New men’s mental health club strives to create safe space for all

‘The main thing that we can do is just talk about it,’ said a founder of a new mental health club on campus.

A new men’s mental health club recently started on campus, and organizers hope it will help create a safe space where students can be vulnerable and support one another.

The USC Men’s Mental Health Initiative aims to destigmatize men’s mental health in a campus setting by facilitating conversation through discussions and activities.

“Some of my friends, who are male, have said comments to me regarding mental health that building into the stigma. Statements such as ‘I feel weak, right now,’ ‘I don’t want to talk’ or ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this,’ ‘I should be stronger,’ ‘I should be manly,’” said Sam Stack, founder and president of USC MMHI.

Stack, a sophomore communications major, said hearing those kinds of comments from those close to him led him to want to create a place where people can talk things out and break the stigma around men’s mental health, especially in college-aged men. USC MMHI acts as a peer-to-peer support group to facilitate these discussions.

“If someone’s kind of feeling down, they can come and use this as a safe place where they can choose to share or just choose to listen and see that they’re not alone,” Stack said.

Contrary to the name, meetings are open to anyone, not just men. The meetings begin with a presentation and lecture about a specific topic within mental illness, including common ones within college and the symptoms and signs of these illnesses. The lecture is then followed by a discussion session facilitated with questions and then opens to anything, including how to help break the stigma.

“I think for us, it’s kind of just about strengthening the bonds of our existing community and making our community more vulnerable and more open to these kinds of conversations so that nobody ever feels like they can’t speak up about this,” said Yoav Gillath, vice president of the club. “If they’re going through something, they do have someone to turn to.”

Gillath said mental illness and challenges “should be something people talk about all the time.”

“Just like you say, ‘Oh, you have a cold right now?’” Gillath said. “Sorry, you’re dealing with the sniffles.”

Within the club, it is made clear that everything said is confidential. People can come and share what they’ve experienced and what they’re feeling, or they can choose to just listen.

“I guess the take-home message is it’s cool to join together and try to give each other understanding and hope,” Saks said.

Men’s mental health is discussed far less than women’s mental health. Because of this, there is a more prevalent stigma when it comes to men’s mental health. The frequently used term “toxic masculinity,” and the pressure to act “manly,” position men to seek help much less than women. Because of this, men often suffer in silence.

“There are gender differences in terms of health seeking, so it’s kind of well known that women are more likely to reach out to get help for depression and anxiety,” said Elyn Saks, a mental health law professor at Gould School of Law.

“One question is why is that? It may partly be the stereotypical strong independent man who doesn’t need help, but we don’t know for sure,” she said.

Mental health is being more commonly talked about now more than ever before, and it is becoming less taboo, but there is still work to be done.

“I think connecting with each other is just a really great thing to do,” Saks said. “The stigma is getting better. I think connecting with each other is just a really great thing to do. People are willing to accept help more, and people are willing to provide more help. It’s going in the right direction.”

While women experience higher rates of mental health issues, men are more likely to die from suicide.

“Men commit suicide at much higher frequencies, and they receive treatment at much lower frequencies for anxiety for depression,” Gillath said. “Things go untreated for a variety of reasons, whether it’s the fact that men don’t reach out because it’s stigmatized or the fact that if they do reach out, they don’t get diagnosed a lot of time with these disorders.”

Breaking the walls people often put up is a main goal of the club.

The most frequent answer to the thoughtless question of “how are you?” is “good.” But the person answering the question might not actually be good. Taking a deeper dive into these conversations and expanding the dialogue to get people to feel more comfortable asking for help is another aim of the club.

“One of the main reasons people don’t talk is because they feel so alone and feel so isolated,” Stack said. “But once you get into these groups, once you get into these peer-to-peer settings where you realize that other people are going through similar things that you’re feeling and similar emotions, you are way more inclined to open up and kind of dissect why you’re feeling the way you are, rather than keeping it in and having a build up over time.”

While it’s easy to get caught up going through the motions in college, it is important to remember to check in on yourself and your loved ones. The smallest things can make the biggest impacts.

“Just don’t keep it in, just know that there are so many resources and so many people around you willing to talk to you whether you know that or not,” Stack said. “Know that you are not alone in what you’re feeling.”

He added that college students are “all going through these times together.”

“Even though you may feel isolated, or kind of in that dark, lonely place, many other people are going through the same emotions you’re feeling,” Stack said. “And all it takes is just one talk. Checking in on friends and just opening that conversation. The main thing that we can do is just talk about it.”

Along with reaching out and seeking help, it’s important to take time to step away on a daily basis whether it’s to get some fresh air, reading, taking a deep breath or unplugging from technology.

“It’s just being comfortable and asking questions that make you uncomfortable as well,” Stack said. “It’s important to do that. When someone asks, be honest, be truthful.

In the future, club officials said they hope to bring in professionals in the mental health and psychology fields.

To find out about upcoming meetings and events, students can follow the club on Instagram. Meetings are held on Mondays from 7-8 p.m. and free pizza is provided at the meetings.