Men who adhere to masculine norms hold themselves to higher emotional and physical standards than men who do not identify so strongly with these ideals. Men who believe in traditional gender roles assume that they should be physically strong and lean and emotionally guarded. They see emotional vulnerability as a sign of weakness. This could be one reason why there are far more reported cases of depression among women than men. Depression causes sadness, lethargy, and hopelessness, all conditions that are associated with weakness. These factors are closely tied with feminine gender stereotypes, and men who possess develop these symptoms of depression may be unwilling to admit them because they fear being perceived as weak and feminine.
Another theory regarding gender reporting of depression is one associated with controllable versus uncontrollable conditions. Men who believe in masculine norms may be more willing to admit a psychological problem that is caused by factors beyond their control in order to avoid feeling shame and guilt for not being able to properly manage their own health. Externalizing the root of their problem may help men transfer the blame they feel for their depression. However, current measurements for depression do not address these variables. To determine if men would be more willing to report depressive symptoms based on how the questions were posed, Joshua L. Berger of the Department of Psychology at Clark University in Massachusetts led a study that included a slightly manipulated version of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) in 467 male and female participants. The revised version of the scale included controllable and uncontrollable conditions and reporting categories for stress and depression.
After reviewing the answers, Berger found that the women did report more symptoms of depression than the men. However, the masculine-friendly version did not increase the men’s willingness to report symptoms. In fact, the men were less willing to report depression when they externalized the cause to factors beyond their control. In addition, Berger discovered that contrary to previous research, the men with the highest adherence to masculine ideals were equally as willing to report symptoms of depression as women when they attributed their symptoms to factors beyond their control. This suggests that men who may fear guilt and shame from confiding that they cannot control an external situation are actually more likely to admit depressive symptoms when they hold high masculine ideals than when they do not. Berger concluded, “The findings indicate that there is a complex interaction between individual difference variables and how a measure is presented which can influence a person’s willingness to self-report symptoms of depression.”
Berger, J. L., Addis, M. E., Reilly, E. D., Syzdek, M. R., Green, J. D. (2012). Effects of gender, diagnostic labels, and causal theories on willingness to report symptoms of depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 31.5, 439-457.
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