Male Mental Health Suffers From Standards of Masculinity


Once, a friend told me that he was tired of life. He has since been through therapy and medication, and has improved immensely, but it took a lot of support to get there. However, one of the most striking things I remember him saying was that he did not want to feel weak by asking for help.

Societal standards for men often dictate that they should not express emotion or ask for help from others. Statistics show that 75% of suicides in the US are male, yet they are less likely to be diagnosed with mental health disorders, like depression.

One Wilde Lake male student has been struggling with mental health recently, and often finds it difficult to reach out for help. His façade of a happy exterior has begun to crack, but it’s not easy to talk about his feelings.

“There’s societal pressure not to let yourself feel,” he says. “It doesn’t feel like it’s okay not to be okay.”

Even around people you know, it is not always easy to ask for support. “[My mental health] got worse within the last year, and especially in the beginning, I was embarrassed, even around friends who have experienced very similar things,” the student said, face shielded by the hood of his sweatshirt.

School psychologist, Dr. Chandra McKnight-Dean, sees a number of students with different mental health concerns. She has seen that female students are more likely to self-refer themselves than males. 

“Society really hasn’t made it okay for boys to [express emotions]. So, they either hold it in or they act out because they don’t know what to do with their emotions,” she says.

Her advice to anyone struggling with mental health is that you can’t do nothing. 

“Especially in Howard County and Columbia, we have a wealth of support and resources for kids, in school and outside,” she explains. “So, definitely tell someone.”

Kaleb Afework, Wilde Lake senior, has noticed some of his friends, particularly male, having trouble with mental health issues, but doesn’t always know how to help.

“I have many friends who have struggled with mental health issues, but I often feel that I am powerless to help them. It is hard for people to express their mental health issues, because it’s almost taboo to talk about,” he says.

Another Wilde Lake student had trouble discussing the topic and wanted to move to an area away from anyone who could hear, to be interviewed. Recently, he has felt happier, but reflecting on his past struggles brings back memories of feeling weak or helpless.

“Maybe it’s a guy thing, but me personally, at least, I don’t want to feel like I need help from everybody to just function,” he says. “There are a select few people I have no problem talking to but seeking professional help, that’s harder.”

All the students agree that the stigma on mental health makes it more difficult to express their feelings, especially in males.

“If there were a place where you could talk with other people experiencing the same thing- having an example to follow- would be helpful,” one student says.

Another explains, “If it is taught and accepted by schools and families that mental [illness] in males is something that you have to deal with, that’s how things become less taboo.”

At Wilde Lake, a new group called Active Minds has formed, with exactly this purpose. The goal of this group is to destigmatize conversations about mental health. Students can learn coping skills, like meditating and journaling. 

Dr. Mcknight-Dean hopes that this group could help students begin to open up about their mental health. “Maybe then, people will see that, yes, they have something, and they will be able to come and talk,” she says.