Male help seeking behavior is an issue that has resonated with me on a personal and professional level. Personally, I am very reluctant to seek help, both personally as well professionally. After reviewing literature on male seeking behaviour, it became apparent that males have a legitimate struggle with the concept of help seeking. According to the information listed in the 2013 Kids Helpline Overview, “boys and young men account for 22% of all telephone counselling contacts and 12% of online counselling contacts” (“Kids Helpline Overview,” 2013). Men are typically known to avoid seeking help if they experience problems. Furthermore, various studies have revealed that men from diverse backgrounds, including a range of ages, socio-economic status or ethnicity, are generally less likely than women to seek help for mental health issues. Regardless of the context of individuals, it appears that, generally speaking, all males are less likely to seek help than females. Both females and males are instilled with a specific set of principles and behaviours from a young age, that assist with the identification of what it is to be a male or female. The ability for a person to admit there is a need for professional help tends to be more common in females, which has a direct association with the focus that is placed on males to be more self-reliant, to be physically tough and have control of their emotions.
I have only ever once sought professional help in my life regarding my own mental health, when I was in my early twenties. This was a time when I was struggling on a number of levels, pertaining to the adjustments required in coping with adulthood as well as dealing with the aftermath of a relationship ending. In this instance, I sought the help of a local general practitioner, and at the time, this was enough help for me. I came to this decision to seek help by myself, but I did tolerate a lot of anxiety and sleepless nights before deciding to see a doctor. Therefore, it needed to become quite serious before I would take any action. In my own mind, if my mental health deteriorated again to this severity, I am confident I would seek help. On a professional level, if I was having a hard time at work, it would be highly unlikely that I would seek out the help of my superiors. I can hypothesise that the probable course of action I would take would be to speak to my wife, family or close friends, rather than seeking formal help from staff leadership. I personally haven’t experienced workplace bullying or harassment, and therefore can’t comment on actions that could be taken if this type of incident was to arise. However, I have personally witnessed bullying towards a work colleague. My role in this situation was largely as a listener for my colleague who attempted to manage the issue himself over many months, which was then eventually escalated. It is interesting that my colleague made a conscious choice to “put up with” the bullying for such a long time before taking official action with the leadership team.
In a secondary schooling context, the number of students who actively seek help with counsellors is traditionally very small, and is generally only as a direct result of a staff or parent referral to the welfare team, rather than the student seeking the help themselves. I have spoken with a secondary college counselor, who suggested that there is very much an instilled stigma in schools for boys to see a counsellor; that amongst peers, seeking this type of help would be considered as weak or unmanly. This counsellor made comments regarding the general feeling that they were on the lower end of the scale with regards to their school’s priorities. After researching this area, my personal attitude towards help seeking has not changed, however, my attitude towards this issue from a student wellbeing point of view has improved. I feel that I am acutely aware of this stigma and reluctance of males seeking help and now have an appreciation of ensuring there are appropriate referrals and follow up of male students who may need or benefit from counselling. Having an awareness of male behaviours and attitudes with regards to help seeking, I believe my role as a teacher will improve with regards to monitoring student wellbeing in my classes.
The data from research, my own personal experiences, both personally and professionally, and discussions I had with a schools counsellor, clearly demonstrate that there is a genuine problem regarding male student help seeking behaviour in schools. As we are educators in both wellbeing and curriculum, then it is evident that all staff and teachers need to continue to be trained in the area of counselling and when it is appropriate.
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