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Men and the Stigma of Mental Illness: Depression and Gender

By HERWriter
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Men and the Stigma of Mental Illness: Male Norms and Depression Design Pics/PhotoSpin

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.

Add a Comment4 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

I do not assert "stigmas", I regret that you do.

June 12, 2015 - 5:07pm
HERWriter Guide (reply to Anonymous)

Hi Anon! 

I think you must have a google alert for "mental health/stigma"!

I think these words together is a very hot topic for you. You said the same thing to me when I posted about this issue years ago.

Addressing an issue is not the same as promoting it.

There is a stigma.   Men who survive suicide have often said they felt they couldn't talk about their depression due to a society that frowns upon men and mental illness. These men want to talk about the stigma.  They use the word stigma. 

I am glad you don't assert any kind of stigma.  We don't either. But many do and that's what we are talking about. 

Take care


June 12, 2015 - 6:09pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Susan Cody)

You asserted the term "stigma".

The word appears from you. I regret you believe it, and hope you can overcome your belief.

You intend no harm passing that prejudice on, but your intentions are not necessary. The word intends harm, you are merely negligently cooperating with it.


Are there people who employ that term and direct it against themselves? See rape/stigma, women self-directed that for generations. A prejudice has its greatest power when its victim can be persuaded to self- direct it.

Harold A. Maio

June 12, 2015 - 9:45pm
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)


Thank you for the link. I have saved it and will read it carefully.

June 13, 2015 - 11:01am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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