Depression rates for men on rise in recession
If you look at gender differences for treatment of depression, by far women have outnumbered men. It has been a well-known fact in the mental health field that when it comes to depression, there are many more women than men seeking treatment. But according to Boadie Dunlop, a psychiatrist at Emory University, the recession may be changing these odds.
Commenting in the British Journal of Psychiatry on research he is currently undertaking on depression, Dr. Dunlop remarked about the surprise he experienced when recruiting subjects for his study. He advertised his research on local sports radio shows and was surprised at the number of responses he received from men. “ We were really impressed with the number of men coming in with depression related to employment or marital conflict,” he stated.
Dunlop recounted that many of the discussions with study volunteers remarked on the many social and cultural changes taking place in traditional gender roles that may put men at increasingly higher risk of developing depression. The current recession brought many of those issues to a head. Downsizing and higher unemployment rates point to the demise of manufacturing and labor-intensive jobs. These jobs have traditionally been held by men. Of the jobs lost in the current downturn, about 75 percent belonged to men. Technological advances and outsourcing to countries with lower manual labor costs have forced more men than women out of work. Men have traditionally carried the role of the family breadwinner, so unemployment hits them particularly hard, lowering their self-esteem and increasing the risk of depression.
At the same time that men are losing their jobs, there is a cultural shift in societal norms about the male image. The image of the stoic breadwinner is evolving to a more realistic model of a family member who is as prone to emotional and psychological stress as any other family member. While this change makes it a little easier for men to talk about their experience, it is likely to lead to a bump in the incidence rates for depression among men.
Women have histori- cally been twice as likely to have depression as men for reasons both biological and societal. Differences in hormone metabolism accounts for some of women’s biological risks for depression. Culturally, girls have higher rates of abuse than boys, a factor that enhances rates for depression among women. They have been confronted with societal barriers to professional self-fulfillment that have had negative influences on self-image and selfesteem. However, as more men share the role of primary earner in the household, or relinquish that role to their wives, they may suffer the same insults to their sense of self that women have often had. And as more men take on child-rearing responsibilities, they may feel inadequate and overwhelmed, laying the groundwork for depression.
“ Men are going to be taking on these roles, some by choice and some will have it forced on them,” says Dunlop. “ How well will they be able to adapt, and how well we are able to help them if they have troubles with those roles?”
Some high-profile men have stepped forward about their depression, making it a little easier for the rest of the gender to acknowledge their unhappiness, men like Mike Wallace and John Cleese. But it is still very difficult for most men to admit to feeling overwhelmed and out of control. “ To be depressed, to feel overwhelmed and not motivated to do things, are signs that have had the stigma attached to them of mental weakness,” says Dunlop. “ And men traditionally have felt that they should just overcome them and snap out of it.”
To help health care workers treating men, Dunlop states that the first step is acknowledging the serious economic and societal changes that negatively effect men’s self-esteem. Family physicians and other non-mental health specialists are encouraged to ask male patients how they are coping with the economic downturn and whether the financial crises has caused changes in the family. “ A general inquiry about how you are getting by can open the door to how his role has changed, and whether he is finding things tough going,” says Dunlop.