The most common cause of death for men under 35 is suicide, according to Men’s Health Forum. Experts agree that the high rate of male suicide is likely because men are less willing to seek counseling than women. Many agree that this hesitancy to ask for help is due to men’s desire to handle everything themselves.
Junior Jackson Eldridge believes a significant reason for the alarming statistics on male suicide is that men often avoid addressing conflicting inner narratives, often causing repercussions in other ways later on.
Eldridge was diagnosed with depression in fifth grade which helped him shape his perspective on mental illness and masculinity at an early age. At 10 years old, Eldridge began taking Zoloft daily, which has helped him manage the debilitating symptoms of depression. Because depression runs in his family, Eldridge’s parents were able to recognize the symptoms from the start.
“Early on, it was kind of hard on me, because it felt so weird ingesting something that was going to change the way I felt,” Eldridge said. “But I eventually got over it. It was realizing the idea that I wasn’t a freak, it was a very legitimate chemical imbalance.”
Dr. Pat Garner, associate professor of communication, has struggled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) for decades and has implemented routines that help control his OCD tendencies.
“I noticed it when I was running. Because when I was running 5 miles a day five days a week, there was a spot where I ran 2.5 miles and I knew exactly where that spot was and I had to touch it,” Garner said. “I thought, ‘This is really going to get oppressive really quick.’”
Eventually, Garner established his own program of behavior modification and learned how to manage his disorder and lead a relatively normal life.
“I don’t mind at all saying I am OCD,” Garner said.
He noted, however, that men typically feel a need to be invulnerable to achieve a true masculine persona, which leads to unexpressed emotions and unresolved struggles.
“That’s part of hyper-intellectualizing the person, feeling like you have to be perfect, feeling like you have to be strong all the time,” Garner said.
Senior Laret Hemphill said he sees the stigma of masculinity as a burly lumberjack with a big beard and, most importantly, an insistence that “I can do it on my own.”
“(It’s) a confidence, thinking, ‘I don’t need anybody. I’m firm in this, I’m a man,’” Hemphill said. “To talk about (your struggles) is to be as vulnerable as it gets. … It’s something you don’t want to talk about, you want to keep it way far down, you never want to let it out.”
Senior psychology major David Taylor added that mental illness is often seen as a weakness and crutch that discourages men from reaching out for help.
“If you get diagnosed with anxiety disorder, you aren’t suddenly a weak person,” Taylor said. “That’s the biggest concept that needs to change. … Mental health is a part of who we are, and taking (care) of your mental health … is one step closer to taking care of yourself.”
Garner teaches his students that taking medication to treat a chemical imbalance shouldn’t be an embarrassing thing.
“To me,” Garner said, “A more healthy position is to understand how you are weak and seek help for doing that.”
Hemphill recognized that men today are having to overcome an inherited discomfort with expressing emotions and sharing each others’ struggles, rather than carrying them alone.
“In the back of everybody’s mind, they know that stigma is dying out,” Hemphill said. “But they still want to be seen as embodying that stigma, as still being a real man.”
Eldridge said being vulnerable was a difficulty that he faced in trying to create meaningful relationships with other men.
“Guys don’t really dig into the meat of a subject or the meat of a relationship,” Eldridge said. “They just kind of skim on the surface.”
Overall, Taylor said the most important piece of advice he could give to other males wrestling with mental illness and traditional masculinity is to reach out to a trusted friend or to make an appointment with a counselor.
“Find a close group, even just one person is enough to trust and talk to,” Taylor said. “Just that initial step of talking to one person to help you work through your thoughts is just one step toward mental health.”
Written by Justin Duyao and Hannah Hitchcox