Mental Health

  • Gender-linked norms around "toughness" impact decision to engage in treatment for depression
    July 7, 2011

    A recent study published in the July edition of Psychiatric Services, a journal of the American Psychiatric Association, explored socially reinforced gender norms and specifically how they play into what it means to be a man or woman.  The goal was to uncover how these issues contribute to sex differences in service utilization for depression.

    The study investigated whether sex differences in toughness, a gender-linked norm characterized by a desire to hide pain and maintain independence, were associated with a preference to wait for depression to resolve on its own without active professional treatment (the “wait-and-see” approach).

    1,051 men and women who participated in the California Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey were contacted to participate in a follow-on survey to assess toughness, treatment preferences after diagnosis, and current symptoms of depression.

    The results showed that men and women who scored higher on toughness had a greater preference for the wait-and-see approach.  However, women were less likely to prefer the wait-and-see approach and scored lower on toughness.  Ultimately, men's greater adherence to the toughness norm explained part of the sex difference observed in treatment-seeking preferences, but toughness undermined women's treatment seeking as well.

    The strains of living, working, and retiring in the early part of the 21st century on men are significant.  Yet, the dominant views about how men should emotionally respond to challenges of life's stressors have not changed for hundreds of years.  Phrases such as, “Take it like a man”, “Suck it up”, and others still pervade our cultural lexicon.  Men continue to be acculturated to the unhealthy notion that they should not recognize their emotional and mental stressors and deal with them realistically and openly.  Unfortunately, society and the healthcare community often fail to recognize or adequately support the needs of “manly-men” in dealing with mental health issues in a non-judgmental and non-stigmatizing way.

    The study's findings could be used to inform new and innovative public health campaigns and programs intended to attract both men and women to psychiatric services.

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    Reference: Psychiatr Serv. 2011 Jul;62(7):740-6.  Role of the gender-linked norm of toughness in the decision to engage in treatment for depression. O'Loughlin RE, Duberstein PR, Veazie PJ, Bell RA, Rochlen AB, Fernandez Y Garcia E, Kravitz RL.