As a psychology undergraduate, fresh out of school, I was writing assignments on nature vs nurture in the gender argument – do male and female children behave differently because of the way we raise them or because they are biologically different?
The message in Psychology 101 was clear. If you want a good grade, form an argument supporting the view that differences are a result of nurture not nature. I got good grades.
In my late 20s, I was a representative for affirmative action for women at a corporate level. Affirmative action legislation in Australia was called the Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunity for Women) Act.
It aimed to improve the status of women in employment. It did this by requiring employers to promote equal employment opportunity for women by developing and implementing an affirmative action program. This caused disgruntlement among many employers.
As a keen women’s rights advocate, I went down in the workplace popularity stakes and therefore in the chances of promotion; ironic, when the plan was to provide better career and progression opportunities for women.
Jump to my mid-30s with a pre-schooler and a toddler and quickly deteriorating ideologies about gender difference. My little boy would halt mid tantrum to watch something with wheels go by. If only I could re-write those university assignments!
Now as a psychologist I am very aware that men and women are different. The difference seems to be a result of a complex mix of nature and nurture. Men carry an enormous burden of expectation. They are given a raft of standards to meet and many of these are both in opposition to each other and unattainable.
Men (and I am generalising) are expected to be strong in the face of adversity but also expected to be able to show their “feminine side” and to express and show emotion. I am not excusing males nor pitying them, but many men have not had the opportunity to introspect and communicate about emotions.
If you must cut off your emotions so you don’t cry and look like a git, then how can you learn to identify your emotions so that you can express them?
Often male depression looks different to female depression and as such, psychologists treat it a little differently.
I am writing about this because, while rates of depression and anxiety are a little higher for women than men, there is another damning statistic that makes this difference irrelevant – men are three times more likely to die by suicide.
Men over 85 have the highest suicide rate in Australia.
Often there is a spike in depression in retirement. Depression does not go away as we age. One in 10 older adults have depression.
Psychological treatment for depression is successful and a good investment for a happy life and positive relationships.
Judy Rafferty is the author of Retirement Your Way, A Practical Guide to Knowing What You Want and How to Get It, at all good bookshops and online.