Unmasking depression in college-aged men

8 June 2012

Recent studies indicate the rates of depression are increasing among college-aged men in North America. But identifying these men and putting supports in place to help them is made more difficult by social norms that define masculinity.

Dr. John Oliffe, a 2006 MSFHR Scholar and an associate professor with the School of Nursing at UBC, conducted a study to examine this issue head on. What he and his colleagues learned is that many college men who are experiencing depression mask those symptoms by exhibiting behaviours that are typically associated with idealized masculine identities — for example, excessive drinking, taking illicit drugs, engaging in high risk sports, sleeping too much, or spending excessive time alone. Oliffe characterized these behaviours into three types: the angry man, the solitary man and the risk-reliant man. It was difficult to distinguish whether these behaviours were byproducts of depression or representative of the activities that many college men partake. His work highlights the need for new tools to help health care providers, law enforcement officials, the depressed men themselves and their families.

Oliffe is currently involved in a Canadian Institutes for Health Research- funded study that includes individual video interviews with health care providers, and men who experience depression to discuss findings from various men's depression papers. To participate, contact Christina Han at (604) 822-2581 or christina.han@nursing.ubc.ca.