Fewer men seek mental health treatment

November 24, 2014

The lights dim, and the projector comes to life.

A character that sophomore health students know all too well appears on the screen. They sit silently, staring straight ahead, captivated by “It’s Kind of a Funny Story.”

The protagonist, Craig, is an unlikely hero but a hero nonetheless. Students identify with his everyday struggles. This was exactly the response Naperville North Health teacher Deanna Nesci was expecting from the students.

“He is depressed at the time in his life when everything else is going well,” Nesci said. “It speaks to a lot of our teens who live in a very wonderful community and have very fortunate lives but can’t see that because they’re so blinded by the feelings of hopelessness, sadness, agitation, all the signs of depression. ”

The film, which was recommended to the Wellness department by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), opens a discussion that many students would rather avoid, particularly teenaged boys. Stress and mental health issues are not easy or comfortable topics to discuss, even if they affect many teenagers today.

According American Psychological Association (APA), during the school year, adolescents’ stress levels are, on average, higher than that of most adults. This can, and often does, lead to trouble sleeping, anxiety, unhealthy eating habits and/or depression. Both males and females experience this stress.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about six million males suffer from depression every year. However, males are unlikely to admit depressive symptoms and seek help, said Michelle Seliner, chief operating officer at S.A.F.E. alternatives, a national organization dedicated to treating those who self-injure.

“We have fewer males that actually reach out for treatment than females,” Seliner said. “Only about ten percent of those who seek treatment are males.”

According to Seliner, in our culture, women are taught to express their feelings freely, whereas males are taught to do the opposite.

NNHS junior Mark Morgan agrees.

“Since we are little, parents, coaches, friends, everyone tells us to just man-up and deal with it,” Morgan said. “Especially in sports. They don’t act the same way to girls.”

Gregory Canillas, assistant professor of clinical psychology at The Chicago School of Psychology Los Angeles campus, said boys are not encouraged to be expressive.

“Boys are often not allowed to express emotions, even positive emotions,” Canillas said. “If they’re really over-excited or happy and they express it to their cohorts, other boys will say things like ‘why are you acting like that? You’re acting gay.’”

Anger is the exception. In general, men tend to be more outwardly aggressive when stressed, anxious or angry, Seliner said.

According to the APA, it is possible that men may express their depression through increased irritability and anger. In extreme cases, this anger can lead to abusive behavior. Men are also more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, conceivably to self-medicate, instead of seek treatment.

Untreated depression may lead to problems in one’s personal or family life, financial stability and even suicide. According to the NIMH, four times as many men as women die by suicide in the United States, yet eight out of ten cases of depression respond to treatment.

However, the tide is turning. According to Seliner, society has become more accepting of males seeking treatment.

“As a society, we have done a good job of trying to embrace not only males, but also kids of other cultures to seek treatment,” Seliner said. “I think we are on the right track, but, when you look at the statistics, males still seek treatments less than females.”

Nesci agreed and stressed the need to end the silence regarding mental health issues and males who struggle with them.

“We have to revisit the topic all the time, because we creep into the ‘suck it up, you’re fine. You need to be strong because you’re a man,'” Nesci said. “We are steadily starting to get away from that old school theory.”

In Room 188, Nesci and the other NNHS health teachers are working to chip away at the belief that males should stifle their emotions in the classroom.

“What is wonderful about our program and NAMI is that it’s not about weakness but about being human,” Nesci said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female. You have to have some way of expressing these emotions. You’re human— not weak, not insecure, not desperate for love and affection. That’s what we crave as a human race.”

The original version of this story said associate professor of clinical psychology at The Chicago School of Psychology Los Angeles campus, Gregory Canillas, but it has been edited to reflect that it was assistant professor of clinical psychology at The Chicago School of Psychology Los Angeles campus Gregory Canillas. The North Star regrets the error.

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