From a young age, boys are told to “man up” whenever they get upset or express pain but society’s expectation for males to mask their emotions may have more harmful effects on their mental health. Dividing the expression of feelings between genders could be a major factor to blame for why depression in men goes unacknowledged until it is often too late.
This might seem contradictory at first, because overall, women are at a higher risk of experiencing depression. A number of factors such as hormonal changes and social roles make depression more common among females. In todays society it is more acceptable for a woman to ruminate, or think deeply and dwell on things, which can often be sad emotions or experiences, which encourages depressing thoughts. On top of that, women tend to be encouraged to be emotionally expressive and openly express their sadness- which is often why women are the dominant group when studying depression (Mulé, 2004). Men on the other hand are raised to brush these experiences off and be emotionally aloof to maintain a tough and masculine image. But just because women are more likely to be depressed doesn’t mean that depression in men isn’t an issue. It is true that women attempt suicide more often, but men have a higher rate of completed suicides, making the problem known after it is too late.
For starters, men often express depression differently than women. Rather than expressing a somber mood or ruminating, men tend to express depression through symptoms like irritability, tiredness, and even sometimes aggression. But these feelings often go unacknowledged because they don’t appear as the stereotypical symptoms of depression. This can complicate the situation, because like most illness, treatment for depression is most effective when treated early (Robinson, Smith, & Segal, n.d.).
That leads us to the next issue- treatment. It’s difficult to treat an issue that society has trouble recognizing. This problem only becomes increasingly difficult when societal norms play a large role in reinforcing the issue. Reducing the stigma against men expressing their emotions would help to allow for more open communication on the topic of depression.
Another problem is the separation of physical and mental health. Most people wouldn’t have a problem visiting a doctor for an injury or the flu- so why is depression treated so differently? As a society we need to encourage an expansive and open discussion about these issues surrounding mental health. Our nation has developed and transformed dramatically over centuries but it seems silly (and rather ridiculous) to hold on to old stereotypes that divide gender, especially when it is harming to one’s health. In the past year, nearly 78% of suicides were completed by men- illustrating just how large the gender gap is (Suicide, 2015). It’s time that we remove the aura of femininity surrounding emotions, because depression doesn’t discriminate. Fathers, sons, brothers, grandfathers, and friends are being lost due to a problem many people don’t want to discuss- but it’s time we start talking.
Mulé, C. M. (2004, March). Why women are more susceptible to depression: An explanation for gender differences. Retrieved from http://www.personalityresearch.org/papers/mule.html
Robinson, L., Smith, M., M.A., & Segal, J., Ph. D. (n.d.). Depression in men. Retrieved February 7, 2016, from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/depression-in-men.htm
Suicide. (2015). Retrieved February 7, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/suicide-datasheet-a.pdf