Masculinity, Depression, and Culture…
Oliffe, J., Robertson, S., Kelly, M., Roy, P., & Ogrodniczuk, J. (2010). Connecting Masculinity and Depression Among International Male University Students Qualitative Health Research, 20 (7), 987-998 DOI: 10.1177/1049732310365700
We know that men are about half as likely to be diagnosed with depression as women are, and yet are four times more likely to top themselves. The depression=suicide hypothesis is indeed a dodgy bastard, as is that little understood phenomenon of men not seeking help when they feel emotionally flat, down, or totally out to lunch. When trotting through a large set of possible background issues to men’s undiagnosed depression, Oliffe et al. (2010) confirm just how much myth, mistruth, and confusion there is about this subject. I like the version whereby the dynamic of help-seeking is itself feminised, and hegemonic masculinity being what it is, no man with his wits about him would ever be caught dead seeing a health professional for his ‘low mood’ problems. Equally, most health professionals react negatively to any man who cannot get his shite together. We don’t want to see men cry as much as men don’t want us to see them cry.
Oliffe et al. (2010) looked at 15 male, international students who were studying in Canada, exploring the links between masculinity, depression, and culture. What they discovered were those same old chestnuts, notably that:
- Participants believed depression to be a ‘female illness’, from which ‘strong, silent, action oriented men’ should never suffer. Hence, if they did, their masculinity would be compromised.
- Participants believed that they needed, for cultural and other reasons, to work hard to hide their depression from external scrutiny. Depression, thus, is a signifier of personal failure.
- Participants believed that like cancer, depression was something that they needed to fight, predominantly on their own, thereby repositioning the malady within acceptably masculinist parameters.
When discussing depression in men, I often need to pinch myself so that I too don’t get trapped in that positivist dog house that fessing-up and seeking-help are intrinsically good, to the exclusion of all other possibilities. That is what is missing from this article. Too much time and effort spent figuring out what is wrong with men, and not enough time spent questioning the whole damned dynamic. For example, that ‘fighting’ depression might be a useful way to go or that counter to the under-reporting of depression by men; there is the over-reporting of depression by women. In wanting to improve the understanding of the links between masculinity, depression, and culture, we need to break free from the chains of biological determinism. Depression, or the varying cluster of depressive symptoms constitutes, if nothing else, a condition attributable to context. It neither exists in isolation nor is it experienced generically across time and space. Too many researchers conveniently forget those pertinent facts. Oliffe et al. (2010) call it a ‘moral imperative’ to lead international students into the tent of Western medical orthodoxy. I say, to serve what end…?