We spoke to male students about their mental health experiences
Six men share their stories of dealing with mental health issues, and how they feel they have been perceived throughout their lives
Trigger warning: details of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and diagnosis of a mental health illness are all mentioned throughout this article.
Uni is a challenging experience for most students; managing the workload, jobs, and a social life all at the same time, it can prove to be tough at times. With the added pressures of numerous lockdowns and online lectures in addition to this balancing act, it’s fair to say the last two years especially have been demanding for students.
As we come to the end of Men’s Mental Health Month – where you’ve hopefully been spotting some very impressive moustaches around the Toon – we spoke to male students in Newcastle to share their experiences and thoughts surrounding men’s mental health.
To keep the anonymity of the men who shared their experiences with us, we have used fake names throughout this article.
Brad – “I knew I wasn’t okay, but I didn’t feel like anybody would take me seriously”
Third year student Brad who struggled with depression mostly between the ages of 15 and 19 said: “I think what took me so long to get help was society was telling me that I should be able to sort things out on my own. I knew I wasn’t okay, but I didn’t feel like I could turn to anybody or that anybody would take me seriously”.
Brad went to his GP at the age of 15 after feeling depressed for almost a year to seek help, but he says his feelings were branded as “just mood swings” and was told “you’ll be fine”. This led to his emotions spiralling, and he struggled for over two years as he felt he didn’t know who to turn to.
When he sought help for the second time and was listened to however, he described it as “a huge weight off my shoulders” and that being diagnosed with depression was a positive step. “It sounds weird but getting diagnosed with depression was one of the best things that ever happened to me because it validated all the feelings I was battling in my head.
“I felt like nobody was going to take me seriously and that society didn’t care enough to check in on teenage boys…It made things very difficult to prove because it didn’t seem like anything was obviously ‘wrong’ with me, and I honestly feel if I was a girl I would’ve been taken more seriously”
Dan – Eating disorders are “mainly seen as a women’s issue”
Another theme which was clear from multiple men who spoke to us was their perception of gendered differences in relation to mental health issues.
Dan didn’t even realise he had an eating disorder until his sports psychologist expressed feelings of concerns to him. He told us: “It’s definitely seen as women’s issue rather than both, men and women. It’s definitely present in both genders but actually I’ve got a few friends who also suffered from ED but on a much larger scale to me and they’re all women”.
Dan also shared with us how he likes to speak more openly about having an eating disorder in order to help others, after he didn’t acknowledge his own struggles to begin with “Now I’d be so glad to talk about it because I think it’s good to bring awareness to it as a lot of people might also have or start to have ED but just don’t realise it.”
Fred – “What people don’t understand is that 90 per cent of it is talking in the first place”
Fred’s been a big supporter of men’s mental health awareness, but not always received constructive responses.
“I support a charity called ‘Boys Get Sad Too’, who make amazing clothing with the proceeds going to charity. On two occasions, the message upon a t-shirt with their brand on it has been mocked by girls, one of whom had a post about men’s mental health on her story that exact day.
“My point is here that being a lad nowadays is incredibly hard when it comes to reaching out for help. It’s very simply brushed off by saying ‘just talk to someone’ when the person in need can be in a very dark place. What people don’t understand is that 90 per cent of it is talking in the first place and recognising that something’s not okay.
“Lads are very cool at bottling their emotions and they know it, which makes them even worse as they know they have the capability to keep it in, and so the pain only gets worse as a result. It’s a tough one because it really is a whole societal issue”
Adam – “It’s difficult find those moments to bring stuff up”
Adam, a second-year student who plays professional rugby and struggles with depression, told us how from a young age he was taught to bottle his emotions up: “I learnt to keep stuff to myself… Sometimes feelings go up and down and when I’m down overthinking kicks in and leads to depressive thoughts.”
Adam also talked about how his experience talking about mental health with his fellow guys at Rugby: “It’s difficult to talk to others about it and keep on top of it sometimes. It’s been good and bad, does bring people a lot closer to talk about things when they come up, but it’s difficult finding those moments to bring stuff up.
“It’s a good laugh but has got me into a but of trouble sometimes so then puts me back into shit thoughts.”
Nick – “The prejudice behind men’s mental health is dwindling nowadays”
Nick, an engineering student who has suffered with severe anxiety for the last 18 months, spoke about how when he learned more about his anxiety, it helped him talk about it with others more: “At first telling people about it was hard, but after I had spoken to family and doctors I learned what it was. From that, as I’m an outgoing person I was able to tell people quite easily at uni and their response was brilliant”
He’s optimistic about the changing response men receive when talking about their mental health: “The prejudice behind mens mental health is dwindling nowadays… I haven’t personally received any bad treatment or stigma and anyone I have told boy or girl etc has been so understanding.”
Callum – “The most important step is speaking to someone you trust”
In relation to speaking out, Callum who has suffered from depression from 16 and is now 21, left us a reply with a powerful message about speaking out based on his own experiences;
“The most important step is always speaking to someone you trust and letting them know as it makes you feel like you’re not alone in these feelings. Your friends and family will only want to help you and I’ve never once felt judged when I’ve told someone.
“I went through loads of counsellors and medication before I found the right things to make me feel better, so don’t feel discouraged if you are feeling like nothing you try is making you feel better. There is something or someone out there that will help you”
Just checking in is an article series by The Tab running alongside Men’s Health Awareness Month. The series aims to shed light on issues that predominantly affect men.
If you or someone you know has been affected by this story, please speak to someone or contact Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. You can also contact Anxiety UK on 03444 775 774, Mind on 0300 123 3393, and Calm (Campaign against living miserably, for men aged 15 to 35) on 0800 58 58 58.