Men.Society.Depression.

I have been feeling generally uninspired to write over the last week, and the opportunities have been few and far between anyway. I have recently come to the realization that I need true peace and quiet to write anything worth reading. I can’t have my son pulling at my pant leg interrupting or my wife leaning over to see what I am doing. This never used to be, but I have also never put some of my deepest and darkest thoughts into print before either. I have had some moments to peruse different blogs over the past weekend. I spend some time when I can sifting through blogs tagged with depression or anxiety and have found some very good reading that way. This weekend I was finding things a little thin, but I did stumble across one article I found interesting. It was an Australian current events blog that was exploring some very disturbing statistics on male suicide. The writer discovered that 89 countries keep separate statistics on male v. female suicide rates, and that in all but one of these countries men were killing themselves at a faster rate than women, and the average was nearly four male suicides to every female. He had hard numbers for Australia showing a margin greater than 3:1. I can’t say I was surprised, but still the numbers were eye opening, and got me thinking about what it is like to live under the dark cloud of depression and anxiety as a man. The cold hard truth of the matter is that living with these issues as a man presents challenges and requires choices that are extremely difficult.

The author of this article has a decidedly anti feminist stance, and makes no effort to sugar coat that position in his article or in his responses to comments. While his comments are likely to get under the skin of many there is some truth to what he is saying. His general position is that feminism has made it socially acceptable to put down men, and that there has been a massive efforts over the last couple decades to get health information out to women while male health concerns have been largely ignored. As a man I cant help but tend towards agreeing with him in general terms. Modern society has pretty much emasculated men. Masculinity has been targeted as something to be covered over as if it is dirty or dangerous, while at the same time men are portrayed in modern media as bumbling morons in the domestic setting. It is very Ironic to listen to a true feminist complain that TV commercials for products like laundry detergent and dish soap show women being forced into traditional sex roles due to men’s incompetence as if these media clips of women continually coming the rescue of the useless man is somehow more damaging to the female sex than the male. Society’s message to men is to suppress any stereotypical masculine behavior as they can be seen as aggressive and/or unacceptable socially, but don’t try to step too far into the traditional female domain because you are useless there also. It is a confusing time to be a man, and it is a confusing time to be coming of age as a male.

So what’s the point of this little rant? When it comes to depression subtle signals are important. I can take a scowl from my wife and turn it into a catastrophic marital crisis in my head. People with depressive personalities need a lot of positive reinforcement and encouragement. It is becoming clear that depression is at least as common in men as women, and society is sending the same dangerous messages to men that are sent to women, but nobody wants to talk about it. Anybody can look at the covers of magazines at the grocery stores and see how the development of a young girl’s sense of self worth could be damaged by the images of “perfect” bodies. It is a problem society talks about. There is no such conversation about the things that society is telling its boys and young men that may be damaging to them. I dare say that many who may read this think this notion is ridiculous, and that only makes my point.

Society tells a man that he cant really be strong and masculine, but he cant be vulnerable either. If you sit on the couch and watch football while your wife cooks dinner you’re a misogynist, but don’t grab the laundry basket to help out because you’ll surely fuck that up. On the other hand when you are in a male dominated setting whether it be a locker room, a male only club, or a male dominated workplace the old rules of masculinity apply fully, and any sign of weakness will be ripped apart, so you better be able to go to that guy place in your brain when you need to. Then in the dating world you may find a woman who has bought in to the feminist message completely, or one who holds on to some more traditional ideas of how men behave. It’s truly schizophrenic

All these mixed signals leave men confused. Society tells us we don’t need to be the strong male, but weaknesses are still seen as a flaw. I find it telling that the vast majority of the blogs I read about depression are written by women. Why is that? Women face judgments for their mental illness, the stigma is strong for everybody, but be a man and say out loud for the whole world to hear that you are scared. You have no reason to be, but you go through your days with this vague sense of unease that can be triggered to downright panic over the slightest thing. Or get them to admit that they live with overriding feelings of sadness or question their self worth. You are not going to get most men to say it. It’s socially, and therefore emotionally, way too dangerous. In the world of maleness it’s not acceptable, and in the larger society, even in this supposed era of men being in touch with their softer side, no wants to hear it either. For those that  may be reading this who do suffer from depression and anxiety consider for a moment what it feels like when you are at your lowest and you think nobody cares.

