It has long been believed that depression is far more common in females than it is in males with statistic claiming the number of women suffering from this diagnosis is nearly double to the number of males. However, these statistics have just recently been found incorrect. Not only does a much higher percentage of the male population suffer from depression than previously thought, but it has also been recognized that men’s experiences of depression tend to differ from and can be more difficult than women’s. These differences appear to be rooted in our society’s constructs of masculinity and femininity.
The social construction of masculinity dictates multiple factors known as "masculine norms" that include personality traits, physical characteristics, desires, and perspectives. Among these masculine norms that males are expected and pressured into conforming to are emotional control and self-reliance. With these expectations, it makes sense that males suffering from symptoms of depression tend to isolate themselves and keep their thoughts and feelings inside, generally abstaining to reach out for help and support from friends, family, and professionals. Studies have found conformity to masculine norms to be associated with psychological distress in men as well as a negative attitude toward getting professional help for mental health issues. Society has conditioned men to suffer alone, and awareness of this problem is crucial in order for change to occur.
Males struggling with symptoms of depression often feel like they are a failure. This feeling, while generally characteristic of depression, appears to be more prominent in men experiencing depression, likely due to the expectation that they should be less affected by and more able to deal with emotions than women. It appears that this, along with the expectation of extreme self-reliance, especially regarding emotions and feelings, greatly contribute to men’s tendency to isolate themselves from those around them. While social norms of femininity make it more "acceptable" or "normal" for women to reach out and express their feelings and difficulties to one another and seek help, this is not as much the case for men as they are taught to hide emotions and be self-reliant in dealing with issues.
Normalizing the feelings that come with depression and letting them know they are not alone in dealing with their depression can be effective in supporting men. Men often feel humiliated due to their depression, and it can be helpful to avoid using the word "depression" in talking about it with them. It may be more helpful to discuss their depression with them in terms of the specific symptoms such as insomnia, low energy, fatigue, loss of appetite, lack of motivation, hopelessness, e.t.c. It is also important to ask about suicidal thoughts. While asking about thoughts of harming or killing oneself can seem uncomfortable or extreme, it is crucial to check in with them regarding these thoughts and feelings. Suggesting they talk to a primary care doctor is a good place for men to start in terms of getting help with their depression. Understanding the differences in how men experience and handle depression and mental health issues in general is important in in helping them get the help and support they need. While modern day society is beginning to recognize the way in which social norms have made it difficult for the male population to get the mental health help they need, there is still much work to be done in order to break the stigma of mental health illness not only for men but for the population as a whole.
Bernstein, E. (2016, September 19). In Men, Depression is Different. The Wall Street Journal.
Mahalik, J. R., Locke, B. D., Ludlow, L. H., Diemer, M. A., Scott, R. P. J., Gottfried, M.,& Freitas, G. (2003). Development of the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 4(1), 3-25.