Column: Why the stigmatization of male depression is dangerous

“Due to the stigmatization of men’s mental health, seeking help has been looked upon as a sign of weakness, which has been why a lot of men, like myself, have often hesitated to reach out for mental help or even discuss the topic with trusted friends,” says Features Editor Colby Guy.


Illustration by J.R. Pfeiffer.

Colby Guy, Features Editor

On Thursday, Sept. 10, which just so happened to be World Suicide Prevention Day, controversial sports talkshow host Skip Bayless told Dak Prescott that he “has no sympathy” for him and his struggles with depression because of his job as quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys on his FS1 show Undisputed.

To put all of this into context, Prescott had lost his brother, Jace, to a suicide death on April 24 and had been suffering from depression during the COVID-19 pandemic, which had been amplified by the loss of his brother.

The message Bayless gave was incredibly insensitive, perceived as not caring, as he was telling those who struggle with depression that their feelings are invalid and that they need to toughen up because of whatever responsibilities they may have.

In an attempt to apologize to those who are suffering from depression during the next airing of Undisputed, following twitter backlash for his comments, Bayless still doubled down on this take. 

“The only dark depression I addressed on yesterday’s show was from an interview he taped with Graham Bensinger. Dak said that depression happened soon after the pandemic hit, early in the quarantine,” Bayless said. “I said yesterday that if Dak needed help for pandemic depression, he should have sought counseling then.”

I am here to tell those who are struggling that these statements made by Bayless are wrong. Your struggles aren’t invalid, you aren’t weak for feeling the way you feel, and you should be able to deal with your struggles however you feel comfortable dealing with them.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression, and I am one of them. A lot of what Bayless said is dangerous and can create a stigma around what people like Prescott and me suffer from.

I felt attacked when Bayless told Prescott that his feelings are invalid because he has to be a leader for younger players who are trying to learn from him. After all, as the Features Editor of the University Press, I have to be that teacher figure to some of our contributing writers at times.

Often, I would come into work in an extremely bad mood because of all of my struggles with depression, which often caused me to lose sleep and not be animated all the time. I always get nervous that the way I felt would rub off on my co-workers.

As someone who is expected to lead, I always feel like I’m expected to be upbeat and have a positive mindset that will affect the rest of the group, but I find it hard to keep it that way.

What Bayless said made me think about how my leadership abilities have been hindered by the fact that I come into work with a myriad of thoughts of self-loathing and hopelessness, but that’s the stigma that comes with depression, and I am here to tell anyone that is struggling with depression that they are not alone.

“We raise boys and men not to cry, not to show emotions. That is amplified further when you’re working in a high-pressure sector which is incredibly competitive,” Poppy Jaman, Chief Executive of the UK’s City Mental Health Alliance told Supply Chain Digital, a digital community website for the global supply chain and logistics industry.

This perpetuated standard for men to be strong and emotionless has pressured us to not seek help, and in turn, to keep their feelings of depression to themselves and suffer in silence.

The American Psychological Association states that nine percent of men have daily feelings of depression, while only 1 in 4 of those men actually spoke to a mental health professional.

Due to the stigmatization of men’s mental health, seeking help has been looked upon as a sign of weakness, which has been why a lot of men, like myself, have often hesitated to reach out for mental help or even discuss the topic with trusted friends.

The idea of looking like a coward according to society’s standards has been a thought that’s crossed my mind, as well as other men’s lives around the world, including Robin Lehner, the former New York Islanders and current Vegas Golden Knights goaltender, who suffered from bipolar depression and recovered after seeking help.

Lehner went on to win the NHL’s Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy “for best exemplifying the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey” the 2018-19 season. He also played well enough that season to finish as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, which awards the best goaltender of that season, while also leading the New York Islanders to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“I took that first step, got help, and that was life-changing for me. And that’s something we gotta keep pushing for. We gotta end the stigma,” Lehner said in his Masterton Memorial Trophy acceptance speech. “I’m not ashamed to say I’m mentally ill, but that doesn’t mean mentally weak.”

Lehner had opened up in an article for The Athletic in which he told the story of a panic attack he had during his tenure with the Buffalo Sabres in March 2018. This incident led him to address the substance abuse he had been using to cope with his depression.

“Since the new year began, I had been feeling severely depressed and my drinking increased,” Lehner said. “I was heavily drinking a case of beer a day just to settle the demons in my mind and then took pills to sleep. I was self-treating myself because I could not be inside my head by myself. The thoughts of ending it all, it was real and close.”

Lehner went on to participate in a program sponsored by the NHL and the NHLPA to get the help he needed that summer, and now he is happier than ever and had just finished playing for a shot at the Stanley Cup with the Vegas Golden Knights after getting eliminated in the Western Conference Finals by the Dallas Stars.

While I can’t say I’ve fully addressed and fixed all of my issues surrounding my depression, stories like Lehner’s have given me hope that things will get better eventually for me and it makes me feel like all of my emotions are valid.

If you need therapy or counseling of any kind, go seek it. If you need to talk to your doctor about antidepressants, then go ahead and do it. You have so many options to help improve your mental health, and I promise you that you are not invalid at all for exploring them.

Although it may not seem like it, we are one of many people in this fight with depression, and although the stigmatization of our mental health continues to be perpetuated, our feelings are valid and we are not weak.

Colby Guy is the Features Editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @thatguycolbs.