Six million men in the United States have at least one episode of major depression a year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. But traditional masculine norms in our culture contravene symptoms of major depression.
These norms, as defined by clinical psychologist, Dr. Ronald F. Levant, pressure a man to:
1) restrict emotions
2) avoid being feminine
3) focus on toughness and aggression
4) be self-reliant
5) make achievement the top priority
6) be non-relational
7) objectify sex
Major depression is a biological, medical illness with physical, cognitive and mental symptoms. Despite clear scientific evidence of depression’s medical and biological links, it remains stigmatized as a sign of weakness or low character.
Acceptance of depression as a verifiable and treatable illness is further complicated by gender bias, leading it to be falsely categorized as a “woman’s” illness. For depressed men, this bias decreases their chances of being properly diagnosed and treated.
In American male culture, most men don’t have the language to express the defeat, powerlessness and anxiety of depression while maintaining their masculine identity. Less likely to express their emotions for fear appearing “weak” or “effiminate,” depressed men more often present as angry or irritable.
Fewer men than women express feelings of sadness or seek professional help, so the actual number of men with depression may be underestimated. Symptoms of depression are the same in both genders: persistent sadness, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, loss off interest or sense of pleasure in activities, difficulty sleeping, among many others.
However, depressed men more often suppress these feelings and delay or avoid seeking help by engaging in risk-taking behaviors— fast cars, excessive drinking, promiscuous sex— coping mechanisms that provide limited relief and often end in suicide.