#MeToo movement helps to shed light on depression in men

#MeToo movement helps to shed light on depression in men
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In the shadow of #MeToo revolution there is a quieter evolution occurring in the world of men: Famous men are coming forward to discuss their battles with anxiety and depression.

Just this Tuesday, NBA superstar Kevin Love penned a powerful piece about a panic attack he suffered during a game on Nov. 5, 2017. It is easy to miss the connection between Love’s story and the fight for gender equality. Males, from boys to old men, are prisoners of our own perceived indestructibility.

 

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Love’s revelations about his battle with anxiety are part of a larger movement to destigmatize mental health and treat it as something more than the blues. Love was inspired by a former teammate, DeMar DeRozan, who himself came forward to discuss his depression in late February.

There are many obstacles to confronting mental health, but a common barrier for men is masculinity and gender expectations of male toughness, which Love highlighted, “Growing up, you figure out really quickly how a boy is supposed to act. You learn what it takes to ‘be a man.’ It’s like a playbook: Be strong. Don’t talk about your feelings. Get through it on your own.”

We need more policy incentives to encourage boys to develop a more comfortable relationship with vulnerability and illness at an earlier age. Complaints of illness whether physical or emotional need to be taken more seriously by parents and schools. Pediatricians will likely bear some of the burden of making early experiences with the medical system more palatable. Counseling also needs to be introduced early, not with the current stigma, but as part as a normal wellness checkup.   

Love’s story is not unique. In 2017 the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry formed Heads Together, a mental health initiative, because of their own experiences with depression and battling masculine expectations.

Prince Harry suffered from crippling depression because of unresolved grief connected to his mother’s death. This self-enforced masculine silence has been discussed at length in the past year by English soccer great Rio Ferdinand, English cricket captain Freddie Flintoff, and English hip hop artist Stormzy.

Male adherence to being indestructible is making us sicker. The life expectancy for men is at least five years less than it is for women, and of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S., men are more likely that women to die from nine of them.

While there are several causes for these discrepancies, it is inescapable that a primary reason is that women are much more proactive about their health. Men are much more likely to be embarrassed about how health issues may reflect on their masculinity.

It is crucial that athletes are leading this charge because they are seen as the pinnacle of masculinity. The importance #MeToo and related movements for gender equality cannot be underestimated in dismantling this cultural myth of male indestructibility.

It would be very short sighted to see issues of women’s equality as only benefitting women. By highlighting the dangers of workplace harassment and exploitation, women have opened the way for men to also speak out about the prison of gender expectations.

What some men fail to realize is how gender stereotypes constrain their own behavior and ultimately their health. I think we see how this all plays out among older adults.

Women disproportionately deal with impacts caused by gender inequality:

  1. They disproportionately take on caretaking duties
  2. They are more likely to be impoverished in their old age
  3. Their social security and pensions are smaller due to workplace discrimination, pay disparities, and caretaking interruptions
  4. They suffer worse effects from diseases like dementia. But men also suffer in their later years because their belief in toughness makes them passive against diseases that require vigilance.

As an elder law scholar, I am extremely interested in the cumulative effects that male toughness have on men in the long run. Some of us are already aware that the elderly population will more than double by 2060. Less talked about is the increasing issues of depression, loneliness, and isolation among seniors. This is not another part of aging. It is a real disease with male and female victims.

Depression can have alarming effects on older people. Depression can lead to eating habits that result in obesity or, conversely, can cause a significant loss of appetite and diminished energy levels, sometimes resulting in a condition known as geriatric anorexia.

Depressed older adults also experience higher rates of insomnia and memory loss, and suicide. But depression among the elderly is often misdiagnosed and undertreated.  

It is highly unlikely that any one change in law will make men more likely to see the doctor and take better care of themselves. However, this will require hard work to change the culture around masculinity. I hope that the decision by Kevin Love and others to speak about mental health is a move in that direction.

Goldburn P. Maynard Jr. is the assistant professor of law at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law.