Group offers resources for men’s mental health


Trevor Drew

“I just want students to know it’s never a shameful thing to ask for help, no matter what it is,” Tommy Hickey, president of Men Outside the Box (MOB), said, encouraging male students to seek help and resources if they are facing mental health issues.

Formed two years ago, the mission of MOB is to change the cultural narrative of men in society by breaking down gender stereotypes, redefining masculinity, promoting acceptance for all forms of identity and providing a safe, judgment-free environment and a strong support network for all students, not just males, Hickey said.

According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death for all ages in 2013. In fact, there were 41,149 suicides in 2013 in the United States, a rate of 113 suicides each day or one every 13 minutes. The same report stated males take their own lives at nearly four times the rate of females and represent 77.9 percent of all suicides.

Young men, in general, are more likely to suffer from mental health issues, engage in risky behavior and are less likely to seek help for these issues than their female counterparts, NMU professor of sociology Alan McEvoy said, behavior he described as “counter phobic.”

“Counter-phobic behavior is the idea that a young man will often engage in risky things because they’re afraid of being called a coward,” McEvoy said. “Their fear of being called a coward drives them into risky behaviors that are unhealthy. Whether they are binge drinking, climbing a water tower or jumping from a height that is unsafe, it’s a way of defining their masculinity, but also they’re being pressured by other males to do these things.”

Males are also more likely to “police” other young men’s behavior, pressuring them to conform to a gender code, which is usually a narrow concept of what it means to truly be a fulfilled human, McEvoy said.

“Part of that gender code is you tough it out, you don’t seek help when you have problems, you don’t show vulnerability,” McEvoy said. “There’s almost this tacit code of silence when you’re dealing with something really problematic. You shrug it off, you tough it out.”

In an effort to break “toxic male silence,” MOB holds weekly meetings, at 7 p.m. Wednesday nights, Hickey said. The group meets in the lobby of Hunt and Van Antwerp halls to go over weekly announcements and upcoming events before proceeding to the residence halls’ basement to conduct a support meeting.

“We share a confidentiality statement so we know that nothing said here leaves this room,” Hickey said. “This is a place where we are here to support each other, help each other out and share the things we have in common and come out about the things we may be experiencing that are different from others.”

Hickey said the group also serves as an output of resources from health services such as Planned Parenthood, Pathways and the Great Lakes Recovery Center.

As a result of not sharing emotions and bottling up feelings, males can be subject to “emotional build-up,” which can lead to bursts of anger, decline in mental health and increase in destructive behavior, Hickey said, adding that ultimately, the best thing to do is have someone you can confide in.

“It doesn’t have to be me. It doesn’t have to be anyone involved in our group, but if there’s anything that you can take just from even realizing that a group like this exists, it’s just to confide in somebody when there is something that is stressing you out. Have someone that you vent to and don’t bottle it up,” Hickey said.

In observance of the upcoming Self Acceptance Week, the group will post anonymous statements from male students around campus about their experiences from April 15 through April 20, Hickey said.