Dealing with depression and anxiety as a man is like walking through a mine field. You never know how the information is going to be received, and society is slowly programming men and women into behaviors that make getting the proper support difficult. Those who have been following this blog may recall that when my tug boating career ended I was accused of misleading my employer about my condition, despite having revealed it openly on yearly company physicals. Nobody gave a shit about the circumstances my “issues” became a convenient scapegoat. Society needs to open their eyes to male depression. When they do they are going to find an epidemic on their hands.

One final thought on the suicide figures in the article that inspired this post. When I first read the 4:1 ratio I couldn’t imagine it was really this bad. The writer implied it was even worse in the United States. Then I began to think about my own experience. From my dining room I can see a bridge that was completed four or five years ago. It is some 130’ above the river it spans and is a regional hot spot for suicide. There have been six jumpers since the bridge was completed. All of them were male, and all but one were “successful” suicides. Now I know that woman stereotypically kill themselves in ways that are less violent, pills, etc, but not a single female jumper? In addition all the suicides that have ever touched my life have been men. I didn’t intend this to become and opinion piece, but one has to ask; why aren’t we talking about this?

Be kind to the men in your life, you never know what may be happening in their heads.

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8 thoughts on “Men.Society.Depression.

  1. I agree that people don’t see men as being depressed yet the suicide statistic does show exactly that. Interesting! I grew up with all men in a very masculine house where the intellect and brute strength was valued above all else. One did not show emotions so often times I respond and act more like a guy. With my depression, I typically get angry at my husband and feel unsupported, much like my girldfriend’s complain that their husbands are like. I will get angry and walk away more often than I’ll beg and cry, the latter I never do.

    I tell you this because I agree that there is a societal issue around men and depression. If a guy is angry or drinks too much I’ve never heard someone say “he’s depressed.” It seems to be perceived more of a personality flaw when in fact, the symptoms are similar to a woman’s symptoms of depression.

    Society and genetics play a big part in our developing selves. I’d also like to point out that family dynamics can have a great impact on how a person perceives themselves within societies roles and rules. I’m trying to raise my two boys to know their feelings are acceptable and normal, whether it be happy, sad or angry. And if they have problems with their feelings it’s okay to seek help (from me, professionals or otherwise).

    Do you think I’m fighting a losing battle with all of the confusing messages they are getting from the media, their peers and even thier own masculine dad?

    I have a nephew now in his 30’s who is high up in the Navy. I know he’s got lots of strips on his shirt and commands a lot of people. But, what impresses me wbout him is when he is with his wife, he is tender and attentive to her. If he is traveling and an emtional crisis arises, he calls her to talk to her in private and get her support. I love that about him.

    I would like to suggest that men can be tender and emotional with their women and we will suppport that side of you. Perhaps society or the boss or friends won’t but in general I’m betting your wife will. As an added bonus, you may even increase a sense of intimacy with her and get better sex out of it. You sound like a great guy and you deserve it.

    • I don’t think you are fighting a losing battle. I think that over the past couple of decades there as been a lot of focus put on women and girls, from getting health information out there to trying to encourage girls to participate in the math and science. I think all of that is great and was needed. What I don’t like is that in the process of all that the assumption was made that men were getting all they needed, and boys didn’t need encouragement in school settings. The pendulum swung and it has taken way to long for people to notice. Add in all the mixed messages on what “male” behavior is acceptable and what is not, and I think we have found ourselves in a place where it has become very confusing to come of age as a male.
      With regard with being emotional with our wives and girlfriends I think you are right as a general statement. When you put a partner of either sex in a situation where they are dealing with depressive symptoms of a partner over a long period of time they may find themselves needing support.

