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Fighting the stigma: June marks Men's Mental Health Awareness Month

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Hector Martinez with The Sheridan Press, via the Wyoming News Exchange

SHERIDAN — Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month is recognized in June, and Volunteers of America Vice President of Correctional and Residential Services Richard Burton believes it is important for individuals not to feel ashamed when it comes to discussing their mental health and to break down the stigma that causes men to suppress their emotions and fear being vulnerable.

“I think that’s the biggest part, is a lot of people don’t want to get help because there’s a stigma associated with it,” Burton said. “Men are less likely to come forward more than women due to the current concern of social judgment and obviously the stigma, so I think to help break the barriers down is essential to foster and support those men.”

In the state of Wyoming, approximately 20% of residents have faced adverse childhood experiences, which significantly impacts overall behavioral health, Burton said. The rate of serious mental illness among Wyoming residents is slightly above average with 5.4% of adults in the state suffering from severe mental health illness, compared to 4.8% nationally, Burton said.

Burton believes in order to break the stigma of men's mental health, people need to ask the difficult questions.

“You just have to have the empathy and compassion. Just ask the question and let them know that you’re there and that you’re willing to help them,” he said.

Although men may not be as likely to come forward about their struggles with mental health, Burton said their friends and family can watch for signs that they’re struggling: isolation, withdrawing from activities they normally love to do and showing difficulty articulating their feelings.

It’s important for those who notice these signs in a loved one to take the next step and approach the person with a conversation about his struggles.

VOA Senior Director of Communications Ryan Wilson believes empathy can go a long way in having a conversation about men’s mental health.

“I think that’s the gateway to a good conversation when it comes to men’s mental health. I think because it’s this big creature that we don’t talk about, but you never know if the person standing next to you is of the same mindset or is struggling with the same things. Sometimes all it takes is a conversation to take that barrier down and bridge the gap between two people who are struggling,” Wilson said.

After having the difficult conversation, the next big step is to help the person find the resources that he needs and keep the situation confidential, Burton said.

Resources are available in the Sheridan area for people who are struggling with mental health. The VOA provides a range of mental health services for both men and women. The VOA’s residential services are dual diagnosis — not only treating substance abuse, but also helping with the mental health component. The organization also allows people to seek support through peer support.

VOA’s goal is to ensure there is no judgment toward people who are seeking help.

“I think that’s the big part, is to get support and help the people, the clients, to get what they need. We can’t hold any kind of judgment. It doesn’t matter if they’re male or female, it doesn't matter what the situation is. We’re there to support them and help them,” Burton said.

Burton believes it is important to start the conversation about the importance of mental health with the youth in order for them to be educated and to be able to have the language to be able to label those mental struggles.

“To kind of start helping, kind of work in that direction. That way, they know it’s okay to talk about this stuff and things are going to get tougher as they go along throughout life, but then they have the words for it. They can name it something; they know it’s depression or whatever the thought might be,” he said.

At the end of the day, the best way to raise awareness for men’s mental health is to simply continue the conversation and to get the word out, Burton said.

“I think we need to make sure that it’s more advertised and more pronounced like, ‘Hey, this is what this month is all about. This is what we’re trying to get at.’ To try to help the men who have mental health issues to get help, so i think it’s more just getting the word out there,” he said.

This story was published on June 8, 2024.

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