Thursday 5 April 2018

Opening up about Men's Mental Health: Michael

In order to tackle problems with men's mental health, we need to redefine our expectations and understanding of masculinity.
- Michael

Tell Us about Yourself
Having completed my BA and MA at Durham University, I began a PhD in October studying the relationship between education policy and student mental health. I regularly volunteer both with the Samaritans, and a local suicide prevention, intervention and support charity called If U Care Share Foundation. Student mental health and wellbeing is very important to me and I am running the Edinburgh Marathon in May to fundraise for Student Minds.

Do you think there is a stigma attached to men talking about mental health? Why? 
In my view, the stigma that is attached to men talking about mental health is produced through the language we use. This manifest in both how we talk about men and, consequently, in talking about men’s mental health. In his book How Not to Be a Boy, Robert Webb reflects on the way that social narratives of masculinity condition men into believing that certain thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are abnormal. Webb suggests that men act and interact according to certain socially accepted rules of masculinity. For example, that men do not cry, that men do not discuss feelings, that men get into fights, that men like girls, and that men obsess about sport. Men can find themselves defined and valued by their physical and emotional strength. These rules then tend to place conflict and competition at the centre of male relationships. 

There are ultimately, I believe, two perceived consequences for men talking about mental health. First, men become uncomfortable or unable to discuss feelings together. Men repress ‘unacceptable’ feelings such as sadness, embarrassment or fear and these feelings can become either hidden from view or visible only as anger, arrogance or deflective humour. Secondly, men that do talk about feelings together are stigmatised as un-masculine, inadequate, or even homosexual. Talking about feelings is considered abnormal and weak, and men’s discomfort can result in frustration or humour projected onto those expressing them. 

Ultimately then, I believe that, not only does the narrative of masculinity make it especially difficult for men to talk openly about mental health, it can actually produce poor mental health. It creates certain damaging expectations of men and mentally unhealthy ways of coping with emotional distress (such as silence, violence, alcohol etc.). 

What made you decide to be open about your own mental health?
I hope that in opening up about my own mental health, other men will feel more confident to do the same. It is only by having an honest and open conversation about men’s mental health that we can learn from each other and make positive changes. 

What are the challenges for men talking about their mental health and how can we overcome them? 
To be clear, the social narrative and expectations of masculinity form the biggest challenge for men talking about mental health. Recognising that is the first step. To try and overcome this, I believe we must re-write the rules masculinity; that is, we must use language to re-form society’s expectations of men. One way we can achieve this is by empowering men with safe spaces, like this blogging series, to speak more openly about mental health. In doing this, I believe we can create an environment that supports men experiencing mental health issues.

If you would like to get involved with our Men's Mental Health blogging series, then you can find all of the details here. You can also send us an email at for more details!

Hi, I'm Michael. I'm currently a PhD student at Durham University and wanted to write for Student Minds about my own experiences of depression, anxiety and university life.

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