…And One Guy Says to the Other…

Caroline Eretzen

Caroline Erentzen
PhD Candidate, York University

Last week, Caroline Erentzen discussed her research into the use of humor in mental health awareness campaigns and how tapping into men’s so-called feminine traits reduces their defensiveness. This week, we look at how we might use this information to help more men get care.

Care for Your Mind (CFYM): To what extent do you believe these approaches would resonate with men of different races and cultures? How might that be investigated?

Caroline Erentzen: Coping and adaptation are highly complex notions, and both are highly culturally determined. Mental health itself varies across cultures, with some psychopathologies appearing with different prevalence and others manifesting in different forms. For example, in East Asia, depression and anxiety are more likely to present as physical ailments rather than emotional distress (i.e., somatization). There is some evidence that in China, for instance, there is greater concern about stigma and family reputation surrounding mental illness than we observe in Canada. Our own (Western) notion is that we want to encourage people to seek help, either from a professional counselor/psychologist or by reaching out to a social support network. Certainly, more research would be needed for targeted audiences.

CFYM: How do current concepts of gender fluidity or gender spectrum support or detract from this work?

Caroline Erentzen: This is a great question, one that needs far more research. Our research found that traditional concepts of masculinity were not reliably related to stigmatizing thoughts about mental health and help-seeking. Rather, it was men’s traditional “femininity” that predicted willingness to seek help, to eschew the stigma, to help a friend who is struggling with mental illness. Our own study focused primarily on men who identify as men, but I would anticipate that similar results would be observed with transgendered or non-binary persons.

When we move beyond traditional and outdated concepts of gender roles and masculine versus feminine traits, we see that it is more about specific personality dimensions that could be endorsed by anyone. What we have traditionally called masculine is really just a cluster of personality traits that anyone can endorse. I think we are moving away from the rigid dichotomy of binary gender and the traits any one gender might endorse. We believe that this could be adapted to other communities, including trans and non-binary gender identities. In the present research, we relied on tropes around male-male friendships, but this approach could be modified to be relevant to different communities. The process of using humour to break the ice is one that could apply to many communities and social/health issues (e.g., some research has looked at using humour to discuss sensitive topics such as skin cancer/sun screen, condoms, and obesity).

CFYM: What would you suggest that advocates do to put those findings into action? (Parenthetically, we previously profiled the “Seize the Awkward” campaign of the Jed Foundation and MassMen, both of which incorporate humor. Is Seize the Awkward based on your work?)

Caroline Erentzen: Seize the Awkward is not based on our work (I wish it were!), although it seems that they are using a similar approach. Our own research showed the beneficial effect that humour can have on ameliorating the fear and intimidation around mental health campaigns. The humour we used was respectful and incidental to mental health issues; we were careful to avoid making mental illness the target of the joke but rather to show a humorous image unrelated to mental illness at all. We used a series of still images with captions that encouraged young men to reach out to a struggling friend. For example, one ad showed a picture of a car whose door was replaced with large amounts of duct tape, with the caption: “You’d help a friend fix his car. Why not help him get a tune up of his own?” Another showed a picture of friends reading study notes in a hot tub, with the caption “You’d help a friend study. Why not help him get answers he really needs?”

The idea is to show a lighthearted picture that represents the ways that men help each other all the time and linking it to helping them with their mental health. Humour can be a very successful icebreaker for talking about difficult topics, and it can increase attention to messages and more positive feelings about those messages. As long as the humor does not mock or belittle the issue of mental health, it can make the subject more relatable and less threatening to a reluctant audience.

Editor’s Notes:

  1. As described in the last question above, the study used care to avoid making mental illness the target of the joke but rather to show a humorous image unrelated to mental illness at all.
  2. To complete the title, “What’s a nice guy like you doing in a place like this?” Suggest a better punch line on our Facebook post!

What do you think?

  • What do you think would be effective strategies to encourage men to seek help for mental health conditions?
  • What suicide prevention or mental health awareness campaigns have you thought were especially good and why?
  • What other resources do you suggest to supplement those below?

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Bio

Caroline Erentzen is a Ph.D. candidate at York University, working under the supervision of Dr. Regina Schuller. She completed an Honour’s BA and a Master’s degree at the University of Western Ontario in Social Psychology, specializing in prejudice and discrimination. Following that, she completed a law degree from Queen’s University in 2006. Her research explores the way that psychology can inform legal processes, including wrongful convictions, intimate partner violence, and expectations of the model hate crime victim.


Additional Resources

Men and Mental Health

On Care for Your Mind

A Few Personal Stories

Celebrities

Get Help and Help Others

Videos about men and mental health you might like

Shame Over: It’s Time to Talk About Men’s Mental Health (HuffPost) (3 mins)

[Former] Professional Basketball Player Greg Stiemsma on having depression (8 mins)

REAL TALK: Black Boys Don’t Cry; Mental Health w/ Black Men (Cindyrella OG) (27 mins.)

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