WASHINGTON, PA (Sept. 3, 2019)—As the national conversation shifts to include decreasing stigma about seeking mental health treatment, Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) junior Ben Heim ’21 wants to understand the problem globally and learn to fight against it.
Ben, a psychology major, traveled to Sydney, Australia in June with support from W&J’s signature program, The Magellan Project, to complete his independent research project “Stigma and its Influence on Seeking Mental Health Treatments.”
“For my Magellan, I wanted to explore a facet of Australia’s rising suicide rates. I looked at the origins of stigmas that surround mental illness and how they can deter individuals—especially men—from seeking mental health treatment,” Ben said. “I focused on the negative influence traditional masculinity norms have on men’s willingness to seek professional help. This topic is important to look at because globally, men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women.”
Ben’s adviser, W&J Professor of Psychology Michael Crabtree, Ph.D., supported Ben by helping to guide his research and providing contacts in the early planning process of his project.
While planning for his trip, Ben reached out to several Sydney-based professionals who specialize in men’s mental health to conduct interviews. He connected with Dr. Simon Rice, a clinical psychologist who leads Orygen’s Young Men’s Mental Health Research program and has published more than 100 peer-reviewed articles in the field.
Dr. Rice’s research showed that men who strongly adhere to traditional values of masculinity are less likely to seek mental health treatment and often turn to maladaptive coping mechanisms, including social withdrawal and drug and alcohol abuse. Ben learned about initiatives across the country aimed at reducing stigmas against mental health treatment to effectively reach men.
“Thanks to the broad range of classes I’ve taken at W&J, I felt like I was greatly prepared to embark on this trip,” Ben said. “I believe this trip has helped guide me by pointing me toward a field I might be interested in. Next summer, I hope to travel out west for a research internship—hopefully somewhere with a balance of city and nature!”
Learn more about Ben’s time in Australia through is Magellan Project blog.