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How many men in your life deal with depression? What about women? Do you feel like one sex talks about it more than the other? Do you notice any particular gender differences in depression?
In my personal experience, depression is something that affects both sexes. I know men who deal with it. (This can also be evidenced in the media, with the tragic deaths of Heath Ledger, Robin Williams, Chester Bennington, and Anthony Bourdain, to name a few.)
I also know women who live with depression. I’m one of them, along with close friends and family members of mine. Carrie Fisher is a famous example that sticks in my mind. She lived LOUDLY and was not shy about her struggles.
Do men and women seem to deal with depression differently?
I try not to subscribe to traditional gender roles or concepts of gender, but I think they are important to discuss in a conversation about mental health. In this article, I’ll offer some statistics about mental health, some traditional thoughts on gender, the dangers of Man Up, and talk about how men and women face depression.
Statistics on Mental Health
According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, depression is extremely common.
*Depression affects about 17.3 million adults in America each year
*1.9 children have been diagnosed with depression
*It is more common in women
*There is a strong correlation between depression and heart disease
I like breaking down statistics to make them easier to understand and digest. Let’s take the first one for example.
The holiday party example
Depression affects about 7.1% of the population according to the statistic in the article I linked. That might sound like a small number, but I always use the office holiday party example if you are at a holiday party with 100 people, 7 suffer from depression. At a party of 200 people, 14 are affected. When you look at it that way, the number seems a lot more significant.
Let’s look at the other two. According to the article, depression is more common in women then men. In fact, it is twice as common.
Why is that? Is that accurate? Or is it just twice as likely to be reported by women than by men? I’ll go into this more in a bit.
Depression is a very physical illness. It can lead to heart disease in 64% of people with depression. I have written previously about the physical nature of depression, so check that out!
Traditional Thoughts on Gender
When you bring up the topic of men versus women, people usually have a very strong opinion. It’s a hot topic that only gets more contentious by the year.
Traditionally, men are seen as more logical. They tend toward stoicism, and don’t generally speak about their emotions.
Men are responsible for going out, getting jobs, and supporting their family. In 2019, it is more common than ever for men to stay home and for women to be breadwinners. (In 2017, 41% of American women were reported to be the breadwinners in their relationships, according to the Center for American Progress.)
Are we making progress?
So, as you can see, things are slowly becoming more equal, but men still face a lot of pressure to perform financially.
Women, on the other hand, are emotional creatures by nature. They wear their hearts on their sleeves, and tend to be more open about their mental health. Furthermore, it is more accepted for women to be open about it. (Disclaimer: I am just speaking to tradition in American culture. I am neither agreeing nor disagreeing.)
Whereas men are pressured to perform financially, women face a larger pressure than ever to perform domestically. In fact, the burn out rate in women is higher than ever. I know I am certainly faced with it!
Men and women are undeniably still seen as different in terms of their expectations, and they are different in terms of how they are allowed by society to cope with mental illness.
The Dangers of Man Up
No article about gender differences in depression would be complete without a discussion about a certain phrase.
It’s a phrase that sadly remains ubiquitous in gender politics.
Have you ever had that said to you? Have you ever said it to someone else?
If the answer to the first question is yes, then I just want to say, I’m sorry.
If the answer to the second question is yes, then I want to be clear that the purpose of this discussion is not to judge people who have said this. Truthfully, I just want to start a dialogue about how we can do better, since suicide is on the rise in American men.
Where did Man Up come from?
I’m not sure when the phrase “man up,” or similar phrases originated. But men face a lot of pressure to remain stoic and not express their emotions.
I’m not on the fence about this one. I can’t be on the fence. That’s because I am a mother of young people and have a responsibility to raise them to be emotionally healthy adults who treat others with compassion. I can’t be on the fence about it because I see more and more males committing suicide because the pain they carry is too much to bear.
Listen: If you have ever said “man up” to your child or to someone else, I hear you. Tradition is important to you. There is something comforting to you about men having a spot to fill, and women having their own spot to fill. To you, it helps life make sense for you.
But let’s look at the facts. Suicide is on the rise, and we need to do something about it. We need to create a culture where it is okay for people of all genders to express their emotions. If we don’t, men will continue to lose their lives to something that is very preventable.
Gender Differences in Depression
Like I mentioned, there are definitely gender differences in depression, and in emotional expression. This is not something I agree with, or think is healthy, but it is worth discussing.
How men face depression
Women are twice as likely to be depressed as men. However, men are much more likely to die by suicide.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that over 47,000 people died by suicide in 2017 in the U.S. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death overall. In 2015, suicide was the seventh leading cause of death for all U.S. men, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
(VeryWellMind- statistics on male suicide)
How is this possible? If women are more likely to be depressed, how is it possible that men are more likely to commit suicide?
The answer is simple: it is (from a societal perspective, not mine) less okay for men to talk about mental illness.
Men are told to “man up.” They are made to be a butt of joke among friends. That’s not to say that women do not ever face issues when they disclose their mental illness, but it is much more common for men.
