Masculinities and Men’s Depression

Gender is not just about women. When we talk much about women, men’s situation is easily to be neglected. Older men’s depression as an neglected phenomenon and often connected to their masculinity identity should be paid more attention to.

Depression is a serious mental illness associated with considerable disease burden and reduced quality of life. It is the most common mental disorder in old age and actually affects both men and women. The symptoms of depression in men are similar to the symptoms of depression in women. But the expressions of those symptoms are very different. Common symptoms of depression include loss of interest in usually pleasurable activities, fatigue, changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, and apathy. In women, depression may be more likely to cause feelings of sadness and worthlessness. However, depression in men may be more likely to cause them to become withdrawn or to feel irritable, aggressive, or hostile.

The data reported major depression rates for older women (4.0–10.3 percent) exceed those for older men (2.8–6.9 percent; Luppa et al. 2012). Factors are posited as underpinning this longstanding difference. For example, men’s self-reliance, stoicism, and reticence to seek professional help for depression have been linked to dominant discourses of masculinity as a means to explain why men are less likely than women to identify, acknowledge, and report depressive symptoms (Oliffe & Phillips, 2008). The suicide rate among men is up to eight times higher than that of their women counterparts. Among men 65 years and older, the prevalence of suicide is especially high.

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Men often don’t feel able to reach out for assistance because both the symptoms of depression and the act of seeking help goes against a stereotypical view of how men should or shouldn’t behave. Many participants attempted to keep their depression hidden from colleagues, friends, and perhaps even themselves. Such determined efforts reflect an attempt to avoid the stigma of depression in the external world and their own internalized shame stemming from the meaning of having a mental illness (Riska, 2009).

Men’s depression often derives from failed aspirations for fulfilling breadwinner and family protector ideals. Some men rely solely on work to uphold their masculine identity, so when men leave their workplace, other activities fail to provide the necessary means to realize a vital sense of their masculinity. Among retired men, an important workman identity could be lost in this regard and, coupled with a work history full of regrets, the conditions were set for depressive symptoms to take hold.

To prevent or release the depression after retirement, leisure activities can play an important role. Many studies show that leisure has significant function in depression prevention and well-being improvement. The activity theory of ageing began with the simple propositions that wellbeing in older adults is promoted by higher levels of participation in social and leisure activities, and role replacement when roles must be relinquished. Social leisure activities have been found to facilitate social engagement and connectedness among older adults, especially in regard to cultural activities, volunteering, sports, hobbies, reading and shopping. For example, greater frequency of active leisure activities and interactions with friends facilitate transcendence of mundane daily realities and engenders enjoyment and subjectively meaningful exchanges. During the social activities, men are able to find a way to escape the depression feeling brought by role loss and have a role placement in a new group or share the sadness emotion with other men with similar experience. Masculinities can be rebuilt to some extent which benefits their subjective well-being.

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