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Illustration by Maryam Al Darmaki

Silence or Silenced: The Need for Male-Only Mental Health Spaces on Campus

Men’s mental health issues are overlooked across the globe and NYUAD is no exception to this norm. Here’s what we can do for the male-identifying students on our campus to provide them with a safe space to embrace their vulnerabilities.

Mentioning a ‘male-only space’ in college usually makes one think of male locker rooms, fraternities with violent hazing, and group chats filled with misogyny. The perception comes from lived experiences, popular culture, and social media, but it is far from what male-only spaces should be today in our struggle against patriarchy. “Sometimes we just want to talk,” as my male friend once shared with me over a meal.
In that same conversation, I found out that there once used to be a male-only space on campus where men could share their feelings with each other, facilitated by other men with professional training. I frowned as I listened; having no way to verify this since I was admitted to the university after it was apparently over, with any further attempts at its revival probably crushed by campus closing during Covid-19. I nevertheless started to question: why can’t we do something like this on campus now that the pandemic is mostly over? There is plenty of room for improving the inadequacies of male-only mental health spaces here, and yet there is still so much silence surrounding this issue in a university that claims to have “Inclusion, Diversity, Belonging, and Equity” as its key values and vision.
Mental health support has been a major concern for students of all genders between ages 18 and 25. Disorders such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia hit their peak during this time, while substance abuse and suicidal thoughts are also common. However, research has shown a disparity between genders in terms of seeking help.
“Traditional masculine gender roles of stoicism, invulnerability, and self-reliance can reduce men’s willingness to seek support [19, 20]. In one study, male students preferred to deny weakness to uphold a stoic position and limit self-disclosure to remain autonomous”, claimed researchers in 2020. Statistically, in 2015, 93 (69%) of the 134 students committing suicide in the United Kingdom were male. Across the world, student journalists and experts have advocated for an institutional change in university counseling services: from McGill University to King’s College London to [Montana State University and MentalHealth.Gov] (, plenty of voices have been shared, urgently asking for a change.
And then, on our campus, I have male friends telling me that they felt uncomfortable disclosing their true feelings during counseling sessions in the Health Center, that when they really wanted to tell someone how they felt, a male support system was nonexistent. One of them told me that conversations with male friends are just not the same as those with female friends. They also seem to be aware of the high male suicide rates. However, that statistic has also been thrown at me when I spoke about female traumas on campus or used as a passing remark about the lack of inclusivity and respect towards male traumas. The fact that men may use the data to defend themselves and call for help, as well as to attack female members of the community and invalidate their problems, is highly concerning. Without a proper outlet to release the frustrations of not being seen, some may see this as a zero-sum game where recognition of one gender necessarily means the silencing of all others. I truly think this should not be the case.
After all, researchers have also discovered potential solutions to ease such gendered tension on campus regarding mental health. A finding suggests that protecting male vulnerability, incorporating a masculine narrative of help-seeking, changing varying intervention formats, breaking informational blockage regarding mental health, and strategically engaging male students sensitively can all contribute to a better mental health space for men. Numerous specific strategies, such as creating a male-only space, reinforcing trust and confidentiality, clarifying treatment structure, using male role models, and delivering initiatives during orientation week or exams, among many others, have also been offered. These are not hard rocks to lift on our way toward mental health inclusivity for all.
As a female feminist, I am well aware of my own positionality in the dialogue; who am I to advocate for a space exclusively dedicated to male vulnerability when I could very well be surrounded by men who may point at me, asking who I am to tell them what to do, or call them “weak” in the first place? Well, I have no intention whatsoever to challenge either of these standpoints. Patriarchy is a sword of Damocles over us all, regardless of gender — a system of oppression that hangs over all of us equally, it silences men who may need help and brands women as weak and hysterical. Therefore, whether we choose to empower femininity or to make space for vulnerability within masculinity, the end goal is all the same: in toppling over the patriarchal cultures that exist around us and permitting a more inclusive NYU Abu Dhabi. We are all in the same boat, and we are equally responsible for ending the silence.
Zhiyu Lindy Luo is Senior News Editor. Email her at
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