Boys Will Be Boys, Even if They're Depressed

| Wed Feb. 21, 2007 5:45 PM EST

This week's Newsweek features a story on men and depression. It's a confusing story because women have long been known to suffer depression at twice the rates men do, and though the tone of the article is meant to suggest that scientists are finding increasing rates of depression in men, no such statistic is ever offered.

This could be a great story if it focused on how a few men actually experience depression, and what that means in our guy-centric go-get-'em culture. But, after a brief and superficial discussion of a state senator suffering from depression, the story goes on to reassure the reader that men suffer from depression in those same stereotypically male ways in which the media insists they do everything else. Here's Newsweek "discovering" its own mainstream biases in science:

In a confessional culture in which Americans are increasingly obsessed with their health, it may seem clichéd—men are from Mars, women from Venus, and all that—to say that men tend not to take care of themselves and are reluctant to own up to mental illness. But the facts suggest that, well, men tend not to take care of themselves and are reluctant to own up to mental illness.

In fact, even being mentally ill can't make American men act less like men:

Instead of talking about their feelings, men may mask them with alcohol, drug abuse, gambling, anger or by becoming workaholics. And even when they do realize they have a problem, men often view asking for help as an admission of weakness, a betrayal of their male identities.

Is this stuff for real? What about the possibility that working too much and drinking too much cause depression? This is Logic 101. Haven't scientists and science reporters learned that when you stumble upon your preconceptions, maybe it's because they are right where you left them? Here's another gem of the surprising-yourself-in-the-mirror variety:

If modern psychologists were slow to understand how men's emotions affect their behaviors, it's only because their predecessors long ago decided that having a uterus was the main risk factor for mental illness.

Or, it could be that because a disproportionate number of scientists are men, they didn't want to learn that men had feelings, too. This is the single best reason for ensuring that minorities and women are represented in all fields.

So what should we do about this new epidemic? You guessed it: First, we should suddenly take depression seriously, and call it a genuine illness instead of just some mopey bullshit your wife pulls on you. Second, we should empathize with men when they get in to bar fights and yell at their wives, because, it turns out these are symptoms of male depression! (The disease behaves entirely differently in women: Weeping women are depressed; irritable women are just bitches!) Seriously:

Depressed women often weep and talk about feeling bad; depressed men are more likely to get into bar fights, scream at their wives, have affairs or become enraged by small inconveniences like lousy service at a restaurant.

Your husband cheated on you? Give the guy a break; he's depressed! Rageaholic? Poor baby! Rather than taking the example that men also suffer from depression to indicate that perhaps our gendered expectations of them—success at all costs! Don't talk about your feelings, you girl!—may be misplaced, the article takes the opportunity to reaffirm that even depressed guys can be part of the rat race. All of the men profiled in the article are successful guys who, after taking some time off and getting medicated, go right back to their successful jobs. What hard lives they lead! It's perfect, really, because it gives us an excuse not to look more deeply into the reasons why women and some minorities are more likely to be depressed.

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