The biggest challenge in helping men with depression and suicidal thoughts may involve figuring out ways to help them overcome their own worst enemy: their own self-criticism.
"Stigma in Male Depression and Suicide: A Canadian Sex Comparison Study", led by UBC nursing professor John Oliffe and funded by the Movember Foundation, was published in the December 2015 issue of the Community Mental Health Journal.
Although past statistics report lower rates of depression among men than women, the reduced rates for men could be partly due to men not reporting their mental-health issues or seeking help. Even more troubling is the fact that men's suicide rates are three times higher than women.
Previous studies have indicated that men have a more negative attitude toward depression than women do, viewing it more often as a "weakness of character".
As Canadian studies on the subject have not been conducted in the past, the new UBC study sought to fill that gap.
The UBC study involved 901 Canadians, both male and female, with 360 of respondents having had direct experience with depression or suicide while 541 hadn't.
The researchers found that the majority of respondents did not stigmatize depression or suicide if being experienced by others.
However, one-third of respondents believed men with depression to be unpredictable.
Also, a large number of respondents, particularly women, viewed men who commit suicide to be socially isolated and disconnected.
In contrast, there was a high degree of internalized stigma about depression and suicide, with more than 75 percent of respondents (who had direct personal experience with depression or suicide) agreeing with statements such as "I would think I should be stronger" or "I would feel like a burden to other people" if they were depressed.
More men (57 percent) than women (39 percent) said they would feel embarrassed seeking professional help for depression, or if others knew they were seeking help (63 percent men, 51 percent women).
A greater proportion of women were self-critical about being socially inadequate if depressed than men. Overall though, a great proportion of male respondents endorsed stigmatizing views of male depression and suicide than female survey participants.
The researchers suggest the results indicate a need for health messages and programs designed specifically for men.
UBC psychiatry professor and co-lead author John Ogrodniczuk recommends gender-specific health programs, such as workshops on male depression and suicide, and programs for school-aged children to challenge gender stereotypes.
“Social isolation is one of the biggest risk factors for male suicide,” Ogrodniczuk stated in a news release. “By reaching out, even with a simple question like ‘how are you doing?’ or offering to do something together, such as taking in a game, we can help reduce the risk of self-harm.”