The Scoop: About 30% of American men will struggle with depression during their lives, and that depression may be exacerbated by a stigma that prevents them from seeking a diagnosis or treatment. HeadsUpGuys offers men a place to find valuable resources and feel less alone or stigmatized by depression. HeadsUpGuys is an organization based out of the University of British Columbia that provides a confidential place for men to assess their depression, tools to help them cope, and a supportive community of peers.
Many men battle depression, but myths and societal pressures often prevent them from showing how they feel. One myth is that if you’re not in control of your emotions, you’re not very manly.
Another is that men should be able to recover from depression by themselves. But what many men don’t realize is that, if they can’t cope with their feelings, seeking help is actually a way to control the situation.
Those are just some of the barriers they confront when dealing with mental health issues. Men are three to four times more likely than women to commit suicide, but they also may face a stigma that prevents them from speaking openly about their issues.
Dr. John Ogrodniczuk, Professor and Director of the Psychotherapy Program at the University of British Columbia, said many men don’t seek the help they need. So Dr. Ogrodniczuk, along with a small team, founded HeadsUpGuys, a website where men can find information and resources to support their journey toward better mental health.
“Often, men aren’t getting help for mental health challenges like depression, which puts them at risk. There aren’t many tools online for men, so we filled a need. The traffic we get to the site demonstrates that need,” Dr. Ogrodniczuk said.
Men can access resources that range from taking a comprehensive stress test to accessing contact information for counselors and psychologists who can help them. The platform also encourages visitors by sharing stories of other men who have faced depression and discovered methods that helped them cope to encourage others to do the same.
Helping Men to Self-Diagnose Their Depression
HeadsUpGuys mostly helps men from Canada, the United States, and the U.K., though visitors from other parts of the world also make their way to the platform.
According to Dr. Ogrodniczuk, 75% of traffic to the site comes from organic sources, including Google searches. And he said he is grateful that his website offers an alternative to the dark places of the web that condone suicide.
“A lot of them relate to how to carry out suicide. Rather than clicking on those results, they choose to go to a site like ours that offers some help. That’s clearly indicating that people don’t want to die; they just want their pain to go away,” Dr. Ogrodniczuk said.
Many men who visit the website are looking for ways to feel better, but they can’t see ways out of their current situations.
When men visit the HeadsUpGuys website, they can take advantage of the Self-Check tool to identify whether their negative feelings indicate that they might be depressed. Men are asked to answer Self-Check questions, including whether they’re having trouble sleeping or regularly feeling restless, symptoms not always associated with depression.
After that, men can take the Stress Test, which helps them consider what factors may be causing their depression. The test asks men to consider factors weighing heavily on their minds at the moment, including the death of a loved one, a personal injury, or substance abuse issues.
“From thousands of guys who have taken the Stress Test so far, we know the big stressors are lack of meaning and loneliness. That is striking because those aren’t topics that are talked about much at all. But the men themselves are saying they’re struggling with these things,” Dr. Ogrodniczuk said.
Coping with Mental Illness by Building Support Systems
After helping men identify depression, HeadsUpGuys offers them ways to accept their situation and improve their mental health.
One of the most powerful aspects of the website are stories from other men who have struggled with depression. On the Your Stories page, Matt shared his experience:
“The second big thing that helped was realizing that having emotions, feeling inadequate, and struggling to find my path didn’t make me less of a man, it made me human,” he wrote. “In my recovery from suicidal depression, it has very much crystallized in my mind that outdated notions of what it meant to be a man kept me sick for a long time and sometimes still stands in the way of me feeling like I can be truly authentic.”
The website links users to the next steps, which may include consulting a doctor or incorporating mental health-boosting tips into their regular routines.
For instance, some of the symptoms of depression may be overeating or eating too little. A user could navigate to the “Food” tips section of the website to determine if they are eating enough.
The tips section includes suggestions on easy-to-prepare foods and healthy snacks. The section also contains advice on eating well, another critical step toward improving mental health.
Eventually, all of this advice will be compiled into a HeadsUpGuys Toolbox.
“This is a repository on the website where people can find a variety of self-checks. People enjoy learning about themselves in various ways and getting quick assessments of various aspects of their lives. We’re also going to create brief self-help modules, as well,” Dr. Ogrodniczuk said.
HeadsUpGuys: Depression Isn’t a Sign of Weakness
Depression in men is a significant problem that deserves more attention worldwide. While 9% of men responding to a survey by the American Psychological Association reported feeling depressed every day, only 1 out of 4 of those men said they actually spoke to a mental health professional.
Instead, those men regularly coped with their struggles by themselves, sometimes in unproductive ways. The Mayo Clinic noted that depressed men may abuse drugs or alcohol, become controlling or violent in their relationships, or exhibit reckless and escapist behaviors.
Men may feel more comfortable if the stigma surrounding confronting their mental health professionally were diminished. Men can improve their outlook on life by adopting healthier coping habits, developing support systems in their lives, and setting realistic goals for their careers.
“Suffering from depression isn’t a sign of weak personal character. Things happen; it’s not like you meant for it to happen. The worst thing you could do is hide from it and pretend it’s not happening. It shows independence and agency to reach out and try to help yourself,” Dr. Ogrodniczuk said.
He said he hopes that HeadsUpGuys gives men suffering from depression the supportive community they need to accept their mental illness. Instead of feeling isolated or using ineffective coping tools, the platform provides men with the tools they need to take the next step — and the stories they need to understand they’re not alone.
“There’s a strong need for our website in the world. We’re impacting lives, and that’s pretty humbling. It’s also an inspiration that drives us to keep going,” Dr. Ogrodniczuk said.