exclusionContinuing silence about the 'emotional world of men' is key to why men are half as likely as women to be diagnosed with depression but three times more likely to take their own lives, according to a new study.

The research by Dr Ali Haggett of the University of Exeter will be showcased during the Economic and Social Research Council’s Festival of Social Science [7-14 November] and explores how gender stereotyping leads to men attempting to minimise the expression of pain and emotion.

Her findings suggest that, although men are three times as likely to become alcohol dependent and more than twice as likely to use Class A drugs and to die of drug abuse, little is known about the development of psychological illness in men.

"For a variety of reasons, many of which are not completely understood, men often show distress in ways that don’t fit conventional models of mental illness," Dr Haggett said.

"Men are more likely to report physical symptoms than symptoms of low mood. Clinicians, researchers and policymakers need to set mental disorders affecting individuals in a cultural context. Doctors need to understand the sociocultural factors in disease and should adopt a more interactionist model of mental health."

Cultural heroes of the James Bond-type reinforce an ideal of masculinity that is stoic and independent. The research traces current cultural stereotypes of men and women to Victorian times and their ‘stiff upper lip’ approach to empire building and industrialisation. It suggests that today’s society would do better to look at earlier periods and alternative constructions of masculinity to understand healthier ways of expressing emotional distress.

Approaches to medical training are also key to our understanding of why so many cases of male emotional disorder have remained undetected or misdiagnosed. Dr Haggett argues that, although there has been a move to towards a more holistic approach to healthcare in recent years, mental illness is still widely viewed as a disease of the brain to be treated with drugs.