Society expects men to be rational, self-reliant and in control. Boys are taught from young age that men don’t cry nor complain. The exhibiting of culturally defined ‘feminine behaviour’ such as crying and talking about feelings may be rejected, criticized and sometimes punished by their environment. Boys are taught to suppress emotion and utilize anger and aggression as primary means of emotional expression. Most men find it difficult to express feelings such as helplessness, sadness, worthlessness, despair and fear. They also fear that others will criticize their vulnerability or question their hardiness and masculinity. Conforming to society’s expectations, men often keep their emotions to themselves and suffer in silence.
Emotions are masked and bottled up inside. Men try to detach themselves from their emotions and avoid any conscious awareness or processing of emotional arousal or signals. Motivated by the fear of losing all control over their emotions, once they are expressed and the fear of others‘ reactions, many will use strategies such as avoidance, rationalization, numbing etc. Depressive symptoms are consequently less apparent in men than women. Instead of asking for help, men get frustrated, angry, irritable, hostile, short tempered and in extreme cases even verbally or physically abusive to others. Masking depression in men can generally to be seen in somatization, addictions, reckless and/or aggressive behaviours (Cochran & Robinowitz, 2000). Some men tend to purposely overwork and compulsively invest their time in their hobby.
Gender roles often construct the individual’s behavioural repertoire. Men are more likely to report depression in the context of their gender role such as work problems, stress, chronic widespread pain (Alschular & Otis, 2011). Men could easily go to their physician and complain of fatigue, headaches,sleep difficulties, back pain, dizziness and chest pain without even making the link that it originates from their depressive mood. Talking to physicians and specialists provides them with comfort and support. Men are often concerned with ‘masculine’ themes such as being dominant, invincible, powerful, competitive and independent (Oliffe, & Phillips, 2008). Exposing vulnerabilities and expressing their need of help is perceived as a weakness. Men often hope that things will improve in time and by themselves. Sometimes, however, this approach does not work and the individual finds himself in a downward spiral. It usually takes allot of time and many extremely intense ‘down’ days until men will finally approach professional help.
Men who view going to a professional as non-normative behaviour will also perceive it as a threat to their self-esteem. Low profile strategies are strategies which men commonly use to deal with their depression without being conspicuous to others. These strategies are still perceived by them as normative as thus less threatening to their self-esteem (Mahalik, & Rochlen, 2006). Under the term low profile strategies the authors include actions such as talking to members of their support system (i.e., wife, best friend), waiting to see if symptoms go away and either exercising or doing things to distract themselves. There are some basic self-help strategies that men can do, which may help their mood. Changing their life style is one strategy. This implies taking care of the body by avoiding drugs/alcohol/chain smoking, working out, eating well, reducing working hours and stress levels, doing relaxation techniques and doing something you enjoy at least once every week. Be proactive, read about depression as knowledge is power. Find someone you trust, who will listen to you without judging you, and share your emotions and thoughts. Social support is an important coping resource. Pleasurable interaction with others and positive activities during the week could lift your mood.
It is also important to recognize that depression is not a weakness but an illness that can be treated; be it through medication, therapy or combination of the two. Seeking professional help is not a ‘feminine act’ but an act that demands strength, assertiveness and courage. Expressing your thoughts, feelings and even asking for help from others is part of every human right. Facing challenges, respecting yourself, bettering your life and conquering your symptoms is a dominant and assertive behaviour. Actually, if you think of it, blindly following a stereotype, cultural pressures and conformity is a submissive and weak behaviour. Conquer your problem by seeking professional help and be direct, proactive and open in your approach. It may take some time and you will have to actively participate in the process but a change will occur. You might also want to consider going to a male therapy group. Being in a safe environment with other men might give you the extra push to connect to others and share your feelings. It is just another opportunity to regain a sense of purpose, mastery and well-being.
Alschuler, K. N., & Otis, J. D. (2011). Coping strategies and beliefs about pain in veterans with co morbid chronic pain and significant levels of PTSD symptoms. European Journal of Pain, corrected proof, doi:10.1016/j.ejpain.2011.06.010 .
Cochran, S. V., & Rabinowitz, F. E. (2000). Men and depression: clinical and empirical perspectives. San Diego: Academic press.
Mahalik, J. R., & Rochlen, A. B. (2006). Men’s likely responses to clinical depression: What are they and do masculinity norms predict them? Sex Roles. DOI 10.1007/s11199-006-91210.
Oliffe, J. L., & Phillips, M.J.(2008). Men, depression and masculinities: a review and recommendations. Journal of men’s health, 5, 3,194-202.