Task force to address men’s mental health

Men are less likely to seek help for depression than women.

by Branden Largent


University of Minnesota student groups recently voiced concerns about men seeking mental health guidance.

Often ignored because of the taboo associated with it, men’s mental health is the focus of a new Minnesota Student Association task force.

“Oftentimes, it is overlooked in our society because we have this idea of manning up,” said Henry Rymer, a Minnesota Student Association member. “And I think that inhibits a lot of men from seeking the help they need.”

 Rymer, a University freshman, will lead an MSA task force to jumpstart a men’s mental health awareness campaign.

“We hope that by launching a task force led by Henry, we can really engage with the issue and figure out what is the best plan of action,” said Marissa Kramer, director of MSA’s University Policies and Student Concerns committee.

Rymer’s task force is part of a larger MSA focus on improving mental health resources and access on campus, said Mike Schmit, MSA alternate student representative to the Board of Regents.

In early February, Rymer gave a presentation on how mental health affects men differently than women to Boynton Health Service’s Student Health Advisory Committee.

Although women are more likely to attempt suicide, completed suicides are higher among men, said Gary Christenson, Boynton’s chief medical officer.

Men tend to commit suicide in more violent ways, like using guns or jumping from high buildings, while women are more likely to use pills or try cutting, Christenson said.

According to Boynton’s 2010 College Student Health Survey of University students, the number of female students diagnosed with depression in their lifetime was twice that of men.

But Christenson said men are less likely to seek help for depression than women, which he said might partially account for the higher rate of diagnosis.

“There is an issue of guys trying to minimize their need to use physicians, probably to be macho, to be tough,” Christenson said.

Rymer said he hopes to start with a poster campaign for male mental health awareness and eventually start a peer-to-peer group where men can speak openly about their mental health.

Using a hands-on approach is necessary in cases like men’s mental health, Christenson said, because having resources available isn’t enough sometimes.

“It isn’t sufficient to have a counseling center and a mental health clinic and just expect people to find their way there,” Christenson said. “You really need to go out into the population and address the barriers for people coming in.”

Peer support groups might be effective among men if they are activity-based groups, said Michael O’Sullivan, a University assistant professor of psychiatry.

“Men tend not to sit around and talk about their feelings at any age,” O’Sullivan said. “So if there was some way to incorporate it into an activity, I’d think they’d feel more comfortable with that.”

O’Sullivan works with patients with psychosis and said his younger male patients are more willing to talk about their mental health during group activities like bowling or working on an art project.

Rymer was initially concerned students would view his work as misogynistic, which he said was not his intent, but so far the response among MSA and SHAC members has been positive.

He will also reach out to the greek community and student groups on campus to start conversations about men’s mental health, he said.

“This is something that I think will be a key issue within MSA next year,” Kramer said. “I predict that the leaders of MSA next year will be looking at this issue more in depth.”

Rymer said he hopes his efforts can help eliminate the stigma associated with men’s mental health and the idea that men need to hide their feelings.

“If we’re losing fathers, brothers and friends at the rate we are, something needs to be done,” Rymer said. “And I think a good first step is just getting the word out.”