Young boys are told from an early age that feeling sad and emotional is a weakness. They’re told to never cry because tears are the opposite of masculinity. Crying and emotional weakness are for girls, they often hear. Eventually, these young boys grow into young men who are misled into a world that rejects their natural vulnerabilities and encourages control and aggressiveness in everything they do. But the truth is, many men are indeed struggling with their emotional well being. However, because they suppress emotions due to these cultural belief systems, things like depression in males can be harder to detect.
It is said that 6 million men suffer from major depression in the U.S., but this number statistically could be much higher. Depression, amongst many other mental illnesses, has proven itself controversial between genders in the psychiatric paradigm of diagnosing males and females. Though women tend to lead in depression statistics, this is thought only to be caused by the perception that women are more emotional. However, a study conducted out of the University of Pittsburgh found that there is a genetic difference between male and female depression. Having discovered 19 chromosomes in depressive individuals, only three of them were shared between men and women.
Often, many men experience depression without feelings of sadness, but depression is known to be more than just feeling sad. Many physical symptoms can accompany the illness, including changes in sleep and appetite, and signs of chronic pain and digestive problems.
Men tend to express their depression in ways differing from those of females. Binge drinking and reckless behavior are common signs among depressed men. Needing to feel a sense of control, they will often create conflicts, blame others and self medicate to cope. Very rarely are they able to recognize these as symptoms of depression themselves. Those that are aware, however, feel too much shame to seek help, making male depression much harder to detect and diagnose.
The University of Westminster did a recent study to understand the gender differences in depression. Gathering more than 1,200 participants to identify depression in two similar fictional stories, the subjects were split and asked to read a story about a woman named Kate with depression. The other subjects were told to read a story from the male perspective of Jack. When asked who seemed most depressed, most of the participants pointed to Kate, but acknowledgements that Jack had seemed most depressed came from the majority of female participants.
While 10 percent of the participants said they were sure Kate was not depressed, 21 percent were also positive that Jack was not.
It seems the only way men can treat their depression is having society drop their ideals of cultural masculinity by accepting the fact that all genders experience mental health problems. It doesn’t make a man, or woman, weak when they can acknowledge a problem like depression and seek the means necessary in getting help. While male depression can be harder to detect on a number of levels, it’s important that professionals recognize this and not overlook these symptoms.
Written by Annie Elizabeth Martin