GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — More than 40 million American adults live with some kind of mental illness, but studies show men are much less likely than women to seek help.

Experts and advocates are trying to change that.

A panel of Stockton University professors, counselors and staff members, many of whom had and are mental-health consumers, gathered on campus Wednesday to reduce stigma and barriers that often exist for men who need help with mental health.

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“There are these messages we’re taught when we’re younger about what it is to be a man that prevents us from getting help when we need it,” said Doug Deane, a licensed clinical social worker and social work program coordinator at Stockton.

Nearly 9 percent of men had daily feelings of anxiety or depression between 2010 and 2013, but fewer than half of them took medication for these feelings or had recently talked to a mental health professional, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

Jason Babin, director of veteran affairs at Stockton and a military veteran, said he knows from personal experience how difficult it can be for someone to admit they need help, much less get it.

“Coming from a background in the military, there’s this macho environment where showing weakness is a negative,” he said. “And to admit that something is going on with yourself is difficult. I was only recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder because I ignored the symptoms.”

Babin said even though he knew the symptoms of PTSD and even encouraged other veterans to seek mental health counseling, it took him years to get it himself after realizing that by doing so, he could be an example to other veterans and men.

Marcello Spinella, a Stockton professor of psychology, said he was a 23-year-old graduate student studying clinical neuropsychology and even then could not come to terms with the fact he needed therapy for an anxiety disorder.

After months of restless sleep, he got a medication that helped manage the symptoms.

After he had a child, those symptoms came back, and Spinella said it was then he realized counseling could benefit not only himself but his family, too.

The panel members each had suggestions on how to encourage anyone, especially men, to seek out help for mental health issues.

Carlos Martinez, assistant director of counseling services at Stockton, said finding the right therapist or counselor who “is willing to go with you” on a path to self healing is best.

Martinez said friends and family may be able to notice symptoms of a mental illness or health issue if a person is doing anything in excessiveness, including exercising and working.

“That could be drinking, too, which can be part of the societal norms in college,” said Joseph Thompson, assistant director of student development at Stockton. “There’s that assumption that students just like to drink, but I’ve had students tell me they drink because of anxiety. It can be easy to mask in college.”

In cases like those, Joe Kerstetter, licensed counselor at Stockton and a military veteran, said it can be hard for someone to confront their friend out of fear they may push their friend away or start an argument, but done with sensitivity, it can lead to mental health care.

Michael Levin, assistant director of counseling services, said he tries to get his clients to reserve time every day for self-care, which is one of the biggest things people lack, especially men.

Taking the time to focus on activities and exercises that can benefit mental health is key, he said.

Although he received a diagnosis of attention-deficit disorder as an adult, Don Cassidy, director of counseling services at Stockton, said that didn’t stop him from becoming a teacher and later getting a Ph.D. in psychology.

“Therapy can be exactly what someone needs, and it all starts by sitting down and listening to that person’s story,” he said. “You find a balance of what you need, whether that’s with meditation, yoga, counseling, medication, and you continue those positive conversations.”

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Contact: 609-272-7022 NLeonard@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

Previously interned and reported for Boston.com, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe

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