Men and a Culture Shift: The Depression Blind Spot

Chart: Stress Interacts with Trait Neuroticism
We need to recognize that men's emotions and vulnerabilities are real and valid. But it is so programmed into us to be in denial about this, that we may not realize how much we act as though men's feelings don't count. This contributes to a lot of bad results that affect everyone. I have a very interesting chart for you, that will help bring home the reality of men's vulnerabilities. Basically, it shows that men and women have very similar rates of depression when you compare the by how much stress they have experienced along with how much trouble they have handling stress. That kind of difficulty is called neuroticism. The more "neurotic" someone is, the more they tend to have excess anxiety, depression, resentment, and suspiciousness. Adversity tends to trigger even more of that, which means that people high in neuroticism have a harder time rising above the circumstances of their lives. (Epigenetics and brain science are revealing amazing things about stress--and hopefully will yield improved treatments). There were two really important results. One is that men and women had almost identical results. The other is that the people that had more neuroticism had a much more extreme rise in depression at the higher range of stress (very obvious in the chart). Since women have a much higher rate of depression than men, we tend to overlook the importance of depression in men, especially since men may express it in a way that doesn't always look like depression to the untrained eye. This chart tells us that men and women, as individuals, have a similar level of need for help with stressful life events, such as social rejection, grievous losses, legal problems, medical problems, etc. It tells us that it is important to recognize which men are more vulnerable to stress. But, in many cultures, men are "programmed" to express these feelings differently, and society is "programmed" to perceive vulnerable men in a negative way. Both of these factors tend to insulate men from the help they need. So one of our starting points is to help men learn to express their vulnerabilities in ways will get them to be perceived in a sympathetic way by authorities and by people in general. Initiatives to promote this kind of sensitivity on the part of police, judges, social workers, teachers, counselor, physicians, and everybody else are just as important. From what I've experienced, it isn't very difficult to teach men to interact more effectively, as long as they realize that their "style" is not who they are, and that the results matter too much for men not to be strategic about getting results. We already know that society has to recognize that men's emotions and vulnerabilities are real and legitimate. This kind of research may help in getting the cultural shifts that will be good for everyone. P.S. I hear a lot of frustration from people that try to help women avoid sexual assault, because they are accused of victim blaming. I hope that most people understand that it isn't an either-or, and that people deserve to understand how to avoid and deal with threats to their well-being. Likewise, when I work to help men get better results from society, I hope that people will realize how important this is. everyone.
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