MENtal Health

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Understanding the stigma that surrounds mental health issues in men
James Lowring
Whether or not the sun was out, it felt like the rainiest day in a long time. Students were sitting in the courtyard outside the school, crying amongst themselves or with friends. There wasn’t a smile for a 5-mile radius. Teachers were walking along the sea of students with affirmations of “I love you and he loved you.” Unfortunately, these words were not strong enough to cut through the emotions pouring out. Three hundred or so students had just lost a close friend to a tragic accident, something no one was prepared to deal with. It was unfair, unjust, the kind of thing that should only happen in sad movies. This, however, was 100% real. One untrained horse, two kicks to the chest, and that was the end for Riley Jinks.

Riley Jenks, above, was the author’s best friend. He was taken suddenly in a horse accident.

I can never forget the feeling of loss, emptiness, hopelessness. I walked into the church while hundreds of others did the same. The church was packed with life, all there to celebrate a life lost too soon. I was inching up the line of friends of family, walking towards my final goodbye. About halfway to the casket, my history teacher asked me a question from a pew.
“Are you ok?” she barely whispered. I shook my head no. She got up and grabbed my shoulders tightly. “You have to go up there for him,” she said, looking at me straight in the eyes. I continued to slowly trot myself to the casket. There he lay, completely lifeless, without the smile that he always had. That’s when I knew that my friend had truly passed on to somewhere better. All I could think about was how I wished I could take his place. Truly, he deserved to live more than me, right? My friend was gone, and all I could do was weep. I wept until my face hurt, leaving myself a completely empty vessel that could only grieve over the fact that my friend was only allowed sixteen years to live his life. I barely got to be a part of it, but I never could have imagined just how this tragedy would affect me in the future.
This article published in the April 30, 2022, print edition

Nothing was ever the same. Life just did not feel worth it anymore. School felt empty, and so did I. This was the first time I had lost a close friend, and I was haunted by thoughts of life ending every day. He was so young, what was stopping the same tragic accident from happening to me, my family or
other close friends? I was a wreck, but my mother helped me through a lot of it, always trying to keep me happy even when it felt impossible. The feeling of love from my family, as well as a desire to keep my friend’s legacy alive, encouraged me to be the best me I can be.
To be like Riley.
These past three years I have learned about mental health and how it can impact daily living. The most important lesson for me has been understanding the stigma that surrounds mental health issues in men. Growing up, we are often just told to “man up.” It is not always that easy to do.
Crying is perceived as weakness from others, just because it is an act of vulnerability. According to Mental Health America, over six million men suffer from depression every year, and it is crazy to know how few of them receive help for it. I live in the Pi Kappa Phi house at NSU with several other guys, and I had some questions I wanted to ask regarding their history with mental health, and what help they received for it, if any.
My Pi Kappa Phi brother, Andrew Dubriske, is a great student. He has a 4.0 GPA and is a member of the Scholar’s College at NSU. Being a senior means that assignments are through the roof, so I asked him about his motivations in school as well as his mental health struggles that come along with keeping perfect grades.
“I’m here first and foremost for an education, and if I am failing in my studies, I am wasting the time I have at college.” Dubriske said after being asked about his motivations in school.
Dubriske added, “The amount of homework I do has been taxing on my mental health, but I love the challenge, and being able to say I can overcome any obstacles.”
Dubriske’s older brother Nathaniel passed away when Andrew was a young boy, and it has had a massive impact on his development as a man.

I asked him if he has ever received help in coping with the trauma and mental struggles he has experienced. He said, “In ninth grade I saw a psychiatrist, and I have gone to on-campus counseling once or twice since moving to Natchitoches.”
Dubriske says that reading, playing video games and listening to progressive rock music are his favorite things to do when he is feeling down.
Not only is senior year of college a demanding time, but also the first year. Everything is new, the classes seem so hard, and it is widely thought of as the last step into becoming an adult in the real world. This begs the question of how some first-year students have struggled and overcome obstacles since making the leap to university.
Jacob Croom is a first-year biology major. He opened up to me when asked about his journey in overcoming his personal challenges.
“My first semester at NSU, I had problems with anxiety and stress,” Croom said, adding that, “I had trouble adjusting to the college environment.”
“I sought out the counselors on campus, as well as people who had gone through similar situations. The counselor was the biggest help for me,” Croom said.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2019 the rate of suicides that year for men was 3.7 times higher (22.4 per 100,000) than among women (6.0 per 100,000). This is not okay. The stigma will never stop existing if young men continue to be raised by the “man up” philosophy. That reasoning plants the idea of consistently acting masculine and never letting slip their true emotions. In college especially, it is not hard to find harmful ways to cope, such as drugs or alcohol. It is never shameful to reach out for help when you need it, no matter the gender. Counseling is available if you need it, and there will always be someone out there to lend a hand if your mental health is not in check.
I know it because it happened to me. I remember January 2021 when I finally fell apart mentally and asked my mom to take me to the doctor. I was scared, but ready to find help. The doctor prescribed me antidepressants, something I never thought I would need. The first time taking them it felt as if every depressive thought was pushed to the very back of my mind. It was like walking the desert for days and finally finding a stream of water. It was pure relief. I finally felt that I could start my life again, happier.
Now, as I inch closer to my college graduation, I feel more ready than ever to take on the real world. I have had my struggles, but through the love of my family, antidepressants and counseling, I now know how to better deal with them. I have a daily reminder that I use to keep myself leveled out: It’s all in your mental(head).
Every day I think about my friend Riley’s passing. I go back to the wake, the funeral, the burial. Those sad thoughts will never go away, but neither will the memories I have. While that time in my life was truly heartbreaking, it helped shape me into a stronger man. One who knows when and how to seek help. Some people may believe that vulnerability is weakness, but to me, it is strength.

The Suicide Hotline will change to simply 988 starting July 1