Male students ignore campus mental health programs. Here's how colleges are reinventing outreach.

'We cannot just sit inside the counseling center and expect men to come in'

College counseling centers are implementing new initiatives to draw in male students, Andrea Petersen reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Male students tend to disproportionately avoid campus mental health efforts. In a recent survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD), men represented about 44% of the overall student population—but only 34% of clients at campus counseling centers.

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"We cannot just sit inside the counseling center and expect men to come in," says Micky Sharma, director of Ohio State University's Office of Student Life Counseling and Consultation Service.

The issue is especially acute because men are four times more likely than women to die by suicide, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Ohio State restructured its group therapy to appeal to more male students. Now instead of starting off with intense conversations, the group begins with about 15 minutes of casual conversation, moves into a more typical group therapy session, and is followed by a group game, such as cards. The number of male clients has increased 16% since the 2013-2014 academic year.

"Men are not encouraged to talk about their feelings," says Mark Thompson, director of Colgate University's counseling and psychological services. "There's this message that you're a wimp if you use counseling."

At Colgate, the counseling center offers problem-oriented workshops for athletes, like ones centered on nutrition, stress, and sleep.

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Other campus centers take a prevention angle. "If you frame something in terms of building strength versus something that is wrong with you, [men] may connect more with that," says David Spano, director of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte's counseling center.

Additionally, many centers are recruiting male therapists. Just 28.3% of college counseling center professional staff members are men, according to the AUCCCD survey.

Advocacy groups, such as Active Minds and The Jed Foundation, also lead efforts to break down stigma surrounding mental health issues. For example, The Jed Foundation partnered with the international office of Sigma Chi  fraternity to build a website with information on mental health, where to find help, and how to talk to a friend in need. The foundation plans to work with more Greek organizations in the future, Peterson writes (Petersen, Wall Street Journal, 9/21).

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