Tips for men to help them cope
So, what can men do? I wanted to offer some guidance so that, hopefully, we can start to see male suicide rates drop in our lifetime.
I think one thing that can be really helpful in this situation is for women to continue to be open about their own struggles. Traditionally, women are natural nurturers so this might speak to that, even though I don’t subscribe to gender roles normally. This might be a way for women who do find themselves to be nurturers to help the men in their lives. If women continue to speak openly about it, the way they have been, depression will continue to become a thing that is normal, which might help men become more comfortable speaking about it.
The need for research
Another thing that would be helpful in aiding men to be more comfortable speaking about mental health is to do more studies about the amounts of men who live with depression. Speaking again about traditional gender roles, men are seen as logical beings. They like to know how to get from point A to point B, and are comfortable thinking in numbers. Again, there are many women that this would be true for. This does not mean that women are illogical. But if the stereotype about men is true, it might be helpful for them to see more professional studies done about men living with depression.
Since we are great consumers of media in today’s day and age, one more thing that might help men speak out is to see accurate, compassionate, and helpful representation of depressed men in the media. In movies and television, as in reality, it is traditionally the female that is shown to be emotional, and shown to struggle with emotional health. Strong examples of men with mental health issues in film and television tend to portray them as violent, which is not the case for the majority of men who struggle with mental health.
Talk about it
Another suggestion I would offer is for men to simply talk about it. This takes practice. Speaking about your mental health is like training a muscle. It does not grow stronger by itself, but through regular exercise, diligence, and patience. For men to be comfortable speaking about mental health issues, they need to practice incorporating this dialogue into their daily lives in whatever way they can. I suggest starting with their spouse or partner. Starting with someone with whom they have a strong rapport will help pave the way for further conversation with others.
Probably the most important suggestion I could make is for men and women alike to be more conscientious about the way we are raising our children. We need to raise a new generation of adults that are not only comfortable speaking about mental health, but are compassionate and empathetic listeners. If we can raise sons that are more sensitive and intuitive, as well as empathetic, we will be well on our way to destroying a stigma that has long plagued the male population.
How women face depression
According to the statistic that I already mentioned, women are twice as likely to be depressed as males. Why is this? Well like I said, women are facing a higher than ever rate of a burnout. At the risk of oversimplifying, burnout is when there is too much pressure on a person, and they are no longer able to cope. Some symptoms of burnout include irritability, fatigue, and other changes in mood. There is a lot of pressure on women these days to “have it all.” Women are expected at higher rates than ever to work outside of the home, but also maintain a sometimes unrealistic amount of domestic responsibilities.
I place a lot of blame for this on social media, and its growing presence in our lives. It is a ubiquitous danger, with everybody having at least one social media account. Personally, I have a Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. I use them daily, not just for my blog but for personal reasons. It helps me stay in contact with friends and family around the world.
For as many benefits that social media has, it has an equal if not greater amount of harmful side effects. Have you ever seen a social media Facebook post that made you feel bad about yourself? Maybe it made you question your capability as a mother. Maybe it made you wish that you were better at keeping your house clean. We have all had this experience. There is no woman in the world that has not been victim to this at least once. Women see these posts and it influences their mental health because it reinforces a mindset of inadequacy. It makes us feel less than.
Tips for women to help them cope
It’s kind of a running joke that I have about myself, but in situations like this I always recommend journaling. Most women I know are pretty good about expressing their emotions, but this is not the case for everyone. Some struggle with the thoughts swirling around in their head, and need help making sense of them. If this is true for you, I recommend starting a journal. This can be difficult, especially if you are unsure about what you should be writing. If you need some ideas of things to write about, here are some examples:
- Stream-of-consciousness writing. Basically you start with the first thought that comes to your head and keep writing even if it doesn’t make sense.
- Write three things that you like about yourself.
- Write about some goals that you have, whether they be physical, emotional, or professional.
Here are some great journals to help get you started:
While I would offer the same suggestions to women that I offered to men in the section above, I would add one more. Women need to take action. This is going to look different for everybody. But women are in a unique situation in today’s age were they are equally powerful and powerless. They hold more power than ever before, but in a lot of ways feel that power being stripped away from them on a daily basis.
We need to take action
This is why we need to act. If we are going to continue to make progress in breaking the stigma attributed to mental health issues, we are past the point where speaking up about our issues is enough.
We need to tell our children that it is okay to feel, and that their feelings are valid.
We need to contact our Senators and tell them that we don’t just want more funding for mental health support, but we demand it.
We need to do fundraisers, and be chairpeople on boards of organizations, and run for office.
Speaking up is no longer enough. We need to give our words more power by acting on them.
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While the perception of gender roles is emotional health is still prevalent, that doesn’t mean we can’t change things for the better. Speak up about mental health, and don’t forget to always keep fighting.
Have you ever been a victim of gender stereotyping in your journey with mental health? How did you overcome it? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments!
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