The Myth of the “Strong, Silent Type” – Understanding Male Depression

In an episode of The Sopranos, crime boss Tony Soprano describes American actor Gary Cooper as the epitome of the ‘strong, silent type’. During the golden age of Hollywood, Cooper’s on-screen persona became the dominant image of the ideal American male figure. He portrayed a specific breed of masculinity, a physically strong man of action, quiet and emotionally reserved, never displaying feelings or weakness. Thankfully, things have changed since the 1950s. With the rise of mental health awareness, men are now encouraged to share their emotions and seek help in handling life’s challenges. 

June is Men’s Health Month and, while we have come a long way in encouraging men to be vulnerable, old perceptions of masculinity and gender stereotypes still affect young men.  

Brendan Maher, Movember’s global mental health director, saysyoung men are still feeling under pressure to conform to age-old, masculine stereotypes that stop them from talking about the things that keep them up at night.”  

Why is it hard for young men to talk about their feelings?  

The outdated perceptions of masculinity pressures young men to “man up” when life gets hard, causing them to suffer in silence to avoid being bullied, mocked, or labeled as weak. They feel this pressure not only from older men, such as relatives, but also from peers.  

Call it for what it is: an emotionally stunting expectation that makes it hard for teens and young men to express themselves honestly, because they may come to believe that it is inappropriate and risky to do so.  This reticence can affect their present and future relationships and, potentially, their parenting styles. 

A study conducted by research firm Ipsos MORI, found:

  • 58% of men feel like they’re expected to be “emotionally strong and to show no weakness.” 
  • 38% of men have avoided talking to others about their feelings to avoid appearing “unmanly.”  
  • Over half (53%) of American men between ages 18 and 34 say they feel pressure to be “manly.”  
  • 22% of those in this age group say they’re always or frequently mocked for “not being manly enough.” 

If a boy grows up in an environment where they aren’t encouraged to talk about their feelings, it’s tough to overcome later on in life.  This can lead to problems in developing their emotional and relational abilities.  

There are other reasons why men have a tough time sharing feelings. You can find more reasons here.  

Male depression 

Part of being human is the ability to share experiences and connect with others. Suppressing emotions has been linked to cardiovascular health issues, memory loss,  lower immunity to illness, lower productivity and faster burnout. It can also lead to depression and anxiety, and, significantly, it can also increase male suicide risk. 

In 2020, white males accounted for 69.68% of suicide deaths, with middle-aged white males accounting for the greatest number of suicides. The symptoms of depression look different for men and women. Men who feel depressed may appear to be angry or aggressive instead of sad, making it difficult for their families, friends, and even their doctors to recognize the anger or aggression as depression symptoms. 

Giving the boot to the “strong, silent’ myth 

The first step toward male mental wellbeing is to encourage all children and teens, regardless of gender, to express their emotions in healthy ways. Emotional Intelligence can be learned, along with stronger communication and interpersonal skills. Parents can start by raising boys who freely express emotions and can question masculinity stereotypes. Older family members can also work on recognizing and unlearning some of these stereotypes themselves. 

Men need to know that they aren’t alone, and that expressing emotions is natural, normal, and healthy. It also helps to hear stories from men in their midlife who have overcome mental health disorders. The more men hear  stories  from different social groups, sexualities, ethnicities, and ages, the more they will feel seen, understood, and supported.  

Men’s Mental Health Resources 

Movember Men’s Stories: https://us.movember.com/story?tag=mental-health 

Movember:  https://us.movember.com/mens-health/mental-health 

Young Adult Therapy: https://thebougainvillahouse.com/programs/specialty-treatments/  

Need more help? 

If you or a loved one feel depressed or are having a hard time expressing emotions, consider talking to a mental health professional. Find a safe person and space in which to talk. The Bougainvilla House is here for you, with an understanding and welcoming environment for you and your family. Take that important first step and ask for help.   

The Bougainvilla House also offers Parenting Workshops to provide tools and strategies that support healthy families and nurture future generations as they grow.    

