How masculinity plays a role in mental illness

Men die by suicide 3.5 times more frequently than women, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, but often, stigmas associated with mental health keep men from reaching out for help.

Juan Bustillo, a sophomore screenwriting and political science major, is a feminist advocate on campus. Growing up in Texas, he found expressing emotion to his friends and peers difficult.

“In Texas, it’s very rare that people break out of that binary of men and women,” Bustillo said. “As an only child, I grew up alone with my emotions a lot of the time, and I found myself struggling in my head a lot.”

Bustillo found that emotions were often associated with femininity and weakness. It wasn’t until he came to Chapman and learned more about social justice issues that he felt comfortable enough to be more emotional, he said. Bustillo advocates for other students on campus that struggle with masculinity with his involvement in Queer Trans People of Color Collective.

“The last thing that anyone wants to be perceived as is weak, especially if you’re a man,” Bustillo said. “There’s this stigma that men have to be strong all the time. That’s exhausting.”

Jeanne Walker, director of Student Psychological Counseling Services said that 23 percent of students who visited Student Psychological Counseling Services this year are male.

“Doctors are more likely to diagnose depression in women compared with men, even when they have similar scores on standardized measures of depression or present with identical symptoms,” according to the World Health Organization.

Kyle Harrington, a sophomore digital arts major, has struggled with mental disorders since he was very young.

When Harrington was 8 years old, he was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. He was later diagnosed with nightmare disorder, or parasomnia, which he said also added to his depression and anxiety. On a daily basis, Harrington struggles with relationships with friends and peers, as well as having a positive attitude.

Harrington said that while most people are familiar with the hyperactivity that comes with ADHD, very few people are aware of the anger management issues that are also present. As a male, Harrington felt he was often stereotyped as being testosterone-driven.

“When you are already faced with that and you have anger management problems, then you gain this reputation of being a hothead or being violent,” Harrington said.

Harrington noticed stigmas surrounding mental health and masculinity, but his parents’ encouragement helped him look past them and be more comfortable showing emotion.

“There’s always that notion of men don’t cry, and I guess I got lucky growing up.” Harrington said. “I grew up doing stuff like ballet and musical theatre, and I was surrounded by this culture where it was OK for men to show femininity without it taking away from their masculinity. I learned it was OK to show emotion.”

Harrington’s strategy for self-care is to focus on himself instead of the labels that doctors have given him. He’s cut down on his use of prescription medication, in an attempt to be less dependent on it.

“When I started college, I decided to use medication more sparingly as a tool. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that if you try to use medication as a crutch, you’re not going to get very far,” Harrington said.

As an avid gamer, Harrington said the trick is to understand your strengths and weaknesses. He applies the same mindset to his mental health.

“Just like in a role-playing game where everyone kind of has their chips in different places, my chips aren’t in the place where I can focus or sit still very well,” Harrington said. “It’s about finding where your chips are or where your strengths are.”

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