‘Even Ground’ provides outlet for men struggling with mental health

When was the last time someone asked if you were sincerely OK?

Not the simple question people ask if you fall down or the annoyed obligatory one you might send to someone when they aren’t responding to your text. 

A serious, down-to-earth, face-to-face, “Are you OK?” 

Some might say a couple of minutes or hours ago, while others go days, weeks or even years without someone asking them how they’re really doing mentally.

“I think a lot of people, especially men, want to talk about it,” said senior psychology major Christopher Tutino. “I think that they’re just waiting on that validation that it’s OK to open up.”

When you’re with a group of men, there’s often the illusion of a “forbidden barrier” regarding emotions people don’t cross, senior integrated social studies major Thomas Benson said. 

“With something as simple as asking ‘Hey, are you alright?’ you’d be surprised by the people that are wanting to lay into you about it,” Benson said.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, men often report and seek treatment for mental health less than women. However, death by suicide occurs more often with men.

In a 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, men accounted for 76.8 percent of suicides. More than half of that percentage were of men with “no known mental health conditions.”

Benson and Tutino decided enough was enough. That’s why they created Even Ground, a student organization starting spring semester that gives male students struggling with mental health an outlet to find their inner peace.

Personal experience played a big factor as to why they decided to start this group, as Benson and Tutino are both survivors of suicide.

“It’s something that we’ve experienced,” Benson said. “There are other experiences that we’ve never had that we want to hear about and gain context (on), especially from the perspective of men that are afraid to share or don’t have someone to listen.”

They also found inspiration from an article called Men Have No Friends and Women Bear the Burden by Melanie Hamlett that discusses a movement in the Pacific Northwest where groups of men get together and confide in each other about difficult topics. 

“Reading this prompted the thought that I haven’t seen this on campus,” Benson said. “I’ve seen (groups) where they advocate, (but) this (movement) is kind of an attempt to deconstruct the idea of what masculinity is defined as.”

Taking note from this movement, Even Ground plans to provide a space for men of all backgrounds to come together and have tough conversations they might not be able to have anywhere else.

Nick Barber, the operations coordinator at the department of recreational services, is one of Even Ground’s faculty advisers. 

“This (group) is an open environment to anyone, no matter your comfort level,” Barber said. “Participation is completely voluntary. If anybody wants to come and just sit and listen, that is doing something. I know it’s cliche and corny, but doing anything is better than doing nothing.”

Benson and Tutino hope to incorporate a lecture aspect to it where licensed therapists, counselors or professors come and provide proper information to members, Tutino said.

“We want to structure this in a way where we’re fostering conversation,” Benson said. “Not only in this space, but outside of it and actualizing that through activism or whatever action you choose to take.”

Despite the hope for furthering the conversation of ending the stigma around men struggling with mental health, Even Ground wants to first and foremost be a space with confidentiality and safety, Barber said.

“We don’t want this to be something that people are fearful of getting out, ruining them or damaging them in any way. Because that’s not helpful to the solutions,” Barber said.

“There’s been an outpouring of support, just in talking,” Benson said. “There’s an obvious need and we want to be able to do it right. That’s why we’re taking the time this semester to actually frame things.”

Not only does Even Ground provide a safe landing for its future members, but the process of its creation has helped its co-founders start to find their own inner peace.

“I was in a rut this past August and this (project) has kind of reignited me,” Tutino said. “I’m probably better than I’ve ever been. I just have a new passion for life and everything.”

Benson said, “Being able to show someone, especially someone that is in the same boat that I was or in a similar boat, a potential path for them that really helped me out, it feels good.”

Contact Becca Sagaris at [email protected].