Male university students suggested approaches that would encourage them to seek help with their mental health. Examples include providing male-only spaces, and using positive masculine narratives of help-seeking. Terms other than ‘mental health’ could be used to describe group sessions.
The study’s recommendations are important and relevant because men are less likely to ask for help than women. Young men are at especially high risk of mental health problems and suicide.
These findings could be used to encourage male students to seek help. This may reduce the number of young men seriously affected by mental health problems.
What’s the issue?
Young men aged 18 to 25 are most at risk of developing disorders such as schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression. About two in three (69%) students who die by suicide in UK universities are male. The number of students reporting a mental health condition is rising.
Compared to women, men are less positive about counselling and other psychological services. They are also less likely to seek help.
Universities are being asked to improve the mental health support they offer, but there is little evidence about how best to do this. This study suggests some ways of encouraging male students to seek help.
Researchers recruited 24 male university students from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Three focus group sessions provided a supportive environment and the opportunity for deeper discussion.
The groups explored the barriers preventing young men from seeking help. Researchers asked how these barriers could be overcome. They also asked about what potential interventions should look like and how they could be publicised.
Analysis of the data revealed five recommendations:
- to protect male vulnerability (e.g. by providing social support and a male-only space)
- to provide positive narratives of help-seeking (e.g. by using male role models)
- to offer brief sessions as well as informal options
- to explain to male students when and how to seek help (e.g. by improving routes to care and increasing knowledge of symptoms)
- to engage with male students sensitively (e.g. not labelling sessions as ‘mental health’ interventions, promoting them through student-led or university societies, and providing informal sessions).
Why is this important?
Many of the findings support existing research but some are new, like some students preferring informal help. Many men feel they should adhere to stereotypes of masculinity and they view seeking help as a sign of weakness.
Mental health support teams at universities could use the recommendations to design interventions. More engaging, male-sensitive interventions may result in more male students seeking help.
This study was part of a larger project to develop male-sensitive interventions. Findings from a systematic review of men’s help-seeking have already been used by the researchers to design and test mental health interventions for male students. They have also developed a framework for designing future interventions.
The next step is for the research team to carry out larger studies on the most promising approaches. They plan to publish the results soon.
You may be interested to read
The full paper: Sagar-Ouriaghli I, and others. Engaging male students with mental health support: a qualitative focus group study. BMC Public Health. 2020;20:1159.
The Men’s Sheds Association is a successful example of an informal mental health intervention aimed at men.
This video explores men's views of mental health and how they deal with it.
Research paper by the same group, detailing their framework for developing mental health interventions for male students: Sagar-Ouriaghli I, and others. Improving Mental Health Help-Seeking Behaviours for Male Students: A Framework for Developing a Complex Intervention. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2020;17:4965-4990.
This research was supported by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London.