In my last Sharepost, Why Depressed Men Won’t Ask for Help, I made the point that gender roles have a huge bearing on the way depression is acknowledged, experienced and expressed by adult males. Of course the gender development process starts from a very young age, in many cases from the time babies are dressed in blue or pink. From then on, the way children are spoken to and played with and the expectations that follow will shape their beliefs and values of what it means to be an adult.
During their early socialization, young boys are already learning what it means to be a man. In effect, this means learning to bottle up emotions for fear of being thought effeminate. Like men, depression in boys is often unrecognized, partly because it doesn’t always reveal itself in sadness, crying and despondency.
The recognition that children can and do experience mood disorders means these are being diagnosed at an increasing rate. One school of thought suggests that the developing brain is especially open to chemical and neurological changes in the environment. These changes may ultimately ‘set in’ and in certain environments and circumstances this exposes the child to a much higher risk of depression in later life.
It is true that in some cases young boys will display signs of apathy and a withdrawn and sad demeanor. Like depressed adults they may also become socially isolated, have sleep problems, issues with diet and have problems concentrating. These are classic symptoms of depression yet it is not uncommon for these signs and symptoms to be regarded as some natural and passing phase.
Boys can exhibit depression in other ways. As well as some or all of those previously mentioned they may become prone to angry or violent outbursts with members of the family, friends or even the family pet. They may have quite severe tantrums, play truant and appear restless and disobedient. Parents may find themselves on the receiving end of school reports about bullying, stealing and various disruptive behaviors.
The roots of depression in adults can very often be traced to points in their early life. The sooner the signs of depression are spotted and treated the better the prognosis for later life. We already know that a critical point in the development of boys is adolescence. Adolescent males have a high vulnerability to suicide, now recognized as the second leading cause of death in young men. As indicated at the University of Oxford’s Center for Suicide Research, 'The process leading to suicide in young people is often long term, with untreated depression in the context of personality and /or relationship difficulties being a common picture at the time of death."
Hawton, K., Appleby, L., Platt, S., Foster, T., Cooper, J., Malmberg, A., Simkin, S. (1998) The psychological autopsy approach to studying suicide: a review of methodological issues. Journal of Affective Disorders, 50, 269-276.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.