Being OK With Not Being OK: Colleges Males and Mental Health

I walk in late to the “Navigating Therapy” workshop
held at the Smith Campus Center on a Monday night in mid-October. It’s a
welcoming environment, with two mental health experts fielding questions at the
front and a variety of Trader Joe’s snacks in the back. The event is well-attended for a Monday night.

There is nothing remarkable about the crowd of 15
students, except one thing—there was only one other male.

Therapy is unfortunately an underutilized resource
for all college students, especially so for college men. As if being 18–22
years old wasn’t difficult enough, this age range is one of the most critical
for lifetime mental health. It’s a time when many psychological disorders emerge
and bad habits form. On top of that, subjecting yourself to a competitive
undergraduate education piles on even more stress.

Here in Claremont we love to pretend it’s pretty
easy, but it’s not.

National statistics indicate that men seek
treatment at significantly lower rates than women at all ages, and that’s
certainly true in college. According to The Association for University and
College Counseling Center Directors Annual Survey, 35 percent of women and 14
percent of men will see a therapist during their college experience. 

When I asked Dr. Craig Beeson, a senior staff therapist at
Monsour, he responded that the general trend holds true but added
that Claremont may actually have a higher proportion of men receiving treatment
than most other colleges, which is heartening.

Some surveys suggest that the differing rates at
which college men and women seek therapy can be attributed to women being more
prone to depression and other other psychological disorders.

This is, perhaps, partially true, but it also could
be that self-reporting emotional problems is contrary to our sense of
masculinity. Feeling and appearing masculine is a huge part of college life for
so many men. Just take a peek in the weight room on any given weeknight or at any
ridiculous, dodgeball-themed party.

The consequences of this are substantial. College
males have much higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse and are much more
likely to report that substance abuse negatively affects other aspects of their
life. Men are also expelled from college at much higher rates. Most
disturbingly, college-age men take their lives at an alarmingly high rate
compared to their female peers.

Not all of this is fixable by talking to a
professional, but it’s a pretty good indication that many guys have serious
emotional problems and serious aversions to talking about them.

But why should this matter? If these resources
exist and men don’t use them, isn’t that their problem?

When the media discusses what’s happening on
college campuses, what they discuss seems to be, more often than not, male
behavior. The president announced his “It’s On Us” campaign earlier this year,
with the intent of changing the expectations of college communities to crack
down on crimes that are overwhelmingly committed by men. ASCMC’s Social
Responsibility contract—essentially pleading CMC to stop breaking shit, stop
littering and stop raping each other—aims at addressing the symptoms of CMC’s
hypermasculine and irresponsible reputation.

We spend quite a bit of time discussing the
consequences of male behavior but almost none talking about the causes. I
don’t mean to suggest that therapy is a magic-bullet cure for sexual assault
and alcoholism, but the mental health of the males in our community is, without
a doubt, interconnected with the shitty parts of college life. The same
feelings of frustration, anxiety and powerlessness that drive college women to
seek mental health treatment often drive men to incorporate themselves
into male-dominated environments, engage in risky habits and make bad
decisions.

Without getting too detailed about my own
experience, I will say that there have been times when therapy should have been
something I seriously considered but did not. I had trouble focusing on school
and sleeping because of my emotional state but never once considered that
therapy was the answer. My friends gave me plenty of suggestions on things to
ingest or inhale to help me sleep, but nobody suggested that these symptoms
could be better dealt with by a mental health professional. I never even
considered therapy: I might have a few problems, but I’m not one of those
guys.

For anyone with a male friend who acts erratically
or despondently, who is struggling in school, who drinks too much too often,
who can’t leave their room without getting high, who is distraught over a
relationship, who engages in dangerous or aggressive behavior at parties: Don’t
assign it to just being a douche or having a shitty week. He might actually need help. It’s likely he hasn’t considered therapy because
it’s something men typically don’t talk or think about. 

For all of us college men, it’s time to accept that
college is a stressful time. If you’re struggling to deal with social problems,
aggression, substance abuse or something like it, you should know that it’s not
uncommon, and there’s nothing wrong with seeking help. 

Not sure where to get help? Monsour, while overbooked, is a fairly
accessible resource. If you get in touch with them, they’ll point you in the
right direction. 

Sam Pitcavage CM ’15 is a government and economics major, athlete and dining hall enthusiast from Beaverton, Ore.

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