  2. I think it’s true–I did read some statistics somewhere that women tend to choose less violent suicidal methods than men did. Those chosen methods have a higher risk of failure. Perhaps it’s because women are more ambivalent about it. I don’t know. I know I am. That said, I think if I ever were to do it, it would be spur of the moment and violent. And that scares me.

    Also, I can be quite the feminist. 🙂

    But I think that men should just really be themselves. It is true that extreme machismo annoys me, but that’s because it usually seems so forced. A bit less over-the-top natural machismo, though, is fine. And men who are into “traditional gender roles” irk me, too. I don’t behave a certain way because I’m a woman, and I don’t think men should behave a certain way just because they’re men.

    Oh, dear. Perhaps I’m going into rant mode. Overall, I mostly agree with you.

    • Don’t worry about ranting a little 🙂 All but two of my regular readers are women so I knew there was a likelihood I would step on a few toes with this post. I just tried to step gently. There is nothing inherently wrong with feminism, and I hope that is not what you took away from this. Like anything else feminism taken to extremes becomes counterproductive. Everything in moderation they say. I think there have been some unintended consequences of even the most well intentioned feminist positions, and for a truly equitable society it is important we understand and correct those.

      • I think feminism taken to extremes is definitely detrimental to the cause. There are so many people out there, women I’ve met, who will say things like, “Now, I’m not one of those crazy feminist types, but . . . ” Anyone who believes in equality between the sexes is a feminist. Anyone who thinks gender roles can be crippling is a feminist. That’s all there is to it. Feminists don’t even have to be women. When I was in academia, I tended to approach many texts by showing how they depict women being stifled by expectations for their sex. For this reason, I feel that I must be a feminist, ha. 😀

        For a minute, I did get slightly offended at your post, to be honest. It felt to me like you were saying women’s experiences with mental illness aren’t as valuable as men’s simply because there are more women who write about it. But as I’ve learned, I can interpret matters too personally, and of course I know that’s not what you meant. Upon consideration, I realized, as I said, that I agreed with you. There should be more material about mental illness in men because it is definitely an issue. I think the preponderance about material dealing with women does stem from historical oppression. It used to be that a woman who didn’t want to adhere to “norms” was deemed “hysterical,” which basically meant mentally unsound. I’m not sure how that connects to what happens today, but it probably does somehow. I’d need to do more research to be able to articulate that. (And now comes one of those rare instances where I miss studying literature as an academic. Lol.)

  3. Well, I think I agree with everything you’ve said. My co-writer and I bitch all the time about the “bumbling” dad/husband/male figure on TV and how much we hate it as well as how much this affects boys and men. As we are in a position to do something about that, we are writing a much different father/husband figure–no bumbling here.

    I think that you are right on society’s view of male depression/mental health for the most part, but there are sub-cultures where it is spoken of–artistic cultures. If one moves in the theatrical or the artistic cultures, then you’ll find that mental health is, in fact, spoken about quite a bit. Men of a more artistic disposition tend to hold on to and even exploit their depressive moods (think of the bipolar’s mania). Recall Van Gogh. There is a common notion that one must remain in “darkness” to produce good work. The artistic sub-cultures discuss mental health quite a bit albeit in a rather morbid and dysfunctional way. It isn’t, however, swept under the rug. And, directors go out of their way to coddle their favored sons, too, going so far as to get them help–or give them their favorite poison. All in the name of “the show must go on”.

    I do believe that mental health issues will always carry a stigma largely because people do not want to look in the mirror and see a tainted image reflecting back at them. It is rare to find a truly healthy mentality. Everyone could use a leg up in one way or another. It’s just easier to point the finger as someone else.

