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A male counselor speaks with a young male client.

To better reach young men with mental health issues, higher education practitioners should understand how ideas about masculinity impact help-seeking behaviors.

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Despite research showing that men and women benefit equally from psychological treatment, men exhibit reluctance toward seeking it.

Men tend to hold an overall negative view of help-seeking or believe it is a sign of weakness, according to research by Aresh Assadi, director of counseling services at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

When men grasp on to “masculine” beliefs, it can result in depression, anxiety, stress, poor self-esteem, relationship issues, increased blood pressure, aggression, violence, sexism, substance abuse or other consequences.

Survey: Students Neglect Mental Health Care

In general, over half of students are not using mental health services offered by their institutions. An April 2023 Student Voice survey with 3,000 respondents from Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse found that 60 percent of students who rate their mental health as fair or poor (n=1,466) have not used any mental health resources—including on-campus counseling, telecounseling, an off-campus referral or mental health hot line.

While gender breakdowns don’t meaningfully impact campus help-seeking, men are less likely than women to say they had accessed mental health counseling and/or taken prescribed medication for mental/emotional health needs prior to college, at 27 percent versus 36 percent.

“Adherence to traditional masculinity, which emphasizes that men should be emotionless, independent and tough, has kept many men from asking for the help they need and has seriously impacted their overall health and longevity,” Assadi says.

But masculinity can also be used to encourage men to take care of themselves, drawing on norms like responsibility or framing therapy as a sign of strength.

Higher education practitioners should understand how the power of masculine ideas can negatively affect male students and how positive masculinity can encourage help-seeking among learners.

Assadi offers three strategies to reach men with mental health struggles on college campuses.

  1. Improve mental health literacy on campus.

Mental health literacy positively impacts a person’s help-seeking behavior and can make campus community members more prepared to address when they need to use campus resources.

In general, men are less likely to identify symptoms of mental illness than women, demonstrating they are less likely to acknowledge mental illness in themselves.

To combat this lack of information, colleges should implement mental health literacy programs for students to promote self-help and help-seeking.

Faculty and staff members can also get involved in mental health literacy through training programs to equip them with information to recognize mental health issues and discuss the topic without perpetuating harmful stigmas.

“If staff and faculty feel prepared to talk about such issues, they might become less reluctant to engage in difficult conversations with male students and more apt to connect them with mental health resources,” Assadi says.

  1. Adapt marketing to attract male students.

Campuswide mental health campaigns should focus on gender-sensitive interventions to reduce the stigma around mental illness and seeking help for mental health.

Men are averse to experiences related to loss of self-reliance, autonomy and independence, and instead prefer comfort, understanding, relatability, trust and privacy. When practitioners prioritize these traits, men are more likely to open up emotionally without a fear of shame or judgement.

Marketing campaigns can also lean into positive masculine ideals like responsibility or strength to promote mental health campaigns.

  1. Utilize technology.

Because men often hold negative perceptions about emotional vulnerability or fear shame for seeking help, offering resources online can make them more accessible while preserving their privacy.

Telehealth services or online mental health literacy programming can benefit men while combating stigmas around mental health.

“It takes a lot of courage to admit you need help and enter a mental health clinic,” Assadi says. “Allowing students to access services from the comfort of their homes would go a long way toward reducing stigma.”

What effective messaging has been used on your campus to promote mental health and wellness services and supports? Share a tip that others could adopt or adapt.

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