Masculine Norms Influence Men’s Willingness to Report Depressive Symptoms

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.”

Reference:
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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  • Eric S

    Eric S

    May 21st, 2012 at 3:21 PM

    I hope that no one finds this the lesat bit surprising, because even as a man I amable to recognize that if we wat society to think of us a manly sort then we have to uphold those ideals of what people thought that a man should represent in the 1950s. Sorry but not all of us have chosen to remiain quite that close minded. I don’t see a problem with men expressing their emotions and asking for help when you need it. If you think that that’s a problem then maybe you need to update to the 21st century. If I need help, or if any of my make friends need something then I don’t think that any of us think less of each other for doing that.

  • Adrianna

    Adrianna

    May 21st, 2012 at 4:24 PM

    Maybe I am old school, but what’s so wrong with a strong man, and one who is willing to keep those feelings of anxiety on the inside and living up to that manly image that I think deep down inside most women want from their partner?

  • Howard

    Howard

    May 21st, 2012 at 5:08 PM

    So it appears that if men think that it is something they can’t control, then they would be willing to seek help for that. . . or at least admit that they are overwhelmed by it. Kind of predictable, if they say well I can’t help it, then they can’t be blamed for it

  • evan W

    evan W

    May 22nd, 2012 at 4:19 AM

    You know, I have been that guy who was so wrapped up in being a “man” that I almost lost everything that I have as a result.
    Looking back I see that the way I handled things then is exactly the reason why I got to the point where I felt totally worthless and like I had nothing left to live for.
    It took almost losing that to make me stand up and crawl my way back to anity again.
    I did not want to ask for help, that felt weak to me, but I finally had to because I knoew that if I didn’t I wouldn’t be around too much longer.
    It was hard and for a while I really had to swallow my pride, but I am so thankful that I was finally able to do that.

  • Paulette

    Paulette

    May 22nd, 2012 at 4:05 PM

    This article kind of struck me because for years I was married (shackled?) to a man who refused to show any emotion at all. He was this stoic kind of figure, never really smiled or cried or anything in between. he thought he was setting a good example for us and how the family should act, but for the most part it drove us all crazy. It’s no fun being arounf captain serious all the time, and in the end I couldn’t take it. he could be stoic alone because I wanted a man who could say what he was feeling and let me know when he was happy or sad. I hope that I have passed this along to our sons, that women really do want a man who can show a little feeling. We need love and support but that doesn’t mean that you have to show us or give us nothing when it comes to your emotions.

  • youractualtherapist

    youractualtherapist

    May 22nd, 2012 at 4:27 PM

    As a mental health professional I see this demographic the most difficult to engage and therefore pose the highest risk in terms of serious self harm. Much work is still required to normalise depression and anxiety. If you were to break your leg (due to excessive stress) you would rest and listen to doctors, why not when excessive stress is put on other parts of your body (your mind and brain).

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