Dispelling stigma – addressing depression in men.

Perceived stigma around depression can be a barrier to men, in particular, seeking help.   There have however been changes in the way that depression is being discussed in relation to masculinity, and this has largely been brought about by the work of Beyondblue, established in 2006.  Representations of men’s communication about depression in the media might work to reduce stigma around men’s mental health help-seeking behaviors.

In a paper that is to be published next month in Qualitative Health Research by Dr Brett Scholz (pictured left)  and PhD supervisors Associate Professor Shona Crabb and Professor Gary Wittert from the Freemasons Foundation Centre for Men’s Health, analysis of the portrayals of men’s communication about depression in 702 published news articles published in the 5 years from when Beyondblue began their public awareness campaign around depression, is presented.

Men who were open about depression were portrayed as experiencing positive outcomes such as recovery. Such depictions might challenge stigma associated with talking about mental health concerns.  Some articles however problematically positioned depressed men as solely responsible for defying stigma and achieving recovery.  Portraying depression as something that impacts a plurality of men is one way that media messages might dispel stigma. They argue that while articles on high-profile (including celebrity) men being open about their depression, could help to reduce the stigma of men’s depression, these portrayals could also reproduce hierarchies of masculinity and construct communication about depression as something that only stereotypically successful men can experience.

Articles assuming that heterosexual significant others should engage in surveillance of men’s mental health and should be responsible for men’s help seeking is also problematic as this positions women as being health conscious and men being ignorant of their mental health. Men’s health seen as being women’s business has problematic implications of health promotion for men without heterosexual partners.  Media should therefore focus on articles that reinforce the positive ways in which men are caring for themselves.

Dr Scholtz and coauthors concluded that a public health campaign targeted at challenging stigma on a public level could reduce the extent to which men internalize stigmatizing thoughts about masculinity and depression, and might lead to more men accessing health services.

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