Globally, male suicide rates are over three times that of females. Men abuse substances and partake in other unhealthy coping mechanisms to a far greater extent than their female counterparts. In the US, an estimated nine percent of adults suffer from depression. The question is: why is mental health among men so bad?
There are resources available to help those struggling mentally, yet mental health problems among men persist in a wide variety of cultures. Even with a lack of men’s mental health awareness due, there is hope for a brighter tomorrow for men who are willing to seek help.
A Cultural Phenomenon
Jeremy Ong, a senior History major and international student at Gordon College, believes that many men are struggling with mental health due to cultures that normalize stifling male emotion.
Ong believes that in Singapore, where he grew up, mental health was seen as a taboo subject.
Singapore is a city-state and island country located in Southeast Asia, home to over five million people. They have strict personal codes of conduct.
“In the Asian cultures I have experienced, I have found it to be commonplace for mental health to not be talked about, as their cultures tend to focus on collectivism as opposed to individualism,” said Ong.
Collectivism and individualism hold very prominent places in societies all over the world. Due to the nature of collectivism, opportunities to naturally share about mental health struggles are rare.
Collectivism, as seen in Pacific Rim Region countries, contributes to stigmatizing behaviors and attitudes toward people with mental illnesses. As a cultural mindset, it alienates those who seek to open up about their mental health.
Ong believes that because of Western influence, countries such as Singapore are gradually becoming more understanding about the topic.
“Singapore has been getting better in becoming aware of mental health,” he said. “Singapore has been exposed to quite a bit of education on the matter from countries like America, and while there is still much progress to be made, I think we are headed in a good direction.”
The USA on Mental Health
From Ong’s observations on American culture, he has noticed that individualism helps men open up more about what they might be going through—but with one caveat.
“I believe there is a stigma when it comes to men’s mental health here in America,” he explained, “The idea of stoicism and how men are supposed to be “strong” all the time and never open up due to being seen as weak or effeminate, definitely permeates Western culture to a degree.”
Ong sees a slight contrast between American culture and Asian culture, but he sees greater progress being made in America regarding mental health awareness.
“Individualism gives Americans a type of cultural sanction to think about themselves more,” Ong explained, “While there are some people who take individualism to extremes, I’d say for the most part it allows for people to be more tuned into who they are as a person, especially when it comes to men and their mental health struggles.”
Taking steps to acknowledge cultural differences, especially when it comes to mental health, can be very insightful. While mental health awareness needs to be internationally widespread, however, the first steps to raise awareness can be made in your own community right now.
Fostering Community and Culture
Ong believes that young men on campus can benefit from knowing more about existing resources for students struggling with mental health.
“The Counseling Center at Gordon is great, and the counselors I have seen since coming to Gordon have been non-judgmental and have played a large role in my improved mental health,” he said.
The Counseling Center is a very crucial department on campus, providing an intimate setting to talk about mental health. Other groups on campus also play an important role in supporting students’ struggles.
“There is a group on campus called the Addiction Support Ministry,” said Ong. “They talk about mental health and allow those in the group to be heard and understood by one another. I want to emphasize how beneficial this group can be to students at Gordon.”
Developing a culture that listens and strives to understand one another is a powerful step toward healing. Men are often overlooked when the discussion of mental health is brought up, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
“Emotions shouldn’t control our lives, but neither should societal barriers. Men should be given an opportunity to be vulnerable when they need to,” Ong said, “Jesus wept too, you know.”
Categories: Student Life