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Social stigma surrounding mental health affects some male students, USF experts say

Male students are less likely to seek out services and treatment than women, according to director of the Tampa campus Counseling Center Scott Strader. ORACLE PHOTO

Some male students can fall victim to societal stigma regarding mental health prompting them to not seek help, according to Scott Strader, director of the Tampa campus Counseling Center.

Though women have higher incidences of mental illness, men’s mental health and emotions are often repressed and unclear, according to associate professor Thomas Miller. Women are more honest with their struggles in comparison to men, who are likely to not disclose information until it has reached a serious level, Miller said.

Disorders such as depression and anxiety are more common in women and may affect them in different manners, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Depression may also manifest differently among men and women, according to Strader. For men, depression may look like substance abuse, economic concerns or relationship concerns; whereas for women, it may look like troubles in social relationships, sadness, dysphoria or relationships with their children.

“Depression looks different for men and women. Substance abuse looks different for men and women. Attention Deficit Disorder looks different in men and women,” Strader said.

There is a noticeable imbalance between who seeks out treatment as well, according to Strader. Out of 100 clients at the Counseling Center, roughly 75% are women and 25% are men, he said.

The stereotypical view of therapy as feminine can also deter some men from seeking treatment, according to Strader. Therapy can be seen as more favorable to how women from western culture think and feel, Strader said. Taking different approaches, such as support groups and mentoring programs, could show men that they can benefit from treatment.

Misconceptions regarding treatment and therapy may be the cause of the imbalance, according to senior engineering major Matthew Moss. People might believe that therapists will tell them the way they view the world or live their life is wrong and that the experience is a waste of money, Moss said.

“That’s what they think that confrontation is going to be instead of more ‘We’re just trying to align what you want to be with what you actually are trying to do every day and how do you better that,’” Moss said.

The stigma surrounding men and expression of emotions can also be a factor, according to Alfred Tinoco, sophomore accounting major. There is an archaic and misogynistic idea that men must be “strong and unfazed,” he said. Because of this, when men discuss mental health, it often becomes a cause of ridicule and shame, according to Tinoco.

Talking about mental health with others can also feel like burdening other people for some men, according to junior finance major Jake O’Neil. Being raised in a household with traditional gender roles, O’Neil said he was taught to deal with emotions on his own to avoid delivering stress to those around him. Men can be afraid of being seen as weak by doing this, he said.

Behavior like this such as toxic masculinity can also become a cycle in families spanning generations, according to freshman political science major Edward Bailey. Until the cycle is broken, the stigma surrounding mental health will be perpetuated and have a negative effect on families such as incidences of depression and suicide, he said.

Though less likely to be diagnosed with mental health disorders, men committed suicide two times more than women in 2021, according to the CDC.

Social norming campaigns at USF and on social media explaining to students the basics and warning signs of mental health disorders could also prove useful in creating awareness and conversations, according to Miller. He said campaigns like that normalize discussions surrounding mental health will play a part in addressing that stigma.

Education surrounding mental health should be implemented at younger ages, according to Moss. Middle school students should be taught to understand mental health and to talk about their experiences, he said. This would provide them with a foundation to fall back on in their future, according to Moss.

“With children, [they are] going to fall back on whatever their foundation was. If their foundation was, ‘I’m going to tough it out,’ that’s what they are going to fall back on nine out of ten times,” Moss said.

A major aspect of breaking the stigma is normalizing discussions regarding mental health, according to O’Neil. When he first experienced mental health issues, O’Neil thought he was “weird” and “crazy” because he had never been exposed to conversations that taught him about mental wellness.

Younger generations have to be taught that struggles with mental health are not weird and not something that they should be ashamed of, he said.

“I thought something was wrong. I didn’t understand it. And so it made me scared of it,” O’Neil said. “Once I realized that it was normal, I wasn’t so kind of afraid of it and afraid to talk about it.”