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Looking back on Movember: Stigma and men’s mental health

By Afsah Dawood, December 12 2021—

Nov. 1 marked the start of “Movember” — an initiative where men all over the world commit to growing their facial hair to promote awareness about prominent men’s health issues such as testicular and prostate cancer. An additional, lesser-known aspect of Movember is men’s mental health.

Men are a vulnerable group with regards to suicidality and substance use concerns. In Canada, each year 75 per cent of those who take their own life are men. Intersectional factors such as cultural or socioeconomic status can dramatically increase these numbers.

Despite this, men are far less likely to seek out mental health support as compared to women and the general population. 

The Gauntlet had the opportunity to interview Dr. Andrew Szeto, the director of the Campus Mental Health Strategy (CMHS) and stigma researcher, to discuss some of the reasons behind poor mental health and help-seeking in men. 

“Some studies suggest that only 40 per cent of those with mental health disorders access mental health services, and for male-identifying individuals, this lack of help-seeking is even lower,” said Szeto. 

Stigma is one such multifaceted inhibitor of help-seeking behaviour. Stigma often arises as a result of stereotyping large groups of people. This comes from a human need for cognitive efficiency –— there is lower cognitive load when allocating certain traits to groups of people as compared to assessing every individual on their own merit.

However, this shortcut in thinking can lead to great harm. Stigma surrounding men’s mental health is a very complex phenomenon that many people deal with. 

According to Szeto, drivers of stigma include social expectations.

“Stereotypical ideas of what men should be — men should be strong, stable, self-sufficient — help-seeking is considered a sign of weakness,” said Szeto.  

Szeto also mentions that there exist systemic barriers that prevent men from seeking mental health support. 

“Men may be more open to chatting with men, but [mental health] service providers are overwhelmingly female and this might be less conducive for men seeking help.”

Szeto notes that there is an effort at the University of Calgary to ensure that male voices are prominently displayed in discussions around mental health. 

“There has been lots of programming, training and awareness campaigns to reduce stigma.”

In terms of resources that students are known to access and benefit from, Szeto states that peer supports act as a “bridge” to accessing formal supports.

One of the recommendations of the Campus Mental Health Strategy is to reduce stigma, which Szeto believes has been fulfilled. Despite this, he notes that there is still room for improvement. 

“We still need to continue [with our efforts] because stigma still exists,” he said. “[We need] to think about the diversity that we have on campus and if we don’t take that into account, we aren’t meeting the people where they’re at.”

As for current initiatives and future directions, the University of Calgary’s Student Wellness Services offer a variety of mental health services as well as the option for referrals to more long-term mental health services.

For initiatives specifically about men’s mental health, Man Up for Mental Health is a club on campus dedicated to promoting male voices in the mental health arena.

In addition, the CMHS has partnered with the Centre for Suicide Prevention (CSP) on the Buddy Up campaign, which is, according to the website is a “men’s suicide prevention communications campaign” to promote dialogue about suicidality in men and break down the stigma surrounding it. 

Finally, Szeto emphasises the importance of promoting mental health dialogue from a young age. 

“We need to start early and start normalising mental health in kids,” he said. The more that mental health dialogue is normalised starting from a young age, the better the long-term effects. 

For more information about the aforementioned clubs and resources, check out the Student Wellness Services website, Man Up for Mental Health website and the Centre for Suicide Prevention’s Buddy Up Campaign.

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