Dr. Allen O’Barr, director of CAPS, thinks that the gender gap can be attributed to a masculine culture that encourages men to keep their feelings pent up inside, and makes expression of feelings uncomfortable and unacceptable.
“I certainly don’t think it’s because women struggle more than men,” O’Barr said. “Everyone’s struggling equally. It has nothing to do with innate ability to handle stress, it has to do with a person’s internal permissions to let themselves receive help.”
Ariana Vigil, a women’s and gender studies professor, defines “masculinity” as the ideas, beliefs and practices that are believed to correlate to male-identifying persons.
“It’s the idea that masculine people are less emotional, the idea that they are more physically strong, less emotionally expressive, and more individualistic,” Vigil said.
Vigil said men tend to feel pressured to take on hyper-individualistic attitudes, which emphasize relying on oneself to solve one’s own problems. Seeking outside assistance or expressing emotional vulnerability can be viewed as shameful through the cultural lens of masculinity, which could be driving men away from seeking out counseling and psychological services.
First-year Daniel Margolis has been seeking out mental health resources for three years for a general anxiety disorder, mild depression, anorexia and bulimia. Margolis said he has noticed that it can be harder for men to seek professional help.
“It is perceived that asking, or looking for help, or receiving help makes you weak,” Margolis said. “And being weak is not what a man should be.”
‘Nobody talks about it’
Margolis said eating disorders are an example of how a masculine culture can result in aversion to seeking treatment. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, only 10 to 15 percent of people with anorexia or bulimia are male.
“Nobody talks about it, because they think men shouldn’t be anorexic or bulimic; it’s a ‘girls’ issue,’” he said.
First-year Tyler Gwinn has visited CAPS to seek treatment for bulimia and depression. He said while the masculine stereotype did not turn him away, he can understand why men would feel uncomfortable.
“It does have the connotation of being less manly,” Gwinn said. “Asking for help is never a very manly thing to do in society’s eyes.”
But Margolis said masculine culture is not the only thing that could turn men away from counseling services — he said his biggest obstacle was stubbornness and not admitting how serious his mental health situation was, something that could affect both men and women.
“It’s never directly masculinity,” Margolis said. “With my personal experiences, the biggest obstacle is never society’s view on seeking help in this sense. For the guys that I’ve talked to that need counseling, it’s just an overarching theme of self-denial and fear of what could happen next.”
First-year William Shropshire said he tried to go to CAPS for anxiety and stress management, but the department was not especially helpful.
Shropshire said CAPS seems to be underfunded because they don’t have enough people on staff to take care of the entire campus. They have enough staff to treat certain conditions long term, but students like Shropshire with issues not immediately threatening to their health are sent off-campus.
‘It’s hard to find’
The low number of men working in the field of counseling could be another contributing factor to the dwindling amount of men who seek professional help. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 71.4 percent of counselors were women in 2015.
“It’s hard to find a male counselor,” O’Barr said. “Right now, we only have a staff of 24 professionals, and of that 24, we only have four males and one of those males is a temporary hire.”
Vigil said counseling may be viewed by as a feminine career choice.
“There are, traditionally, sorts of jobs that are considered women’s work, like any sort of nurturing and caretaking job,” Vigil said. “Women are thought to be more naturally caring.”
The lack of men working in the counseling industry could be reducing the amount of men that are willing to seek professional help.
“The problem is that a man may want to talk to a (male counselor), and we just don’t have enough employees,” O’Barr said.
O’Barr said the trend doesn’t seem to shifting right now at all, and the number of men working in the counseling and psychology field has not been increasing as far as he can tell.
“We’re struggling to find enough males to be well-balanced,” O’Barr said. “We’re training four interns right now, and they’re all female.”
Although more men are not seeking out counseling jobs, O’Barr said he believes that the masculine, “don’t accept help” stereotype is less prominent now than it has been in the past, which may encourage more men to accept professional help for mental illness.
But Margolis said there’s still an issue of the negative stigma surrounding both men and women that use counseling and other mental health resources.
“While men won’t want to admit they can’t handle something on their own, it’s never just masculine culture,” Margolis said. “Seeking help gives you a label you don’t want to be associated with.”
‘Counseling doesn’t mean weakness’
Vigil said to continue encouraging more men to seek mental health resources, reducing the stigma about mental health in general would help. She suggested that CAPS should do outreach programs which could work to minimize this stigma.
“Dealing with masculinity would be a great outreach opportunity,” O’Barr said. “Counseling doesn’t mean weakness or inability to take care of oneself. If I had to say anything to a group of guys, I’d say it’s totally OK to accept help, and to frequently get help, so you get stronger.”
Shropshire said he thinks it’s ridiculous for men not to seek counseling because they think it will show weakness or a lack of independence.
“The fact that you are making the decision to go get help shows a certain independence and power over your surroundings,” Shropshire said. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s no different than going to the doctor for a physical health reason.”
Margolis said he would address any men who are afraid to seek out mental health resources by telling them that their feelings are valid and real, no matter what anyone says.
“Don’t let anybody undermine your feelings and perceptions, because all that will do is suppress the desire to seek help,” Margolis said. “If you know you have something where you need to seek counseling, it can’t hurt to see someone for no more than 30 minutes to see if there is some way you could get help.”