Five ways universities could improve mental health support for male students

A blog written by Dr June Brown, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology, Ilyas Sagar-Ouriaghli, NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre PhD Student, Vinay Tailor, MBBS at GKT School of Medical Education and Dr Emma Godfrey, Education Lead for the Department of Psychology.

Multiple studies and data show that male students appear reluctant to seek help and support for mental health conditions. They are also more likely to have negative attitudes towards the use of psychological services compared to their female counterparts.

Male students face a range of barriers such as limited knowledge of mental health symptoms and how (or whether it is appropriate) to access care and support. Furthermore, in the instances where they do seek out mental health support, they may not be met with support that they perceive as male-friendly.

Often it is the case that male students hold – or experience – strong, stigmatising beliefs such as feeling as though they should always be strong and independent, or that seeking help is a sign of weakness and being vulnerable. Some of these stigmas can be the result of factors including how men have been brought up and socialised around the topic of mental health, how mental health services are offered, and societies’ expectations of men.

Recruiting male voices

In our focus group study at the Institute of Psychology, Psychiatry & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, we asked 24 male students about the barriers that prevent young men from seeking help, how these barriers could be overcome and suggestions about possible ways to improve access.

From this, five key recommendations emerged:

  1. Engage with male students sensitively. For example, labelling sessions as ‘mental health’ interventions was felt to be stigmatising. It was suggested they should be promoted informally through student-led or university societies, providing incentives to engage (such as snacks), andto deliver mental health initiatives during key calendar events in the year, such as student orientation and exam weeks.
  2. Give more information to male students about when and how to seek help. For example, enable greater knowledge about symptoms to look out for and explain routes to mental health support.
  3. Provide more positive views of mental health. One suggestion was to ask male role models who had experienced mental health problems to give talks or attend events. Similarly, advertising initiatives across university campuses could fit in more with ‘positive values’, such as being responsible and looking after yourself.
  4. Offer brief support or therapy sessions with formal as well as informal choices, informal sessions were preferred by some students as these appeared easier to engage with. Fun activities (for example playing computer games or table tennis) could also be embedded within the sessions to facilitate engagement and provide an informal structure. However, formal sessions were still of interest as these were thought necessary to support those with challenging mental health symptoms.
  5. Be sensitive around what men need in terms of feeling vulnerable, and facilitate trusting environments. This could be done by providing more social support and a men-only space for male students.

To help put these recommendations in place we produced a short film ‘Men's views of mental health and how they deal with it’ with funding and support from the NIHR Maudsley BRC:

What can we learn from the male student perspective?

Engaging with mental health services was reported as threatening and intimidating for male students, which led to apprehension and reluctance to seek support. The focus group emphasised the importance of being sensitive to how men feel about seeking help, with some students preferring informal help rather than formal help. The students suggested that services should not be labelled as ‘mental health’ services but should be offered as a more ‘equal’ rather than one suggesting weakness.

Present university services do not necessarily fit this style of support. Male students need to be able to trust and feel comfortable about engaging with student or mental health services.

We hope our study can help shape higher education support service around the preferences and mindset of male students, and in doing so help improve engagement with these vital services. 

Further reading

Organisations helping men with their mental health include: Men's Sheds Association, Man Therapy and Movember.

Sagar-Ouriaghli I and others. Engaging male students with mental health support: a qualitative focus group study. BMC Public Health. 2020;20:1159. Available from:

Tags: Publications -

By NIHR Maudsley BRC at 14 Jun 2021, 10:00 AM

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