Aug. 24, 2021 — One TikTok user is helping to destigmatize men’s mental health by being open about his own. In a recent video, TikTok sensation Rod Thill told his followers, which number over 1 million, about “things other men have said to me when I open up about my mental health.”
Reactions, ranging from cavalier to disparaging, included: “Seems dramatic,” “Therapy is a waste of money,” and “I don’t get anxiety.”
In fewer than 20 seconds, the 31-year-old Chicago resident, a self-proclaimed “anxious millennial,” highlighted a common and longstanding problem: a lack of social support for men struggling with mental health.
Emotional vulnerability has long been considered a feminine trait. And for men who don’t fit masculine stereotypes, it can be hard, he said.
“I feel like, over the years, I’ve had to suppress my personality,” said Thill, who rose to TikTok fame while quarantining during the pandemic. “Being a man — and not being the most masculine man either — it’s really hard. You’re put into the boxes that you don’t necessarily fit in.”
Thill is one of several male TikTok creators trying to break down the stigma surrounding mental health. And although numerous women on the app are working toward the same goal, Thill and his male counterparts represent a voice in the social media space that didn’t exist until recently — a voice that’s sorely needed.
A March 2020 study found that men are less likely to have people in whom they confide, particularly if they subscribe to “toxic masculinity,” or the concept that men are meant to exhibit stoicism and dominance.
The problem can be deadly. A February 2020 study found that men who had more traditional ideas of masculinity were 2.4 times more likely to die by suicide.
The suicide rate for men was 3.7 times the rate for women from 1999 through 2018, according to the CDC.
Seeing men like Thill on social platforms can reduce the feeling of isolation for male viewers and give them permission to acknowledge their own mental health issues, said Kimber Smith, social impact campaigns manager for Movember, a charity that focuses on men’s health.
“Social media provides tremendous opportunities to meet men where they are,” Smith said. “People are seeing men who they look up to, who have influence over their lives, model behaviors and attitudes in ways that are creative, dynamic, entertaining, credible.”
Movember is in the process of launching its own social media initiative centered on men’s mental health. The charity is building a collective of digital creators — Black men across the U.S. — to help spread the message that mental well-being and self-care are important.
However, Smith cautioned that social media can be a double-edged sword, with certain pockets perpetuating stereotypes and reinforcing stigma. But, she said, there are many creators who combat that by showing the humanity in everyone — men and women.
Creators like Thill can help male followers by working against dated concepts of what it means to be a man, said Alan Fruzzetti, PhD, director of training in family services at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts.
“It makes a big difference to redefine masculinity,” Fruzzetti said. “When we get past old-school biases about masculinity and femininity, we open up all kinds of possibilities.”
Thill said he often gets messages from his followers asking for advice on mental health. Though he wants to help, he’s no expert, he said. But he does offer some advice: “Don’t give up.”
“In general, anything with the human body is not cookie cutter, so what works for me might not work for someone else, but therapy is a good step,” he said. “There are resources out there. I shopped around before finding my last therapist. Keep trying.”