Depression Versus Masculinity: The Hidden Threat to Men’s Mental Health

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Men and depression - the inner struggle
Image courtesy of flick'r user Ryan_M651

Even though men are 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide than women, depression is often seen as a woman’s disorder. A recent study published in the British Journal of Nursing found that men are at greater risk of committing suicide because depression and masculinity are seen as mutually exclusive. In other words, many men believe they cannot be depressed and be considered manly at the same time.

Research Finds Masculinity and Depression Don’t Mix

In the United Kingdom, 78% of suicides are committed by men. In the United States, suicide rates are comparable with men accounting for seven of every 10 suicides. According to recent research findings, men are more likely to suffer from depression in silence and are less likely to get help due to a lack of professional understanding of male depression and the unique social pressures men face.

Despite the fact that men account for far more suicides than women, women are more likely to be diagnosed with clinical depression. Researchers Sarah Patrick and Steve Robertson (2016) attribute this disparity to a combination of factors. First, men are more likely to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol than to seek professional help for their depression. Drugs and alcohol often exacerbate depression symptoms, sending men on a slippery slope towards suicide.

Second, men often present with different symptoms of depression compared to women. While women are more likely to be outwardly emotional, vocal, and expressive of their depression, men are more likely to internalize their distress and hide their emotions with flat affect and a tough exterior. According to Patrick and Robertson, depressed men are more likely to:

  • Act out with aggression or anger
  • Internalize emotions
  • Attempt to numb their emotions by self-medicating with drugs or alcohol
  • Avoid dealing with emotions by working more hours or staying busy
  • Attempt to escape their emotions by taking extreme risks

Overall, men who suffer from depression struggle with the social pressure to be a man, which often means hiding one’s emotions and refusing to get help. Unfortunately, most men do not ask for help until they reach a point of crisis – like suicide.

Socioeconomic Pressures Take a Big Toll

In addition to struggling to maintain a strong, masculine persona, many men experience socioeconomic challenges that threaten their mental health more so than women. Men are more likely to suffer from mental health problems as a result of unemployment, economic loss, and relationship issues. Minorities, armed forces members, and homosexual men are even more likely to experience mental health problems and attempt suicide due to discrimination, prejudice, and the stigma of being depressed and a man.

“Masculine norms of gender-appropriate practices include demonstrating rationality, logic, strength, control and responsibility.”

The pressure we as a society place on men to be strong, controlled, and responsible may actually be pushing men away from seeking help and towards lethal ends.

What Can You Do?

For centuries men have been expected to be the bread-winners, the protectors, and the calm, cool, collected decision-makers of households and governments. While gender equality has a come a long way to promote women’s rights, men have been neglected, especially in the mental health field. Men continue to feel the pressure to be tough, stoic, and masculine. However, this has resulted in hundreds of thousands of men committing suicide each year.

If we want to save lives, the mental health profession and society as a whole must understand the unique struggle depressed men face. It begins by understanding what male depression looks like. If you believe someone you care about may be depressed, approach the subject from a logical point of view, suggests Patrick and Robertson. Men are more likely to respond to logic than an emotional plea. Also, mental health professionals must adapt their interventions to suit male personalities rather than applying traditional treatments that apply mostly to female patients.

In order to reduce the suicide rate, we must consider who is most at risk. Is our mental health system neglecting half the population by conforming to the idea that men shouldn’t feel depressed?

Sources

Patrick, S. & Robertson, S. (2016). Mental health and wellbeing: Focus on men’s health. British Journal of Nursing, 25(21), 1163-1169.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (2016). Suicide Statistics.

Furthermore, our team conducted an in person interview with Dr. Dan Bilsker, professor at Simon Fraser University.

24 COMMENTS

  1. My uncle attempted suicide when he was young, but thankfully didn’t die. He told me that he suffered from depression and couldn’t ask for help because of the who preface that men weren’t supposed to have these kinds of emotions. He tells me it was hard for him to get through it by himself and he finally went to seek help seven years ago. Due to what he went through, he’s a firm believer that men should be treated as human with emotions and I do too, and so should everyone.

  2. Thank you for this very enlightening article, although it’s nothing I hadn’t really already known going through it all myself, the lack of empathy in our society is pretty damning. But it will hopefully enlighten others who weren’t otherwise aware. Anyway, here is another interesting read I’ve found on the matter.
    ————————————————–
    British writer and journalist Ally Fogg, who often writes about men’s issues, said that male suicide is ignored for the same reason as male occupational injuries. “Our military-industrial culture has always required a certain tolerance for male death–how else could we so easily justify sending men off to die in wars or down coalmines?” he asked. “In that sense the lack of discussion is a reflection of a lack of concern.”
    ————————————————–
    A lack of concern. How true these words ring in British society, including the media and even the medical field. It’s odd that there are many feminists who say that we should be more outspoken for men’s rights, well that well may be true, but when we do we are either ignored by the media, or ridiculed. Like with father’s rights (which has often been depicted badly against fathers in the tabloids) or domestic violence against men, with a common casual attitude I found of “Well he must have done something to deserve it, after all he’s a man isn’t he?”. Sounds familiar. A hundred years on and it’s the guys who are now becoming the new suffragettes.

  3. I really don’t like the stereotypes. I live in a country were men are supposed to be tough and women are supposed to be submissive. It’s not as bad as it used to be 20-30 years ago but it’s still here. I can see what this article is trying to say. I guess for men who grew up in a society that presses men to be men, opening up on one’s personal struggle would be hard or shameful. I can see why they would rather keep it to themselves rather than seek help. I think we should stop being judgmental and be more accepting.

