Modern men get the blues in a woman's world

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THE feminisation of society is making men gloomy, according to a study. Depression is rising in men and falling in women and the explanation may lie with the change in gender roles.

Polash Shajahan and Jonathan Cavanagh, from Royal Edinburgh Hospital, compared the rate of admissions for men and women with depression between 1980 and 1995. For women it fell 13 per cent and rose 13 per cent for men. Although far more women were admitted than men, the gap between the sexes narrowed. In 1980 twice as many women were hospitalised for depression as men, compared with 50 per cent more in 1995.

The authors suggest in the British Medical Journal that changes in society over the past 20 years have improved the mental health of women while shifting some of the psychological burden they have historically borne on to men.

Full-time jobs for men are declining, while more women are finding part- and full-time work. The result is declining social status for men as they lose their role as the sole financial provider and increasing isolation as they lose the comradeship of the workplace. The increase in women working has meant more have been able to benefit from the advantages that work brings, previously enjoyed by men.

Previous studies identified a growing fear of failure among men, and the rise in male suicides over the past decade is well established. Women are opting for higher education in greater numbers than men and obtaining the qualifications they need in a world in which the job market for those without qualifications is shrinking.

Psychologists say work plays a more important part in a man's image of himself and its loss has graver consequences. A woman might say she is married with two children and a dental hygienist.

A man would just say he is a dental hygienist. Because they use their jobs as a source of identity, if they lose them it is more difficult because they have put all their emotional eggs in one basket.

"They pay lip service to New Man but they don't want to be seen as wimps," one psychologist said.

The authors consider whether the apparent increase in depression in men may be the result of a change in the way GPs treat depression or in the readiness of men to seek and accept psychiatric help.