Writing in the Daily Mail, Tim Lott claims male depression is often caused by unhappy women. Amid the lady-blame, though, are some serious thoughts on men's problems.
Earlier in the week we heard that women stress men out and give them diabetes. Now Lott, author of a memoir called The Scent of Dried Roses, adds depression to the mix. He lists several ways women influence male malaise, including failing to offer enough sympathy, earning less than men, and earning more than men. But perhaps most interesting is his contention that women make men depressed by being depressed themselves:
There are still some women, whether they acknowledge it or not, who expect that men should be able to make them happy (the myth of a knight on the white charger who will rescue the heroine and give her a happy-ever-after ending is a template of every Mills & Boon novel).
So if a woman is not happy and can't work out why, it's quite easy to attach blame to the husband. And thus many men I speak to feel under-appreciated.
Many women make it a priority to be good friends, good mothers, good members of the community or good at their job, but many don't really think of being appreciative of their husbands - or, if you like, a ‘good wife'.
Ah, the Prince Charming myth, not just keeping women from getting married, but making them into bad wives when they do! As a solution, Lott suggests, "perhaps women need to lower their expectations - of themselves, and their husbands." Lott does acknowledge that women too struggle with both depression and high social expectations, but the idea that everyone's problems would be solved if women just chilled out is pretty offensive. For starters, the notion that "men should be able to make women happy" comes not from female laziness or emotional dependency, but from the ever-present cultural message that women can't be happy without men. Both genders would be better off without this message — but telling women to "lower their expectations" isn't going to make it go away.
All this aside, however, Lott does raise some worthwhile questions about men's depression. He writes that "men are just as likely to suffer depression as women, but that men manifest it in different ways - for instance anger and violence - and are far less likely to admit there is a problem in the first place" and that "men with depression often conform to the stereotype of bad male behaviour, becoming grumpy, irritable and withdrawn." He also describes his own inability to ask for help from friends when he was stricken with the illness. It's certainly possible that men have a harder time seeking help than women, and that when depressed they sometimes develop behaviors — such as anger and irritability — that actually make people less likely to help them. This isn't an excuse for violence, but it is a reason to develop better screening techniques for male depression, and to work against the stereotype that men who admit suffering are weak. Challenging taboos against male emotional expression in general would probably improve a lot of men's mental health — without pinning the blame on women.
Image via Suzan/Shutterstock.com.