Call now to find support that works for you and your family: (954) 764-7337. 

I have dark thoughts, what can I do about it?

Yes, it is hard. Yes, it is scary.  Yes, it feels like you’re all alone. 

It’s okay if you don’t have it all together. We know how hard it is to struggle with your thoughts and feelings. Depression is dark and empty, making you believe that you can contribute nothing to anyone or anything. And it feels like life means nothing anymore.  

You may think that isolating yourself or dealing with it on your own is the best thing to do. You don’t want to be a burden to family and friends, and you may think you’re crazy for feeling this way, but that isn’t you. That is the bully in your head talking. 

The bully says it will be better without you. Don’t believe it. Suicide only causes lifelong trauma for the people you love. But you don’t have to live in this dark place.  

Or maybe you’re trying to push away the darkness or relieve the relentless pressure with substances or self-harm. 

If this is you, be honest with your feelings. Please talk.  

If this is someone you know, reach out, tough as it is. Maybe your support will help a friend or relative find the words and the assistance they need. 

Let’s Get Real  

If you’re in a dark place and feeling alone, ask yourself: “Who do I want to talk to?” A family member? A friend? An adult you trust? Chances are, that person already knows something is wrong, but maybe they just don’t quite know how to start the conversation.  

If you can’t think of anyone, don’t give up. Or maybe you’d rather talk about your feelings with someone who’s outside of your circle of family and friends. If either situation is true, call any of the resources listed below. That might feel a bit weird and impersonal, but truly, the people at the other end of the conversation care and will listen. 

Bottom line – if this is you, run toward help. If this is someone you’re worrying about, don’t run away if you think they’re struggling – show them support when they need it the most.  

Danger signs 

Honesty time. Do any of the following warning signs feel like you, or someone you know?  If this is you, a friend, or someone you know, seek help.

  • Talking about wanting to die or to attempt suicide, even jokingly 
  • Looking for suicide methods, like searching online or buying a gun 
  • Talking about or feeling anxious, hopeless or having no reason to live 
  • Pretending everything’s fine when it isn’t 
  • Talking about or feeling trapped or in unbearable pain 
  • Talking about being a burden to others 
  • Personality changes – not feeling, acting or behaving like the person you, or they used to be 
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs 
  • Feeling or acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly 
  • Unexplained or unusually severe, violent, or rebellious behavior 
  • Sleeping too little or too much 
  • Eating too little or too much 
  • Trouble focusing 
  • Withdrawing or isolating from friends and family 
  • Feeling or showing rage or talking about seeking revenge 
  • Extreme mood swings 

Does any of this sound like you? If you’re not sure, ask someone you trust if they’ve noticed any of these behaviors in you. If you’re worried about someone and seeing any of these actions or behaviors, take them as the warning signs they are.  

Been there: stories from the darkness 

Others have been through this. They know the fear, the shame, the aloneness. Maybe their stories will help you or someone you know to find the encouragement to reach out for help. 

Emma’s Story on Wellness Wednesday

Shattering the Silence: Youth Suicide Prevention | Sadie Penn | TEDxYouth@Lancaster 

I witnessed a suicide | Joseph Keogh | TEDxPSUBehrend 

Crisis Resources 

  • If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911 immediately. 
  • If you or someone you know are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255) 
  • If talking on the phone is uncomfortable, text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.  

Get Help 

Don’t minimize your feelings or someone else’s – look for a safe person and space to talkThe Bougainvilla House is there for you, with a safe and welcoming environment for teens and their families. Take that critical first step and ask for help to overcome anxiety and depression, and reconnect to the life you want to live, or want for someone you love. Call now to find support that works for you and your family: (954) 764-7337. 

Sources:  

https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=teen-suicide-learning-to-recognize-the-warning-signs-1-1696 

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/how-we-can-all-prevent-suicide/ 

https://www.nami.org/get-involved/awareness-events/suicide-prevention-awareness-month 

https://paradigmtreatment.com/teen-depression-really-feels-like-according-16-year-old/