Gender is a key social determinant of mental health disparities. For example, men are more likely to commit suicide than women, a disparity beginning in mid-adolescence, and have substantially higher rates of substance use disorders. Considering trajectories to these outcomes, a substantial body of work now demonstrates that adherence to traditional masculine gender role norms (e.g., around emotional restraint, power/control) is linked to mental health disparities across the life course for men and boys, potentially because of the association of these norms with reduced help-seeking and social support. To prevent these disparities and promote health equity, then, gender-informed approaches that intervene upstream (i.e., at the point of attitudes and beliefs about masculinities) are needed. Adolescence is a particularly critical period for this work, due to the increasing flexibility around adherence to gender norms that occurs during this period. However, despite theoretical and epidemiological support, universal programs for adolescents are only beginning to engage with gender transformative approaches, and evidence to date on specific programs is limited. Further, the limited evidence that is available is primarily quantitative; while this type of information is key, because of the performative and contextual nature of adolescent masculinities, methodologies that allow for qualitative exploration of program effectiveness are also needed.
We will share findings from a novel photo-based evaluation of a gender-transformative healthy relationships program for adolescent boys, the WiseGuyz program. WiseGuyz is a community-facilitated program for Grade 9 boys that aims to improve mental and sexual health and reduce male-perpetrated violence by deconstructing traditional masculine gender role norms. In this evaluation, adolescents (n=6) took photos to represent their experience of being a guy in their world before and after WiseGuyz, and then participated in an individual visual storytelling interview and a photovoice focus group. Interviews and focus groups were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim, and coded using qualitative description and an iteratively developed codebook.
Key themes from this evaluation include changes to 1) clarity around societal gender norm expectations, 2) emotional expressiveness, and 3) social connection following the program. In addition to describing key themes and sharing photos associated with each theme, we will also triangulate photo-based data with quantitative outcome data on positive mental health collected from 318 boys over the past two years.