Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Conformity to Masculine Norms and the Mediating Role of Internalised Shame on Men's Depression: Findings from an Australian Community Sample

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Conformity to Masculine Norms and the Mediating Role of Internalised Shame on Men's Depression: Findings from an Australian Community Sample

Article excerpt

Analysis of etiological risk factors for depression from a recent large opposite-sex twin study highlighted sex-specific pathways for the development of depression, namely interpersonal difficulties for females, and thwarted occupation or financial attainment for males (Kendler & Gardner, 2014). Consistent with this, research has shown that while relationship strains and personal failures are predictive of suicidal behaviour for females, a perceived lack of social status and achievement are closely associated with states of shame and subsequent suicidal behaviour in males (Törnblom, Werbart, & Rydelius, 2015; Watt & Sharp, 2001). These sex-specific pathway differences for low mood and suicidal ideation suggest a putative link for men between depressed mood and failure to attain expected instrumental goals (Weissman, 2014).

Men who report greater conformity to Western masculine norms (i.e., pursuit of status, dominance and power, self-reliance, emotional control) are theorised to be more constrained by restrictive rules and standards guiding their behaviour, emotions and thoughts (Mahalik, Talmadge, Locke, & Scott, 2006). The gender role strain model (Pleck, 1981, 1995) argues that men who conform to such masculine norms are socialised to pursue unachievable, and at times maladaptive, cultural standards. A male's endorsement of masculine norms is theorised to influence the subjective consequences of discrepancy between the male's selfconcept and male role standards (Pleck, Sonenstein, & Ku, 1993). Given the unachievable and precarious nature of achieving conformity to masculine norms (Vandello, Bosson, Cohen, Burnaford, & Weaver, 2008), the proportion of men who violate (i.e., fail to conform to) masculine norms is high, resulting in social condemnation (Courtenay, 2003) and negative psychological consequences, characterised by reductions to self-esteem, wellbeing and internalised negative self-judgements (Pleck, 1995). Referred to as discrepancy strain, this internal, and perceived (or actual) external negative evaluation is likely to negatively impact men's mental health via a range of risk factors, including problematic coping, impaired help seeking or externalising behaviours. Furthermore, men's perceived failure to achieve internalised expected masculine standards may in turn precipitate maladaptive selfconscious affect, including internalised shame (Axelrod, 2001; Springer & Mouzon, 2011).

Shame arises from a perceived recognition of one's negative attributes and involves feelings of inferiority and powerlessness (Tangney, Miller, Flicker, & Barlow, 1996). Clinical literature and theory has connected men's experiences of shame to depressive and suicidal symptomology (Kolves, Ide, & De Leo, 2011; Scheff, 2001,2009), interpersonal problems, anger and aggression (Wallace & Nosko, 2003), substance misuse (Reynders, Kerkhof, Molenberghs, & Van Audenhove, 2014), and difficulty in psychotherapy engagement (Dearing & Tangney, 2011; Wexler, 2013). Behavioural markers of shame include interpersonal avoidance and disconnectedness (Dorahy, 2010), factors known to impede adaptive help seeking for depression. Both shame, and conformity to masculine norms have been associated with men's increased likelihood of experiencing depressive symptoms (Mahalingam & Jackson, 2007), and these variables may further impede adaptive help-seeking for depression (Wide, Mok, McKenna, & Ogrodniczuk, 2011). Further, conforming to masculine norms may be a mechanism through which males avoid the shame associated with being perceived as an incompetent man (Kimmel, 1994; Reigeluth & Addis, 2016). Nonetheless, within the context of epidemiology and help-seeking, shame remains a relatively understudied construct relative to men's mental health (Kim, Thibodeau, & Jorgensen, 2011).

As outlined above, discrepancy strain predicts that men who conform to masculine norms will experience psychological strain, manifested by feelings of failure and impaired wellbeing. …

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