In recent years the stigma surrounding men’s mental health has gone down, despite that men in the Netherlands – and most other countries – commit suicide twice as much as women do. In Groningen local initiatives such as All Ears and IkBenDepressief wish to make it easier for men to talk about their problems.
“I notice it’s not as much of a taboo nowadays when I talk about it. Whenever I go out and talk to people I sometimes mention I still struggle with depression, and that helps,” said Louis Thieme, the 22 year old founder of IkBenDepressief.nl.
Jasja Nottelman, a 52 year old student chaplain working with the initiative All Ears, says that things have improved as she’s grown older, but “it’s still a work in progress.”
Suicide rates remain high
Despite men’s mental health not being as stigmatized as it used to be, suicide rates remain twice as high for men than they are for women according to the central bureau of statistics (CBS). In 2021, 1295 men and 564 women committed suicide in the Netherlands, and in the past few years this gap between male and female suicides has only grown further apart.
“Although we live in a very modern society, men still have the habit of being hesitant to talk about their problems. They feel more of a barrier before seeking help compared to women,” said Nottelman.
“Women are more likely to talk about their problems with a really good friend, whereas men wouldn’t do that with close friends,” said Thieme, who struggled with depression himself. He continued, “As a man you feel like you have to be strong. You don’t want to be the weakest. It’s a bit of a pre-historic thought.”
In Groningen, local initiatives such as All Ears and IkBenDepressief want to make it easier for men to talk about what they’re dealing with. All Ears offers students 1-on-1 conversations with student workers who have a good understanding of the struggles students face.
Students can drop by without an appointment, and the talks remain completely confidential, but it’s not a replacement for therapy. “It’s not therapy, but more so an opportunity to tell your story to someone who is willing to listen with an open ear,” said Nottelman.
Thieme founded IkBenDepressief.nl to give people a place where they can find accessible information on depression. “There’s a lot of information about depression which you can find online, but the articles are complex and there’s little advice by those who actually experienced it. So as someone who has experienced it I wanted to make something more accessible, but from an academic source.”
So far neither initiative has been successful attracting men, but both Nottelman and Thieme hope it’ll become easier for men to talk about their problems. “Men shouldn’t feel ashamed to share their story, and they shouldn’t feel like it’ll make them seem weak,” said Nottelman.
Thieme wishes men would know that it’s okay to feel depressed, “It’s very frustrating, but it doesn’t make you any less valuable. Most of the time it gets better.”