connections. Whether men struggle to connect to their own emotions or others, their emotionality can be needed in order to heal. 

Newmark explains some men turn to self-medication through substance use, sex, gambling and overworking to cope with painful feelings. 

“I have seen a lot of men struggle to control their anger, when what they’re feeling underneath it is a more tender emotion like sadness or shame,” Newmark says. 

“I would love to see more men enter therapy, especially men of colour, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ men, all of whom encounter more barriers to help than straight, cisgendered white men.”

Zaluski imagines an open conversation on what therapy entails would increase male student engagement with mental health resources. 

“One barrier that would hold me back is that I don’t know what I would be walking into.I think the stigma makes it seem a lot more scary than it actually is,” he explains. “If it were possible to tell people, it’s not a bad thing to want to do, it’s gonna help everyone who seeks it.”  

Newmark says the best thing our society can do to support men is to remind them how much courage it takes to ask for help and how getting support doesn’t have to mean therapy.  

“It requires a lot of strength, and it also shows a kind of loyalty to those they love and care about,” says Newmark. “How many times have we—all of us—missed an opportunity to reach out to a man who looks like he is struggling?There is still a lot of work to be done to bridge the gap between men and the help they deserve.”

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