Time to ‘man up’ and talk about mental illness
Letter to the Editor | Monday, November 11, 2019
In light of Irish State of Mind — a week designed to fight the stigma of mental illness on campus and start the conversation of mental health — I have observed that men, myself included, have a difficult time joining the conversation. As someone who has struggled with mental illness while at Notre Dame, the decision to speak out has been something I’ve wrestled with in the past few years. Before I visited the University Counseling Center, I thought that I had to overcome depression on my own and that it would be a sign of weakness to consult outside help. At a place like Notre Dame, where everyone else always seems to have their lives put together, it was easy to believe that I was the only one struggling. I thought that sharing my struggles would just burden my friends and make them think that I was strange. The first time I visited the UCC, I was told that about 1 in 6 students will visit the UCC over the course of the current academic year. I was shocked, as I had incorrectly believed that very few students ever used the UCC. This is unfortunately all too common of a belief among all types of students at Notre Dame, and it is particularly amplified within the male population.
Traditional upbringings tell us that men should be the strong and tough ones who don’t have to ask for help; they figure things out on their own. Men are supposed to be invincible, after all. Showing vulnerability and weakness to other males often comes at a cost. I can think of a few unpleasant five-letter words that have been used to describe men who show vulnerability. Due to these societal norms, men often keep things to themselves and will go to great lengths to avoid talking about their emotions.
Mental health resources are often quickly glossed over in men’s dorms during Welcome Weekend or Hall Government, not because people don’t care about the topic, but because it makes most of us uncomfortable. I was certainly someone who thought discussing mental health isn’t “manly,” which perhaps explains why I never opened up to other males about my struggles but confided in a few female friends. Today, I long for the day where the words “mental illness” don’t make people shift around uncomfortably in their chairs and avert their eyes.
Statistics show just how costly the stigma is for men: The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states that men account for 3.5 times the number of suicides as women (depression and other mental illnesses being a leading cause of suicide). Men are also more likely to cope with depression and other illnesses in unhealthy fashions — like alcohol or drug abuse — rather than talk about their illness with health professionals or friends and family. Substance abuse can not only can inflict long-term physical damage on men, but also can lead to suboptimal environments for loved ones around them.
Though progress has been made in recent years, the stigma surrounding men and mental illness is still prevalent. The coverage of Kyrie Irving’s story is one such example. In March, Charles Barkley ridiculously suggested that NBA players should be immune to mental illness due to their fame and money. Barkley singled out Kyrie Irving, calling him “one of the most miserable people I’ve ever seen, even though he’s making 40, 50 million dollars a year.“ Unsupported rhetoric such as Barkley’s is dangerous to young men who are thinking about seeking help.
Last week, when it was reported that Kyrie Irving experienced “mood swings” that affected his teammates and coaches on the Brooklyn Nets and the Boston Celtics, the public response to the story disappointed me. Rather than showing concern or compassion for Irving and his situation, journalists and Twitter users were quick to label him a “bad teammate” or a “drama queen.” Irving’s response: “Human beings have mood swings. It’s OK to be human.” His words give me hope that prominent male figures will continue to speak out about their mental health experiences.
As we see celebrities continue to speak out about their own struggles, it’s time for us (especially us men) at Notre Dame to do the same. There are too many people, of all genders, who struggle through mental illness alone due to the fear of being stigmatized or ridiculed by others. There is nothing wrong with dealing with mental illness and seeking help for it. Let’s refrain from labeling those who suffer from mental illness as crazy, dramatic or unstable. Notre Dame is a university founded on being a force for change and helping those in need; it’s time to change the stigma around mental health, be available as listeners for our peers and promote helpful resources to those who might need a hand.