The Stigma of Masculinity and Depression

I'm a Man

"I’m a man, so I’ve got to be ___________________. " (Fill in the blank)

What word came to mind?

  • Strong
  • Brave
  • Self-Sufficient
  • Powerful
  • In control

As a man, I know these are the types of words that pop into my head. This idea that we need to be a "man's man" and all that.

But I know I've hit lows in my life where I didn't feel so strong or brave. Where I thought I should be able to hold it together, but truthfully I needed help. Even admitting that is tough for me. Am I being too vulnerable? Will I be seen as weak? Our culture seems to send a message to men...don't reveal too much...don't "give in" to any discomfort you may be feeling.

I think it is very common for men to feel weak at times, but we try our best to hide it. Many men struggle with depression or anxiety...they don’t feel strong or like they can do it on their own any longer? I know this because I've talked to some of the bravest of these men...the ones that struggle with these things, but had enough courage to call me on my radio show to ask for help.

One young man faced this battle and finally decided to reach out to TheHopeLine for help. After he talked with a HopeCoach, he shared the following story.

Have you ever felt Ashamed?

This is Coy's Story:

My life began to feel so heavy and dark inside. I knew it was outside input from the enemy but eventually, I just started to believe the lie. I was a worthless father, husband, and provider for my family. My new job hadn’t panned out the way I thought it would and left my family of six with a $500 a month pay cut. Over the course of 6 months, we had fallen behind on rent, other bills and it just started to tailspin. Every day at work, I would contemplate and try to just build up the courage to walk out onto the highway in front of a semi. Too proud to ask for help, too much of a coward to take the easy way out.

I would dare say that these are feelings many men have...they want to provide for their families and when they are struggling to provide in the way they want to, they feel worthless, and yet they are too proud or scared to ask for help.  However, reaching out for help made all the difference for Coy and saved his life.  Read the rest of the story here: Coy's Story

The Tension Between Being Masculine and Depressed

The push and the pull between being masculine and depressed is a fight many guys engage in. Blogger, Charlie Scaturro, in his blog Masculinty, Anxiety and Depression  shares his battle. In it he says, “There’s something particularly emasculating about depression. About feeling like there’s no point in being alive and that everything is hopeless and ridiculous. If I were stronger, the narrative goes, I would be able to stop myself from feeling this way…

A real man isn’t supposed to get depressed. A real man is supposed to get angry.

A real man isn’t supposed to have anxiety and panic attacks. A real man is supposed to fight through anxiety and panic attacks and stop being such a you-know-what….

And this reality can lead to a desperate and harmful struggle to avoid whatever the opposite of power and strength and masculinity are. It can lead to denial and a refusal to get help or tell anyone about what’s going on because of the fear that it isn’t masculine.”

The Vicious Cycle

1. You’re a man.

2. You feel you’re supposed to be strong, courageous, self-sufficient, etc.

3. In reality, you are depressed and questioning your purpose? Struggling to get out of bed. Feeling debilitated.

4. You don’t tell anyone because you believe you are supposed to be strong enough to conquer this on your own and you don’t want others to see you as weak.

5. The depression causes you to have suicidal thoughts, but you don’t dare reach out for help.

Masculinity as a Possible Suicide Risk Factor

To begin with, here are some suicide statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

  • Men die by suicide 3.5xmore often than women.
  • White males accounted for 7 of 10 suicides in 2015.

A new study published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology on Masculinity and Suicide found that, “one characteristic of dominant masculinity—self-reliance—stood out as a risk factor for suicidal thinking.”

The study went on to say, “Men who are self-reliant may believe that they should be strong in the face of any adversity, consider that feeling down is a sign of weakness, and be unlikely to reach out to friends, family or professional sources for help.” 

You're a Man. You're also human.

You are a man, but you are also a human made to experience all kinds of emotions.   If you are struggling with life, feeling you don’t measure up, struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, worrying you are not financially stable enough…those are not things that make you weak they are emotions that make you human. It is possible to be both masculine and depressed. By acknowledging this and then finding the courage to share what you are feeling with another person is how you will find help and healing.

In our society, for the most part, men are emotionally isolated from other men. I don't know of many platforms where men can be vulnerable with one another. But I think it would be a move in the right direction to start these conversations and create safe groups for men to talk. It can start with you being willing to share a struggle with a friend. You may discover they have felt the same way.

If you don't have a friend you feel you can talk to, please don’t hesitate to reach out to TheHopeLine Chat for help. Our HopeCoaches will never judge you. Rather they will encourage you and provide you with resources that can help. You do NOT have to do this alone. Sometimes the biggest sign of strength is having the courage to say you need help.

In the News

Unfortunately, there have been a number of tragic suicides recently of rock stars and other famous men whose public persona appears strong and masculine. Yet behind this public image they must have struggled with some difficult private battles.

Thankfully, mainstream media is also working to spread the message of hope.  The rapper, Logic, has a song titled, 1-800-273-8255 which is the phone number to the National Suicide Prevention LifeLine.

Here’s a verse from the song:

I know where you been, where you are, where you goin’

I know you’re the reason I believe in life

What’s the day without a little night?

I’m just tryna shed a little light

It can be hard

It can be so hard

But you gotta live right now

You got everything to give right now.

Know Your Worth

You do have something to give to this world. I believe God created you for a purpose and that he has a plan for your life. Don’t give up on that too soon.  Don’t quit before you find out what that purpose is and what joy may lie ahead. Come just as you are, flaws and all, and ask God to help you. He loves you so much! God says in the Bible, “The thief’s (satan’s) purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” 

If you have questions about this, please chat with a HopeCoach.

If you or a friend is struggling - What Now?

If you are having suicidal thoughts or if you know someone who is considering suicide, find out what to do in TheHopeLine's eBook: Understanding Suicide.

Dawson McAllister
Dawson McAllister, also known as America's youth pastor, was an author, radio host, speaker, and founder of TheHopeLine. McAllister attended Bethel College in Minnesota for undergraduate work where he graduated in 1968, began graduate studies at Talbot School of Theology in California, and received an honorary doctorate from Biola University.
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