World Mental Health Day

How Are the Boys Doing?

World Mental Health Day

How Are the Boys Doing?

Based on an interview with Orlando Ceide, Leader of « Projet Gars » by la Maison d’Haïti

While we’re celebrating World Mental Health Day on October 10, ask yourself: how are our boys doing?

During a recent study by the Université de Sherbrooke on young people’s mental health, we found that only 21% of boys (compared to 52% of girls and 73% of other gender identities) displayed moderate or severe signs of anxiety and depression.

But this doesn’t mean that boys are doing better than other genders. As they are often taught to not reveal their emotions, boys may mask their psychological distress.

Here’s a breakdown of the situation from Orlando Ceide, leader of “Projet Gars.” The project forms part of the Coordination Jeunesse initiative by la Maison d’Haïti, a community organization dedicated to welcoming and integrating newcomers.

Are boys really doing better than other young people?

When we look at the statistics, it appears that boys have consistently better mental health than other genders.

According to a study by the Université de Sherbrooke, 37% of young people in high school and 52% of young people attending CEGEP or university report having moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety or depression, and girls are three times more likely than boys to report having such symptoms in high school.

But when asked if they’ve considered harming themselves in the last two weeks, boys and girls in CEPEG display more similar proportions (23% for boys vs 25% for girls). According to a 2020 study by INSPQ, boys between the ages of 15 and 19 are more likely to commit suicide (7/100,000 for boys vs 5/100,000 for girls), but girls are four times more likely to be hospitalized for attempted suicide and three times more likely to go to emergency services in the event of attempted suicide. Moreover, Statistics Canada reveals that, nationwide, men have a suicide rate around three times higher than that of women (18 men vs 5 women per 100,000 people).*

How can we explain this phenomenon?

We observe that boys are less inclined to ask for help and that the symptoms of distress they develop are different from those of girls, which could lead to hidden depression. Rather than expressing their angst through sadness, boys are more inclined to adopt aggressive, hotheaded or risky behaviours such as falling into addiction or playing with death. They also have a tendency to avoid situations that make them uncomfortable by obsessing over a sport, for example.

These behaviours, which don’t live up to the stereotypes of psychological distress, make boys less likely to be identified by health services, especially during adolescence when impulsive behaviours are naturally more prevalent.

Why do boys seem to be less concerned about their mental health than other population groups?

Despite the progress that has been made in redefining so-called masculine identities, the issue of mental health still seems to be taboo among men. With certain ideas linked to toxic masculinity still a reality, young boys often find it difficult to show their emotions.

The stereotype of a “real man” we expect is that he is strong, in control of his emotions, is able to solve his own problems without the help of others and doesn’t talk much about himself. Not conforming to these principles can often mean facing rejection from peers.

Orlando Ceide suggests that there is a correlation between this refusal to seek help and the process of socialization in boys.

According to Pierre L’Heureux from Université Laval, the explanation lies in a phenomenon known as triple dissociation. Thus, boys learn from a very young age to:

👉 Not care for their wounds or physical pain: “A boy doesn’t cry if he gets hurt.”
👉 Neglect and play down their psychological difficulties: “A real boy doesn’t complain, he takes his problems on the chin.”
👉 Not be too sensitive or get too close to others. This restriction has long been linked to homophobic prejudices where people quickly became wary of men who seemed to be too close to other men. Fortunately, this last point is less of a reality in today’s society thanks to changing norms.

All this means that some boys gradually become desensitized to their emotional and physical sensations and are less capable than girls of understanding their personal challenges and knowing how to react accordingly.

As such, it appears that boys are less open to asking for help in a school environment (43.7% for boys vs 63% for girls and 50% for other gender identities) and are less willing to participate in workshops for managing stress (30.5% for boys vs 53.1% for girls and 34.2% for other genders).**

In this respect, we can understand why it’s difficult for a large proportion of boys to ask for help or speak to a professional when they’re facing difficulties. This also explains the discrepancy between the statistics for boys’ mental health and their suicide rate, which is higher than that for girls.

Of course, we’re talking about general observations, and large differences can be found among boys depending on their culture, family environment and personal experiences.

What can we do to make boys more aware of mental health?

According to Orlando Ceide, boys’ education can play an important role in their mental health. With this in mind, la Maison d’Haïti has set up “Projet Gars,” an intervention, education and awareness program adapted to the real needs and sociocultural reality of young boys.

This program, which has been around for more than five years and is based in the Saint-Michel neighbourhood of Montreal, constitutes a “safe space” with the goal of helping boys between the ages of 10 and 17 through their adolescence while redefining masculinity in an intercultural context. Focused on a public education approach, the program consists of equipping young people with the tools they need to combat the negative effects of phenomenons such as hypersexualization and toxic masculinity.

Through a collection of fun activities, the “Projet Gars” program seeks to encourage boys to develop healthy relationships with themselves and others, all while encouraging active listening, creativity and discussions on subjects such as positive masculinity, emotions, friendship, feminism, self-acceptance, inclusion, diversity and body image.

At home, it’s also possible for parents to act around their boys in a way that encourages them to express their emotions.

Therefore, don’t hesitate to set a good example by expressing your own feelings in front of them and showing them that you know how to ask for help (from a friend, your partner, your family, your doctor, etc.) when you experience emotional difficulties, especially if you’re a man.

In day-to-day life, remember to ask your children how their day went, and to express and name their emotions. (“Yes, I understand, that must be frustrating.”) Also, don’t forget to celebrate their successes and highlight the emotional skills they used to achieve them. (“You’ve shown courage.” “You’ve been persistent, patient, understanding, etc.”)

By chatting with them, you’ll be able to help them develop different points of view on the day’s events, especially when talking about difficulties with relationships. (“Yes, Raphael didn’t want to talk to you this morning, but maybe he’d slept badly or he’d argued with his parents.”)

Generally speaking, try to take their worries and concerns seriously and validate them by offering your boys support when they need it. Teaching them how to manage stress or anxiety can be very useful in adolescence, when we can be under a lot of pressure.

Family Toolkit

Articles, videos, podcasts and educational worksheets to help you deal with your teen’s psychological distress.

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Teen Toolkit

Articles, videos and quizzes to help young people better understand psychological distress and how to prevent it.

Learn more