05/23/2012 04:33 pm ET Updated Jul 23, 2012

The Masculine Mystique and Male Depression: Embracing Your Vocation of Destiny

There is something amiss with men today, and I'm still trying to figure it out. I've been working with men, and the women who love them, for more than 40 years. Actually, I've been on a quest to understand what is happening to men since 1948. That was the year my father became overwhelmed with depression and tried to take his own life.

My father was a writer with dreams of success, which to him meant being able to make a living and support his family. I began to understand what drove him when I found a box of his old journals that had been buried away. Here is a note from my father's first journal, written when he was his old self, full of hope and joy for life:

"I feel full of confidence in my writing ability. I know for certain that someone will buy one of my radio shows. I know for certain that I will get a good part in a play. Last night I dreamt about candy. There was more candy than I could eat. Does it mean I'll be rewarded for all my efforts? Has it anything to do with sex?"

Journal No. 3 was written a year later. The economic depression of the time and the depression going on within his mind had come together. His entries are more terse, staccato, and disheartening. I still get tears when I feel how much was lost in such a short time.

"A hundred failures, an endless number of failures, until now, my confidence, my hope, my belief in myself, has run completely out. Middle aged, I stand and gaze ahead, numb, confused, and desperately worried. All around me I see the young in spirit, the young in heart, with ten times my confidence, twice my youth, ten times my fervor, twice my education.

"I see them all, a whole army of them, battering at the same doors I'm battering, trying in the same field I'm trying. Yes, on a Sunday morning in early November, my hope and my life stream are both running desperately low, so low, so stagnant, that I hold my breath in fear, believing that the dark, blank curtain is about to descend."

Six days after this entry, my father tried to kill himself. The economic conditions and social dislocations that contributed to his feelings of shame and hopelessness continue to weigh heavily on men today.

The Masculine Mystique: Why Men Are Angry and Depressed

It doesn't take social science research to prove that men are angry and depressed. One measure of this trend is the increase in the rates of homicide and suicide we see in males. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), homicide rates for males are three to four times higher than they are for females. Among persons aged 20-24, the male homicide rate is six times higher than it is for females, and it is much worse among minorities than among whites. For those ages 10-19, the homicide rate is 10 times higher for blacks than for whites.

Differences in suicide rates are even more dramatic, according to the CDC. Overall, males kill themselves at rates that are four times higher than females. But as with homicide, certain groups are even more vulnerable. The suicide rate for those ages 20-24 is 5.4 times higher for males than for females of the same age. [1] In the older age groups suicide is predominantly a male problem. After retirement, the suicide rate skyrockets for men, but not for women. Between the ages of 65-74 the rate is 6.3 times higher for males. Between the ages of 75-84, the suicide rate is seven times higher. And for those over 85, it is nearly 18 times higher for men than it is for women. [2]

Why are men so unhappy? The Feminine Mystique told women that they should be satisfied with being wives, mothers, and homemakers. The Masculine Mystique told men that they should be happy to compete with other men to find a woman and then compete with other "breadwinners" to create ever greater material wealth for themselves and their families. We were told that "he who dies with the most toys, wins" and "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." Both women and men become depressed trying to fit into roles that no longer work for us.

Antidepressants and psychotherapy aren't the answer. Both the feminine mystique and the masculine mystique would have us believe that we are depressed because there is something wrong inside us -- with our brains, our serotonin levels, or self-esteem. The "experts" tell us that we need to take something or do something to better fit into the world as we know it. Liberation for men and for women requires that we break free of the old constraints and find our true purpose and direction in life. Depression isn't merely an illness. It is a wake-up call from the soul.

The Male Vocation of Destiny: How to Love Ourselves, Each Other, and Embrace Our Calling in Life

Many men are ready to shed old roles but don't know what it means to be a good man in these changing times. Barbara Marx Hubbard says we must embrace our "vocation of destiny." I suggest that our work requires that we learn to devote ourselves to three, interrelated, grand, causes.

• We must learn to love and accept ourselves just the way we are.
• We must learn to love those closest to us (wife, spouse, lover, children, or "special someone").
• We must learn to love and embrace our calling in life.

It's not easy going against the mystique of masculinity, but we must do so if we are going to truly live long and well. "When I get to heaven," said the Hasidic rabbi Susya shortly before his death, "they will not ask me, 'Why were you not Moses?' but 'Why were you not Susya? Why did you not become what only you could become?'"

It isn't easy being a man (or a woman) today. But breaking out of the mystique that holds us prisoner can liberate us all. What are you doing to find and embrace your "vocation of destiny"?

For more by Jed Diamond, click here.

For more on mental health, click here.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 58, 1, 2009 / Will Courtenay, Dying to Be Men: Psychosocial, Environmental, and Biobehavioral Directions in Promoting the Health of Men and Boys (2011). New York: Routledge, p. 6.

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 58, 1, 2009 / Will Courtenay, Dying to Be Men: Psychosocial, Environmental, and Biobehavioral Directions in Promoting the Health of Men and Boys (2011). New York: Routledge, p. 6.