Today and tomorrow, anyone crossing Locust Walk will be confronted with signs bearing a straightforward message: “Men get depressed too. MANUP cares. Do you?”
As the first stage of an initiative to promote men’s mental health, the Male Association of Nurses at the University of Pennsylvania — or MANUP — is starting a publicity campaign to get students talking about their emotional and psychological well-being
Nursing junior and MANUP President David Allen said the idea for the campaign came about last spring, around the time three apparent suicides occurred at Cornell University and Wharton junior Owen Thomas took his own life.
Although MANUP’s mission is to promote issues of men’s wellness in general, Allen said these incidents pointed to a particular need to address mental health. “Part of this [campaign] is just to say, ‘This is an issue,’” he explained.
Throughout this semester, MANUP has collaborated with Student Health Services as well as Counseling and Psychological Services to develop materials for the campaign.
Some of the slogans aim to grab students’ attention by presenting arresting facts and perspectives of male mental health, such as “More women attempt suicide. More men are successful,” and “There is no antidote for a gunshot. Let’s recognize male depression.”
According to Allen, a main objective of these signs is to direct people to the website MANUP has created to go along with the campaign. The site provides information that the group hopes will encourage men on campus to think about their personal situations, and also to take advantage of resources offered at Penn.
CAPS Associate Director Meeta Kumar explained that the department’s services include individual counseling, support groups, access to psychiatrists, crisis intervention and phone lines open to students at night.
SHS also provides care for related issues like stress and diet management, Allen said.
He emphasized that in order to make use of these services, students need to address the stigma often surrounding issues of mental health.
According to Kumar, campaigns like the MANUP initiative play a key role in this process. “Addressing the stigma is really about the right kind of education — presenting people with just the facts and doing it consistently enough so that [mental health issues] don’t seem sort of like this mystery out there, or something that happens to ‘those others,’ but something that could happen to anyone,” she said.
Penn students in particular, Kumar explained, may be affected by the pressures that come with having a “perfectionist” mentality.
“There’s a fair amount of pressure students feel here around needing to be successful, but they may struggle to define that for themselves, to define what success is,” she said.
Kumar said students’ unique personality traits can lead them to react to stress in different ways, as people develop different coping mechanisms. Some might be more vulnerable biologically to conditions like depression. This variety within mental health issues necessitates a diverse approach to treatment, she explained.
Looking to next semester, Allen said the group hopes to build off the “publicity and buzz” to host speaking events and panels that also deal with the relationship between gender, cultural background and health. MANUP also plans to provide clinical services like health screenings and to connect with other groups by participating in Mental Health Week in April.
As much as the MANUP initiative focuses on male health, everyone can be more proactive about these issues, Allen said.
Kumar believes the different elements of the initiative contribute to “a really worthwhile effort coming from students trying to reach their peers.”
“Addressing [mental health] is about acknowledging it, recognizing it and doing something about it,” she said. “It takes time and persistence.”
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