Depression in Teen Boys: A Real Problem
by gabriel_heuvelink on February 19, 2014 - 12:23am
When we hear stories or read articles about teen depression, there is often a heavy emphasis put on girls. This emphasis is often due to self-esteem issues teen girls have when comparing themselves to impossibly skinny supermodels that embody our society’s image of an attractive woman. Furthermore, teen girls are often more expressive, not only vocally but also with their body language about their depression. I choose to focus more on what makes teen boys depressed because I feel that it is important to take both genders in account when studying an illness. In order to better understand the subject, I read several articles which I will summarize in this post.
The first article I read was “Dying of Depression” by Bernadine Healey, published in the U.S News & World Report on November 10th 2003. The author begins by exemplifying several young students who committed suicide and illustrating that no one knew the true reason why these individuals decided to end their life. She goes on to explain that during our teenage years the amygdala, the part of our brain she calls “the gut response” part rules our thinking. The amygdala mediates emotions like fear, anxiety and anger, this could lead to the rash decisions and intense emotions teenagers experience. Although anti-depressants have contributed to the lowering of overall suicide rates, Healey follows by saying that the Food and Drug Administration revealed that they might not prevent, but actually contribute to suicidal thoughts in teenagers less than eighteen years of age. In the second to last paragraph, Healey brings out the most interesting statistics, out of 4,294 suicides in the 10-24 age group, 3662 of them were boys. She states that boys experience their illness differently, with more aggression and anger, which leads us to not identify the illness as a depression. (Article link here)
The second article “Depression and drug use risk rises as teen boys struggle with body image” by Elizabeth Renter and published on allvoices.com on January 28th 2014 delves further into why teen boys can be as unhappy with their bodies as girls are. The author starts off by saying that studies about women’s body image are “a dime a dozen” but studies in men’s body image are lacking. Renter introduces a research project that tracked 5527 boys aged 12-18 for 13 years, starting in 1999. The study found that most of the boys misjudged their own weight as being over or under-weight when most of them were actually average. Furthermore, 2% of them admitted to using steroids, supplements or hormones to increase their muscle mass. Even worse, 31% reported binging, purging, or both, with binging being more popular in order to gain weight, as just under 10% were “highly concerned” with how muscular they were. These unhealthy habits of binging, purging and steroids are used by young men in order to change their body image. This unhappiness with their body image is an indicator of depression. Renter finishes the article by saying that we are constantly bombarded with images of perfection, and that these images are hazardous to anyone, regardless of the gender. (Article link here)
The final article was more of a personal piece, “Teaching our sons what it really means to ‘be a man’” by Celine Cooper, published by the Montreal Gazette on February 9th 2014 consists of the author recounting an experience she had with her family while eating out after a day of tobogganing at Jarry Park. Cooper tells her 7-year-old boy that he looks like a teenager and he responds by striking a pose that she defines as “trying to look tough, removed, cool and uninterested”. Those are the characteristics that her son thinks constitutes a teenage boy. Cooper then says that any young boy will rage, scream and break things when he is angry. However, when the anger subsides, the young boy will become very emotional, seeking comforting arms and a shoulder to cry on. As boys grow up, they are constantly repeated three deadly words that Cooper says is the reason for their unemotional teenage years, “be a man”. This sentence, and others like it, is what ultimately leads boys to constantly hide their emotions and feelings as to not seem too feminine. The consequences of this attitude are that boys are more likely to commit violent crimes, drop out of school, binge drink and take risks while driving. (Article link here)
If read separately, these articles tell three different stories. However, if pieced together, the three articles support each other in their claims. The first article’s main idea, the prevalence of male teen suicide caused by depression is supported by the second article’s claim that anxiety caused by body image can lead to depression. The third article’s lesson supports the two previous articles by displaying that men are less likely to show that they are depressed because showing emotion is still considered something very feminine in today’s society. This show of emotion could be seen as a weakness and reduce a teen boy’s manliness, therefore he hides this weakness.
I was particularly interested in this subject because I grew up with four older sisters, so I have a different perspective on these issues than other teenage boys. Anybody who wishes to pursue this topic could find articles in the Journal of Mental Health. This journal publishes 6 issues a year and explores in depth the mental issues that plague our society. The Merriam-Webster defines psychology as “the science or study of the mind and behaviour” anyone wishing to really get down to the root of this and similar problems could consider a career in psychology.