22 February 2015

Ok World, Let's Be Better: Hidden Male Depression

Photo credit Vincent Giordano/
Trinacria Photography
Yet another web famous, "well-adjusted," happy teenager commits suicide. When I see titles like this, I can't help but be concerned. The CDC reports that suicide is the third leading cause of death among people aged 10-24 in the US, 4,600 young people a year, and 81% of these deaths are males. We are failing teenage boys. Something needs to change.

As a teacher of literature, I feel like I have a relatively opportunistic stance in the education of young people: through literature we can wrestle with social and emotional issues that the media sometimes portrays as black and white and make things a little complicated. Classically feminist readings are sometimes the most advantageous places to promote gender discussion.

The Child Study Centre reports that by 13 years, twice as many girls as boys are clinically depressed and tend to stay that way till adulthood. An Oxford University study, further, found that while women are 40% more likely to develop depression than men, they are also 75% more likely to report having been recently depressed and 60% more likely to report an anxiety disorder.

These conflicting statistics beg the question: how well do we really know how our boys feel?

Boys, young men, older men, they are sensitive and emotive, sometimes behind an exterior of lackadaisical indifference, anti-social behavior, or, so it seems, a restless splash of happiness.

While gender-concerned groups have worked to make it safe for women to like science and maths, found non-pink and biologically accurate barbies, dolls, and other toys, and made the world a safer place for trans-gender children, boys have often born the brunt of the media disdain, being either ignored or chastened for their (boy)sterous, wild behavior and non-pc language, being proffered as potentially abusive, both physically and sexually, and more often than not, set up as a societal villain.

The hashtag #noteveryman sparked outrage in 2014 when men pushed back against allegations that "men are..."

Yet as men are villainized in the media around the world, (and sometimes rightly so), have we been offering boys any alternative to the guns-blazing, super-hero motif that we've been offering them? While I want our boys to see strong, complicated characters, with weaknesses and struggles, and ALSO integrity, I also want them to feel like they can make mistakes and search there hearts for answers. I want them to know that they are not inherently bad, and that they have a lot to offer the world.

Are we living in a world that doesn't offer them any way out of either the "badass" motif or the "nice guy" motif? I would say that the evidence doesn't seem to imply this.

We need to do better, for women, yes, who more often than not tend to be victims in our world, but also for our boys, and our men, who have the same sensitive hearts, anxieties, fears, and sadness, and who are much, much less likely to tell anyone about it until it's too late.