In Ireland, mental health issues continue to affect a significant portion of the population. Surprisingly, while more women are diagnosed with depression, men face a higher risk of dying by suicide. This disparity raises important questions: Do men hesitate to seek help when they experience depression? Are the diagnostic criteria for depression failing to address men’s unique symptoms? In this blog post, we delve into the possible reasons behind these figures and explore the impact of societal expectations on men’s mental health.
The Diagnostic Gap:
Traditionally, depression has been associated with symptoms such as sadness and crying, which may conflict with societal expectations of masculinity. As a result, men might be less inclined to report these symptoms, leading to a potential underdiagnosis of depression. A study by Martin, Neighbors & Griffith (2013) suggests that when accounting for other symptoms like anger attacks, substance abuse, and risk-taking behaviour, the prevalence of depression between men and women becomes similar. This finding emphasizes the need for further investigation into men’s experiences of depression, as their symptoms might differ from those outlined in the current diagnostic criteria.
Reluctance to Seek Help:
Another contributing factor to the disparity in mental health outcomes between men and women is the reluctance of men to seek psychological help when they are in distress. Research by Whitehead & Barrett (2001) reveals that men are generally more hesitant than women to confront physical and psychological problems. In fact, men who adhere to traditional masculine ideologies often hold negative attitudes toward seeking psychological help, as highlighted by Berger, Levant, McMillan, Kelleher, and Sellers (2005).
The Influence of Gender Roles:
Various cultural trends reinforce traditional gender roles for men, such as limited emotional expression, an emphasis on toughness and aggression, self-reliance, and non-relational behaviours. These expectations can significantly impact men’s mental health and well-being. Several studies have shown a correlation between adherence to traditional male ideologies and negative outcomes, including depression. For instance, Good et al. (1996) found a significant relationship between adherence to traditional male ideologies and depression. Similarly, Cournoyer and Mahalik (1995) discovered that traditional male ideologies were associated with depression, anxiety, and self-esteem issues among men of different age groups.
The disproportionate rates of suicide among men compared to women, despite fewer men being diagnosed with depression, can be attributed to a combination of factors. The current diagnostic criteria for depression may not capture the full range of symptoms experienced by men. Additionally, societal construction of gender roles places men in a challenging position, making them less likely to seek help when experiencing depressive symptoms. It is crucial to foster conversations around men’s mental health to reduce the stigma still surrounding the topic.
By promoting dialogue and awareness, we can work towards destigmatizing mental health issues and creating a more inclusive society. Understanding the social construction of gender roles provides insights into the challenges faced by men and encourages us to question traditional norms. Let us continue to prioritize mental health and support one another on the journey to well-being.
AWARE (2016). Mental Health in Ireland.
Ayuso-Mateos, J. L., Vázquez-Barquero, J. L., Dowrick, C., Lehtinen, V., Dalgard, O. S., & Casey, P. (2001). Depressive disorders in Europe: prevalence figures from the ODIN study. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 179(4), 308-316.
Health Service Executive (HSE, 2013). Mental Health in Primary Care: A Resource for General Practice.
Martin, L. A., Neighbors, H. W., & Griffith, D. M. (2013). The experience of symptoms of depression in men vs women: analysis of the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. JAMA Psychiatry, 70(10), 1100-1106.
National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE, 2003). Depression: Management of Depression in Primary and Secondary Care.