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'It's OK not to be OK': Mental health campaign puts the spotlight on men

A Western University student club wants to make it easier for men to seek help and talk about their mental health challenges.

This year's campaign focuses on mental health and men of diverse backgrounds

Jacob Campbell says he was embarrassed to discuss his mental health with friends because 'it's not a norm for men to open up and confide in others.' (Alvin Yu)

Jacob Campbell can still remember the days when he would head home after class and sit in the dark until he fell asleep. 

"I would turn my phone off because I wouldn't want to talk to anybody," the fourth-year Western University student said, describing his struggles with mental health several years ago.

Campbell felt he couldn't seek help because there's an expectation that men "have to be tough … they have to be there to support others because they don't need support themselves."

But a student club at Western University is hoping to change that perception, one man at a time. 

Active Minds Western launched its fourth annual Men for Mental Health campaign earlier this month. The campaign provides a platform on the club's social media pages for male students such as Campbell to share their mental health struggles. 

When the campaign first started in 2016, club president Victoria Han said "it wasn't the norm in society at the time for men to really be speaking about [mental health]."

"That pressure to just appear fine is still present," she said. 

'I was scared about what people would think of me'

This year's Men for Mental Health campaign focuses on showcasing diversity, acknowledging it can be even harder for men of diverse backgrounds to talk about mental health. 

"We know that in certain cultures, men are even more pressured to keep quiet about their emotions and their feelings," Han said. 

It's something Irfan Jivraj, a fifth-year international student at Western University, knows all too well. 

Coming from Pakistan, he says mental health was "never really something that we really discussed at home or learned about in school."

Irfan Jivraj says he's participating in this year's campaign because he hopes more men can support other men on mental health. (Alvin Yu)

When Jivraj went through a difficult time in his undergrad, he felt he couldn't talk about it with his friends because that would show weakness as a man.

"I feel like I was living in my head the entire time," he said. "I was scared about what people would think of me."

Jivraj explains the responsibility he feels he has as a voice in this year's 'Men for Mental Health' campaign. 0:43

Eventually, Jivraj confided in a close friend who suggested he seek professional help from a counsellor. 

"I was a little skeptical," he said about seeing a residence counsellor. "Having gone through it, that is something that I am proud of myself for doing." 

'It's OK not to be OK'

When Campbell was asked to participate in this year's campaign, he initially hesitated. 

"I was like, 'No, I'm not going to do it,' because it almost feels like I'm airing my dirty laundry," he said. 

Despite being reluctant to speak publicly, Campbell says he eventually turned around on the idea. 

"I took a step back and I was like, 'OK just the fact I feel like that ... that's why I have to do this,'" he said. 

Campbell discusses why he thinks there's a stigma between men and mental health. 0:54

Since Campbell shared his story, he says he has received a lot of positive feedback from fellow students and even strangers from his hometown of Cornwall, Ont.

"This campaign started conversations back at home … where mental health wasn't even a concept," he said. "I've had people sharing their stories with me." 

For Han, the campaign is not necessarily about getting as many male students as possible to speak publicly about their mental health struggles. 

She says she just wants to make everyone on campus feel comfortable with being able to seek the support that they need.

"No matter who you are ... it's OK not to be OK."

About the Author

Alvin Yu

CBC staff

Alvin Yu is a consumer and business reporter and winner of an RTDNF Canada award. Yu set his sights on journalism early - as a kid he would anchor the news in the shower, hoping one day to make it to the big screen.

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