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Less likely to talk, less likely to seek help: Gender stereotypes keep men from mental health treatment

A 2019 survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found women were more likely than men to have received any mental health treatment.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Over the course of a week, WRAL News has engaged with kids, parents, medical professionals and mental health advocates in a discussion of the contemporary challenges to mental health.

WRAL News gathered a group of 10 people to discuss mental health, available treatments, bullying, social media and the devastating toll suicide can take on a family. Despite best efforts to make sure that group was diverse, none of the people who showed up to talk were men.

While there are men who work in the mental health field, there is a stereotype that women are more open to discussions about mental health. A 2019 survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found women were more likely than men to have received any mental health treatment.
A 2019 study examining “Masculine Norms and Health-Care Utilization in Highly Religious, Heterosexual Men” found “men reflected on how they are supposed to be tough, push through pain, and not go see the doctor.”

The study also found: “Avoiding doctors specifically is something that men not only encourage other men to do directly but also indirectly because it demonstrates how tough they are.”

That could be a factor in why men die by suicide a lot more than women do. In 2020, males died by suicide at 3.88 times the rate of females, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Austin Pendergrass, 13, died by suicide on Sept. 6 at Wendell Middle School. It’s what prompted the conversation among the group of 10 at the WRAL Studios.

Panelist Tinaya Gray is a mother of four children. Her oldest son has a mental health diagnosis and goes to high school.

“I immediately thought about the world of men and boys in particular,” Gray said. “Their interactions are normalized without much language and with actions.

“And so, what you will find with boys who are different or who are not typical … they are ostracized.”

Gray said her son is different. She said he’s not like the other kids – but he tries to fit in – and sometimes he can’t. “In the world of men,” as she put it, that’s not always met with compassion like this lesson from a coach.

“I think that’s just the mentality of … what I’ve heard said to him was… ‘Nobody’s going to care in the real world, so you got to find a way to deal,’” Gray said. “That’s actually been said.”

Some people think modern parents are too soft on kids. However, there is clinical science that supports “tough love.”

“Our research showed that children with helicopter parents may be less able to deal with the challenging demands of growing up, especially with navigating the complex school environment,” said Nicole Perry, PhD, from the University of Minnesota, and lead author of a 2018 study published by the American Psychological Association.

The study found that kids with helicopter parents showed stronger scores associated with anxiety and depression – and helicopter parenting “was also associated with poorer functioning in emotional functioning, decision making and academic functioning.”

There are times where it’s ok and healthy for a parent to tell a child to “toughen up.” However, there is a difference between coddling someone and recognizing a mental health issue. Furthermore, there’s a difference between a kid who is upset about a setback, and someone who is battling depression.

According to the experts and parents on the panel, identifying these conditions, knowing the triggers for those conditions and understanding the differences are key.

“No one is taking time to say, ‘why?’” Gray said. “Or … ‘are you struggling with something?’

“We’re not having those questions with boys in particular because boys are expected to have masculine energy, and for that masculinity to carry them through adversity. And, it’s almost seen as a weakness for boys to struggle with anything.”

The answer for parents is complicated. The panelists said one answer is education, and discussions like this one, at school and at home.

“We’ve transformed how we define acceptance,” Gray said. “We’ve come to accept the gay and lesbian and LGBTQ kids around us. I see it. I’m so proud of this next generation.

“But that same level, acceptance doesn’t really exist of kids who are struggling with their mental health.”

In Depth With Dan

Dan Haggerty is a reporter and anchor for WRAL. He’s won four regional Emmy awards for his anchoring and reporting in Fort Myers, Florida; Cleveland; San Diego; Dallas; Portland, Oregon and Raleigh, North Carolina. He is proud to call the Triangle home.

Anyone who has an idea for In Depth with Dan can email him at dan@wral.com.