    I think that men and women carry different but equal burdens. Every point you raise is valid and important particularly the issue of suicide. A recent suicide touched my life, and the victim was a man. My mother, on the other hand, has tried to commit suicide more times than I can recall. The first–pills. The second–pills and a revolver. The third–more pills. The fourth–slitting her wrists. Now, she just treats herself so badly that I think she’s trying to kill herself slowly while torturing the rest of us. It’s really being ravaged by mental illness.

    What I know for sure is that when a person is loved thoroughly, they can bring all that they are into a relationship–their strength and their vulnerability. Their softness and their steeliness. Their “I’ll fix it!” and their “I need help…” Their capacities for tears, fears, worries, depression, and happiness, too. And, when they feel fear and worry, being loved better often is the antidote. One isn’t going to find that in the culture. One usually finds that in the space of the heart.

    Thank you, C, for your honesty. 😉 When I blog about deeper things, I often feel vulnerable and “out there”, and I really don’t like it all. That’s when I want to take it all down and forget it. I appreciate your presence. Peace to you as you enter into the holiday season and continue to go through your pharmaceutical transitions. May you taste a bit of joy.

    • I had never really considered the artistic crowd when I was writing this, but from what little exposure I had to that in college I would agree with you on that. I also agree it is a little scary how they cultivate their darker moods in the name of creativity. On the other hand the best writing I have ever done was when I felt very low. My experience has of course been in the exact opposite direction. Testosterone fueled professions where survival of the fittest was the name of the game. I think society as a whole tends to be less receptive to male mental illness then female. To most the drunk down the street is a loser. He has some personality flaw; the idea that he may have deeper issues is not the first thing that comes to mind. I think folks are just starting to realize that the symptoms of depression in men manifest in ways that are different yet similar to women.

      I also like what you said about being “loved better”. This is so true, but can be so hard. I know my wife loves me, but when times are tough I need reassurance. I also know she struggles with how to cope when things are bad. I know myself well enough now that I sometimes make rational decisions to keep my brain from irrational worry later on. For someone who has never had their brain take them to these horrible places that concept is impossible to understand, and when we don’t understand it is easy to judge. Nothing makes me feel like things will be okay like support from my wife.

      • I think that this is a really interesting exchange of ideas. At its core, I think that feminism is the notion that a woman should have choices, or, at least, that is what I think it should be. And said woman ought to be supported in the exercise of making those choices because men are. Instead, it’s been colored by the idea of “power over v. power under.” I left academia behind when I found out I was pregnant. I was newly married, and I didn’t want to leave my daughter in daycare all day. So, I chose to stay at home with her. I don’t judge women who pursue a career. I simply made my own choice. What I found is that women are actually more cruel to other women than men are. Becoming a “housewife” essentially erased me. I struggled with post-partum depression issues, and it didn’t matter to other women who were on the fast track because I had quickly become a non-entity. One of my former university pals told me that i should have aborted my daughter. Then, I wouldn’t be suffering. Yes, men can be complete asshats. I’ve been groped in the workplace, sexually harassed, and demeaned. But, I almost expect it. Women are still not paid the same amount for doing the same job. Still!!! But, a story was written about female relational aggression in which a female college psychology professor refused to hire a fully qualified associate professor because she was too attractive citing that she didn’t want to work with an attractive woman everyday.

        I think that what we are seeing in the culture today is the swing of the pendulum. And, I think that FA is correct. We’ve got centuries of oppression looking back at women. It’s not that long ago that we were property after all. Women can finally speak up about mental health issues, but I’ve not worked in one male-dominated work place where the men have not made at least one remark on a daily basis about a woman being “bitchy” or “she must be on the rag” or “she just needs a good dicking” or “that woman just needs to shut the fuck up”….you name it. A lot of men are not that sensitive or even respectful. Their ideas of women aren’t that elevated. We’re just a group of hysterical vaginas with legs. You are a thinking male so you are going to notice the deeper issues in the culture, and they are going to hit you harder. Bottom line…the hardcore feminists have it wrong, I think. And, the world needs to see what a good man looks like. Actually, a few good men.

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