Many if not all of us will have some experience with depression in our lifetime. If not personally, we are likely to know someone who has been affected by the illness. Major depressive disorder affects approximately 8% the adult Canadian population at any given time and suicide, which is often linked to the disorder, is one of the leading causes of death for adolescent to middle-aged Canadians. Given the prevalence and overall increase in awareness of the disorder in recent years, it was surprising to hear back in December of the findings of a team of UBC researchers who demonstrated that stigmatizing views about depression are still alive and well.
In the study lead by John Oliffe, this research team surveyed almost 1000 adult men and women on their views of depression and suicide. Overall they found that a large proportion of the sample demonstrated some awareness and understanding about the condition and therefore did not yield to stigmatization. Levels of awareness were however somewhat imbalanced with women demonstrating more understanding than men. The most significant finding of the study was that which demonstrated that men who had direct experience of depression, were in fact the most stigmatizing of the group. Oliffe and his team described stigmatization as the process whereby an individual is or feels devalued based on their illness.
While men have generally always been slower to respond to issues pertaining to mental illness, the current findings are worrying as they highlight that the individuals who are most vulnerable and most at risk for suicide, i.e. men that are currently experiencing symptoms of depression, are also in fact the ones demonstrating significant self-stigmatization. Aside from the damage that self-stigmatization can to cause to an individual’s self-worth, it can also deter that individual from coming forward and seeking the help that they need. This is because an individual who views their illness as something to be ashamed of or something that should be swept under the carpet is more likely to try to conceal their issues, than confront them head on. The fact that women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression but more men complete suicide, highlights what a significant issue this really is.
So why is this happening and how can it be fixed? Research has demonstrated time and time again that masculine stereotypes and mental illness are not a good fit. The notion of appearing weak can be extremely influential for many men. This concept has gradually begun to recede as promotional campaigns and media outlets continue to spread awareness about mental health. Nevertheless Oliffe and his team’s current findings were only published a number of weeks ago and therefore illustrate that much more needs to be done to destigmatise male depression. Depression can affect anyone and so there is no purpose for stigmatization. In order to further delineate what depression really is and how it can be treated, much more work needs to be done to encourage individuals who are battling to come forward for the support that they need and deserve. If you or someone that you know is experiencing symptoms of depression, please seek support.
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Ms. Niamh Allen, M.A. B.Sc.