Jasmine TomlinsonAugust 1st
2019

After recent figures identified that far fewer male than female students have reached out for support at university, institutions are asking themselves how they can help men talk about their mental health.

A study conducted by BBC Two's Victoria Derbyshire programme, which looked into 100 universities, showed that 44% of students in the UK are male, yet only 31% of students using the support services were male.

One of the universities looking into the issue is Birkbeck, University of London, where Counsellor Jo Myddleton identified that male students were wanting a 'change in the way society sees and imposes set ideas on male stereotypes', and especially on how these views affect mental health.

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"They wanted male role models - men who could talk about mental health and be visible in the university," said Myddleton, after she found that, despite their struggles with mental health, many felt unable to actually ask for help.

In an interview with the BBC, Fraser Lister, a former university student, explained how he struggled with suicidal thoughts and depression after his father's death, which occurred right before his GCSE exams.

In the aftermath of his father's death, Fraser said he remained 'determined' to get himself to University. However, this determination was soon tested as both the workload and the pressure to make new friends piled on the stress.

"I was dealing with the hyper-masculine sense that I needed to be going out all the time, I needed to be the life and soul of the party," Fraser recalls. Despite his awareness of the university's counselling services, he only thought to try it out after things had escalated to the point he tried to take his own life.

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But Fraser's problems are by no means unique. Having someone to look up to, especially during your time living at university away from family and friends who may have guided you in the past, is essential for ensuring a student's well-being and ability to relax at a crucial point in their life.

At Birkbeck, while many students reported they were struggling with their mental health, some said they felt unable to take the first step in asking for help and others believed their problems were not serious enough to warrant support.

In response, the outreach team at Birkbeck decided to try out a few different ways of addressing the problem, and giving male students more confidence in talking about their mental health.

A poster campaign was launched which featured images of men challenging stereotypes and traditional mindsets, one including a man who's smile was forced up by pegs in order to present himself as brave.

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In addition, podcasts of case studies mostly carried out on males and videos of example sessions of the university's counselling service were made available to debunk any theories or fears students may have been holding over the support system.

Other support options such as group therapy sessions and anonymous online help are being looked into at the moment, which will hopefully provide students with more comfortable ways of discussing their worries and problems.

More than ever, it's evident that these enhancements in support at universities should be made possible as statistics show worrying numbers regarding mental health issues in students.

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Official figures show there were 95 recorded university student suicides in the 12 months to July 2017 in England and Wales, and that more than twice as many male as female students took their own life.

If a lack of discussion on mental health and the effects of gender stereotypes continues to occur, more pressure will be put on students and could cause mental health issues to worsen, leading more young adults to need support that they may feel uncomfortable to admit or access - it all goes round in one vicious cycle.

Change needs to happen.

If you're struggling with your mental health, please don't suffer in silence. You can contact Mind on 0300 123 3393, or Papyrus on 0800 068 4141 to have a chat.

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