    • I don’t think depressed men need to do anything. I think it’s more about society – and especially mental health professionals – understanding that depression looks different for men than it does for women. Just that knowledge can be a powerful thing.

  4. We always think that only women feel depression, and social pressure. But men can experience it too. The difference is just they tend to align their emotions to gender-appropriate practices of men as being tough and has a strong image. Well, this in turn may reduce their awareness of their feelings of depression. And as the article said, it just go down the slope to suicide. And this is a bad news. Hopefully, professionals in these area can address the matter.

  5. Thank you for bringing awareness to a social stigma so rarely discussed. My boyfriend is one of the many, many men in this world who battle mental illness and I cannot believe how alone he must feel at times. Men, your struggles do not go overlooked by all. You are no less a man for asking for help or showing emotion.

  6. This is a great article which highlights how there’s a stigma against men and their emotions. It’s even a trope in media were when a man starts to cry all his other male fans give him a confused stare and then the man just stops crying and acts ‘manly’. Reading articles like this help me understand better the obstacles men face in society and I wish this topic less apparently taboo to talk about. Many people don’t consider that the reason why women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression would be because men don’t often go to doctors to get diagnosed as they’re afraid of being seen as unmasculine.

  7. This just blew me away, it really has. I know from experience what it is like for growing up to be societies ‘perfect’ man, someone who should act masculine all the time and hide emotions from everyone incase you are deemed weak to everyone around you. Thank you so much for this article,honestly thank you

  8. It’s great that we also bring to light that men are humans too, and that they experience feelings as any other person. I think that media can be a great way to influence others in terms of expressing these kinds of stigmas. What I’ve noticed is that girls are comforted yet boys are bullied in most of the shows. I think that’s not right. Thank you for this great article.

  9. As soon as I saw this title, I knew it was going to be challenging the notion that males or those who present as masculine are frowned upon by society to show emotions; this is a concept that has been discussed in both my psychology and sociology classes. As posed in the question at the end, I do think that our society is neglecting a significant portion that need help which is problematic. I think the best way to combat this starts with the individual and spreading awareness, such as writing this article.
    The article discusses behavior associated with depression in men, which is important to understand. The next step is to bridge the gap to ask a man about their depression, which is often difficult but requires a “logical” approach. What would a situation look like that uses this approach? Being a woman, I am more inclined to be “emotional” so it would be helpful to see how it manifests.

    • Hey Aly, check out my response to Korina’s comment below. It can be hard for us women to get into a male mindset, but if you focus on depression as a problem that needs a solution, men often find it more comfortable to talk about.

  10. Wow! This is a great article! Its very true that depression is labeled as a women’s mental issue, when it’s a fact that men commit the majority of suicides. The men in my life like my father and fiancé have been through a lot and when things get tough for them or when it brings them to tears and you finally hear what is getting to them you realise that men have it just as tough as women do – just different types of problems like the expectation of being the breadwinner and provider, while women have issues like body image and post natal depression. I think there is a big misunderstanding between genders of the different types of challenges and expectations we face.

  11. Thank you for bringing awareness to this important issue! Men not only have to deal with the stigma around having a mental disorder, but the stigma of how a man “should” deal with his emotions. Hopefully someday soon, with efforts and awareness like in this article, those kinds of beliefs can be abolished for good. I’ve also read before that those who suffer from depression have a more realistic view of what the world is really like. Maybe that is another factor into why men are so much more likely to become depressed.

  12. It took me a long to time to seek help for my psychological problems because of all the time I wasted trying to live up to society’s image of a man. I thought about suicide daily, and finally sought help when it was determined that the debilitating pain in my neck and shoulders was caused by the depression and anxiety. The western world has a serious mental health problem, made worse by our image of the man as a rock in the tide. But even rocks are worn down by the erosive forces. If not even New Hampshire’s old man could withstand, how can a mere mortal?

  13. Intresting article, I personally believe that men are very much neglected when it comes to mental and emotional health. There are many contributing factors for this like you stated, our society is very quick to diagnose women with mental health problems than men and so forth, however, I think there is also the fact that men are taught from young to “fit” into the stereotype. The macho-male, men don’t cry, men don’t show emotion stereotype therefore when they are older and dealing with the worlds stress they don’t have the tools necessary to properly deal with it.
    Interestingly in your article you reference both the USA and the UK which are both part of the western world, what would be more interesting (I personally think) would be to compare other parts of the world as well, parts where the stereotypical male role is different. For example, Spain, or Italy, or even Asia. What are there suicide rates and is there any correlation between men, women, social expectations?
    This really was a wonderful read and I’m so happy to see some light and interest being shed upon it.

  14. Great article! This article pefectly elaborates the topic of depression in males and how societal norms affects this situation. I noticed that your article had discussed how “men are more likely to respond to logic than an emotional plea.” In your opinion, how would you best describe how to bring up this topic to a coworker/friend/loved one if you felt that they may have depression (in a logical way, of course)?

    • Oftentimes it’s more comfortable for men to talk about depression as a biochemical/neurological problem, rather than talking about it as an emotional issue. Also, men are natural problem solvers. So by emphasizing the PROBLEM (i.e., a chemical imbalance that is not their fault), men may be more likely to seek help to find a solution.

  15. the main reason why half of the population is not able is express their emotions is because of social stigmas and stereotypes. males are human beings as well , who have feelings and react to situations just like women. maybe going to a psychologist or counselor is frowned upon but they should really seek help and prove the stereotypes wrong.

  16. Thank you for this article! I agree that there is a general concept that depression is considered more of a woman’s health concern — but that’s because I’ve only ever seen studies publishing higher rates of depression among women. This article helps shed some light on the stigma against men having depression.

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