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