Once upon a time, the world was a simple place in which everyone’s role in life was spelled out.
Gender roles were very specific, and there wasn’t any question about what men were expected to do or be like. A man could feel secure in his role because of that. On a global scale, men were and still are expected to be strong, silent, successful and stable. However, these days, there are many questions. Nothing is spelled out, and nothing is concrete. A man can have difficulty figuring it all out and finding his place in the world. As a result, men are often left trying to grapple with the mixed messages that the world sends them, and can feel lost and adrift. They can be left feeling very insecure about themselves, and about what it means to be a man. Everything about them as men is tied into things that no longer have real relevance in this ever-changing world. The ambiguity of their situation can be a root cause of depression in men.
Big boys don’t cry. Man up. Suck it up, buttercup. From an early age, boys are taught that they aren’t allowed to express feelings like girls do. They’re not allowed to be vulnerable, to have emotions, or to be seen as weak. In spite of all of the changes in our world regarding equality between the sexes, there really hasn’t been any concrete change in these areas of a boy’s life growing up, or in a man’s life. Even in modern sitcoms, a man who shows his feelings and allows himself to be vulnerable is called a “girl”, as if he has somehow compromised his masculinity by expressing these things. Women have made great strides in changing the way the world views them, and that’s as it should be. The problem is that somewhere along the way, men got left behind. Their place in the world no longer being clear-cut leaves them somewhat out on a limb, hanging rather precariously over a lake of muddy water.
What causes depression in men is much more easily understood by taking a step back and looking at the whole picture. Many men still tie their sense of self-worth to their job, their ability to be successful at work. This can be very difficult, especially given the instability of the current employment market. Jobs are hard to get and harder to keep. Toxic work environments, low pay and excessive workloads can bring stress levels to the breaking point, and they aren’t allowed to talk about that. They’re expected to suck it up and get on with it. Being a man in these circumstances can be a very lonely and trying experience. When you can’t win no matter what you do, it can be very tempting to just give up.
Many men don’t actually realise that they’re depressed because men experience depression differently from women. Men will suffer more from irritability, sudden anger, loss of control, greater risk-taking behaviours, and aggression. Their behaviour will often be mistaken for anger issues. The pressures that they face are made worse by the feeling that they’re unable to talk to anyone without appearing weak. Far too often, the end result is suicide. For men, depression often is fatal. It’s a huge step for a man to actually admit that he needs to talk to someone. The person that he chooses to talk to will need to be someone who gets what it means to be a man, what depression is for men, and how to help men to regain their sense of self-worth. This is where men’s groups and counselling for men can be a vital resource for them. It might not be very often that a man would find a female therapist that he could talk to, and many men feel that talking to a woman would inhibit their ability to talk openly. They can also feel that a woman just wouldn’t understand what causes depression for men or how men experience depression, and for the most part, they could be right. The main thing, though, is to find someone to talk to that you’re comfortable with, talk, get help, and take action to get out of the grip of depression.