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Men and the Stigma of Mental Illness: Depression and Gender

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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.

Leading the world in the destigmatization of mental illness is Canada, with a national television campaign, “Let’s Talk.” In this segment, the stereotypical male response to mental illness — machismo — is juxtaposed against compassion and emotional intelligence.

In the same vein, former Surgeon General of the United States Richard Carmona said this in an article on men and depression on the NAMI site. ”Today we’re saying to men, it’s okay to talk to someone about what you’re thinking, or how you’re feeling, or if you’re hurting. We are attacking the stigma that tough guys can’t seek help. They can and they should.”

If a man in your life is struggling with feelings of hopelessness, visit the Real Men. Real Depression. page at NAMI. There you can learn more, find support, and read the stories of other men who have had the courage to seek help.


Men and the Stigma of Mental Illness. goodmenproject.com. Retrieved June 10, 2015.
http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/men-and-the stigma-of-mental-illness-dg

Suicide Facts and Figures. afsp.org. Retrieved June 10, 2015.

Depression and Men Fact Sheet. nami.org. Retrieved June 10, 2015.

Male Gender Role. psychologyofmen.com. Retrieved June 11, 2015.

Men and Depression. nimh.hih.gov. Retrieved June 11, 2015.

Reviewed June 12, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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EmpowHER Guest

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

June 12, 2015 - 5:07pm
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