Women are more likely to fall into the stereotypical profile: internalizing their emotions, self-criticizing. Men are more likely to be aggressive or irritable, and turn to alcohol and drug abuse. Instead of sleeping more, as in the classic depression profile, they may spend more time at work.
In a study published in June, Dr. Oliffe interviewed male university students diagnosed with depression. He found they masked symptoms with anger, drinking too much at parties, or brooding in solitary – actions that could be considered “regular guy” behaviour (though Dr. Oliffe quickly points out that not every life of the party is depressed).
Other patterns might be useful in guiding education and public awareness: While girls more often first reveal depression or anxiety to a friend, boys are more likely to tell a family member.
According to Statistics Canada, divorced or separated men are six times more likely to experience depression than men who are married, and twice as likely as women who’ve had a marriage breakdown, a pattern for doctors and family members to note.
Women and men often differ in their knowledge of mental health, or in recognition of their symptoms. A high-profile New Zealand television campaign involved rugby star John Kirwan discussing his experience with depression; in surveys afterward, only 26 per cent of men recalled that his point was that mental illness was nothing to be ashamed of; women were twice as likely to remember it. (On the other hand, targeting women makes some sense, since wives and girlfriends are often the strongest influence behind men seeking help.)
If misconceptions about therapy are deterring men, says Boadie Dunlop, director of the Mood and Anxiety Program at Emory University in Atlanta, then public education has to go beyond vague notions of seeking “help” to more specifics about what happens behind the doors of a psychologist’s office.
“We can do all sorts of ad campaigns,” Dr. Dunlop says. “But it needs to be incorporated into a man’s psyche that you can still be tough and strong and get depressed, and treatment will help you.”
These were the reasons that Brett Zachman, 41, a financial consultant in Denver who was an adviser on the Mantherapy campaign, resisted getting help when he began to feel lonely and overwhelmed following his divorce.
“My initial approach was the machismo route,” he says. “I didn’t need anything. I didn’t need anyone. I could be a lone wolf and solve it on my own.”
Finally, a severe panic attack led him to a group divorce seminar, and eventually individual therapy. Talking to other men helped the most, he says. “It normalized the emotional response to divorce.”
Ultimately, this is the aim of the Dr. Mahogany campaign (Mr. Zachman likens it to a beer commercial, as opposed to a public-service message) – to promote mental-health problems as a common experience of everyday guys, which might not be like the gals’ version.
As for whether those variations are biological or cultural, Dr. Dunlop points out that a natural experiment on the issue may be under way. In a recent editorial in the British Journal of Psychiatry, he predicted rising depression rates over the next decade for men who have seen their family roles shift or their jobs downgraded or lost.
He compares it to the experience of 1950s and 1960s women who were university-educated, only to be confined to the kitchen. “That thwarted sense of development in the work force, or feeling trapped at home – if that’s a force for women, why shouldn’t it be a force for men?”
If Dr. Dunlop’s warning is right, it’s all the more vital that something like Dr. Mahogany’s message of “gentlemental” health reaches all those displaced males: “Being open and honest – that is one of the least unmanly things a man can do,” he barks. “So share away, gentlemen.”
Erin Anderssen is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail.