Focusing on men’s mental health

by Ellen Schmidt

Stigma regarding men and mental health is causing the national rate of men seeking care to decrease, falling behind the rate of women across the country and at the University of Minnesota.
A study released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control reported nearly 9 percent of men experienced daily feelings of anxiety or depression, but less than half of those men sought treatment.
Nearly 30 percent of University students reported being diagnosed with a mental health condition in their lifetime in a 2013 survey. Still, male students reported diagnosis 13 percent less frequently than female students. 
The study’s co-author, Stephen Blumberg, said the attitude that men should be able to handle their mental health alone is part of what is causing the low diagnosis rates.
“Men don’t like to feel vulnerable or weak, and many men think going to the doctor puts them in a vulnerable position,” he said. “Therefore, there is a reluctance to seek health care for men.”
Cultural beliefs and mistrust of health care professionals can also add to the issue, he said.
Between 2010 and 2013, there was an increase in mental health conditions reported at the University, but women still reported more frequently than men. 
As a part of an effort to raise awareness among University men, the Minnesota Student Association formed a task force in 2013 to address the stigma. 
Former MSA member Henry Rymer said the group formed because it wanted to focus on mental health and address the lack of attention to men specifically, he said.
He said the task force reached out to mental health student groups like Active Minds, along with Boynton Health Services, to help raise awareness. 
But MSA members and campus groups didn’t prioritize the topic, Rymer said, and the task force disbanded after a year.
Still, among University students struggling with depression and anxiety, some men are sharing their stories to break the silence.
“‘Men should be able to handle their own issues — that’s the stigma that there is these days, especially in college,” finance and political science junior Alex Shields said. 
Shields entered college after losing his stepmother and two half siblings to suicide his senior year in high school. During his freshman year at the University, he struggled with depression but waited to seek help for about a year because he didn’t want to place his burden on anyone else, he said.
“I thought I was strong enough, myself as a man, to figure out how to work it out,” he said. “Why would I talk about this with other men? They would probably just laugh at me and say, ‘man up.’”
Rymer said resources from places like Boynton are available, but there needs to be better awareness. 
“I think a big part of it is to just keep talking about [men’s mental health],” he said. “Once people start talking about it, people will become more willing to talk about it.”