Why aren’t men talking about depression?
It’s not an easy conversation to have, full stop. But asking for help is a sign of strength – not weakness.
OneLife staff writer
Studies show women are more likely to acknowledge their depression than men. A 2014-15 Australian National Health Survey revealed that one in eleven people had experienced feelings of depression, with the incidence and degree of the condition being higher in women.
Yet, generally-speaking, factors that trigger depression in women also trigger it in men, from relationship breakdowns to genetic makeup. No-one is immune from modern-day stressors and expectations, and unfortunately no one gender is better equipped at dealing with depression.
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures tell us that only 27 per cent of men seek professional help, compared to 40 per cent of women. Could it be that more women are reported to have depression due, in part, to men’s reluctance to come forward on the topic?
Regardless of your gender, ignoring depression is dangerous.
In Australia, suicides have reached an unprecedented high, with one person taking their life every three hours. A recent report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that, although the incidence of depression is more common in women, the suicide rate is three times higher for men.
What can we do about it?
Gender stereotypes dictate that emotional vulnerability is not ‘manly’. Nick Duigan, Senior Clinical Advisor at Headspace, explains that this idea can have long-term, damaging effects for men.
“These stereotypes might seem irrelevant, like they’re not having that big an influence,” he explains, “But imagine it for the young boy growing up. Every time he gets emotional for some reason, he has his schoolmates, parent or his schoolteachers giving him that message –‘toughen up’, ‘stop crying’, ‘you’ll be right – carry on’.
“That can really embed itself,” he says. “The idea that boys handle things in this way, girls handle things in another way; those rigid gender roles and stereotypes can have significant impact on the way young people growing up are expected to handle difficulty.”
In this context, it may come as no surprise that men tend to bottle up their feelings. Even unconscious messaging around how a man should behave can have a detrimental effect. The result? Men who find it difficult to deal with emotional turmoil, believing they have no outlet.
Changing the conversation
More and more organisations are acknowledging this difficulty, and there are growing resources tailored for men who are dealing with depression. There’s Headspace, beyondblue, MensLine Australia; HeadsUpGuys in Canada, a resource funded by the Movember Foundation; and The Lions Barber Collective in the UK, a group of barbers creating safe spaces for men to open up about depression.
But what if you’re on the other side of the conversation? Seeing a friend, colleague or child demonstrate and struggle with the symptoms of depression? What if they’re reluctant to talk about it?
“It’s important for people going into those conversations to be aware that they don’t have to have all the answers,” says Nick.
“They don’t have to be the expert. In that conversation, don’t drop into problem-solving mode,” he suggests.
It’s much more important to listen, non-judgmentally, and show empathy.
“Listening is far more likely to help that person feel comfortable to talk more about stuff that’s going on with them,” says Nick.
“And if it gets to that stage where you’re thinking, ‘This is really far out of my depth, I don’t know if I can keep this person safe’, then that’s when you’d encourage them to seek professional help.”
Challenging the norm
The fact is, men are significantly less likely to access support for depression – but there are things we can do to change this. These days, while the once-stigmatised topic of depression is cropping up more in the media, it’s those everyday interactions that are often the turning point for individuals, says Nick. Fathers can become role models just by starting a conversation.
“A large part of helping people to access care sooner is changing the community narrative around what depression is, what it means, how to do something about it,” he says.
“If we get it out of the shadows and into the light and we talk about it more casually, more routinely, it means that others will too.”
With more public figures coming out to talk about their experience with depression, this narrative is steadily changing.
“Depression is not something that affects this mythical ‘other’, it affects everyone,” says Nick. “No matter your age, your race, your class, your gender – no matter what demographic you look at – it affects everyone. And so it’s important to talk more openly about it.”
OneLife staff writers come from a range of backgrounds including health, wellbeing, music, tech, culture and the arts. They spend their time researching the latest data and trends in the health market to deliver up-to-date information, helping everyday Australians live healthier lives. This is general information only and is not intended as medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances. The information in this article is general information only and is not intended as medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.
The information in this article is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional, tax or other advice. It does not take into account any individual’s personal situation or needs. You should consider obtaining professional advice from a financial adviser and/or tax specialist, or medical or health practitioner, in relation to your own circumstances and before acting on this information.