by Dr John Barry
Although men take their own lives more than women do, men seek help from therapists less than women do. Clearly this is an important issue for psychologists to address.
The 1990s saw the beginning of interest in the psychological aspects of masculinity. However this body of work created a deficit model of masculinity, with masculine traits seen as problematic socialisations. This view remains prevalent today.
The influential work of Addis & Mahalik (2003) suggested that for men to seek help they need to overcome the masculine values which pressure them to not seek help. According to this view, seeking help means showing emotional vulnerability to others, which is in conflict with masculine ideals, such as being in control of one’s emotions.
This view of masculinity is generally unchallenged in psychology, academia, and the media. It sounds plausible, but does it tell the whole story? The evidence suggests not.
Interviews with men who had experienced depression found that those who redefined help-seeking behaviors as masculine, felt more empowered to deal with all aspects of seeking help they perceived as being under their control (Hernandez et al 2014). For example, they felt more able to seek treatment, choose the right treatment for themselves, and adhere with the treatment programme. This demonstrates that the traditional male script of having mastery and control over one’s emotions (Seager et al, 2014) can be used in a positive, beneficial way. Like any set of values, masculine ideals can be used in a helpful or unhelpful way.
Is this the only evidence that traditional masculinity can have a positive side in dealing with depression? Far from it. A meta-analysis of 34 studies concluded that traditional masculine ideals can offer positive resources for men coping with depression (Krumm et al, 2017). Apart from taking control (as described in the study above by Hernandez et al 2014), studies found that men used traditionally masculine approaches such as physical activities (chopping wood, playing in a rock band, motor biking), reframing depression as a heroic struggle that made them stronger, and reframing help-seeking as active, rational, responsible, and independent action.
Given the above evidence, it makes sense for psychologists today to step away from the deficit model of masculinity, and embrace a more positive view of masculinity (Kiselica & Englar-Carlson, 2006).
Addis, M. E., & Mahalik, J. R. (2003). Men, masculinity, and the contexts of help seeking. American psychologist, 58(1), 5.
Kiselica, M. S., & Englar-Carlson, M. (2010). Identifying, affirming, and building upon male strengths: The positive psychology/positive masculinity model of psychotherapy with boys and men. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 47(3), 276.
Krumm, S., Checchia, C., Koesters, M., Kilian, R., & Becker, T. (2017). Men’s views on depression: a systematic review and metasynthesis of qualitative research. Psychopathology, 50(2), 107-124.
Seager, M., Sullivan, L., & Barry, J. (2014). Gender-related schemas and suicidality: Validation of the male and female traditional gender scripts questionnaires. New Male Studies, 3(3), 34-54.