Role of the gender-linked norm of toughness in the decision to engage in treatment for depression

Ryan E. O'Loughlin, Paul R. Duberstein, Peter J. Veazie, Robert A. Bell, Aaron B. Rochlen, Erik Fernandez Y Garcia, Richard L. Kravitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Objective: Given their prevalence and persuasive power in our culture, gender norms - commonly described as socially reinforced, learned expectations of what it means to be a man or a woman - likely contribute to sex differences in service utilization for depression. This study investigated whether sex differences in toughness, a gender-linked norm characterized by a desire to hide pain and maintain independence, were associated with a preference to wait for depression to resolve on its own without active professional treatment ("wait-and-see" approach). Methods: Participants (N=1,051) in the California Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey were contacted in a follow-on survey to assess toughness, the kind of treatment they would prefer were they to receive a diagnosis of depression, and current symptoms of depression. Participants who reported ever having been diagnosed as having a depressive disorder on the BRFSS were oversampled threefold. Analyses were conducted using linear and logistic regressions. Results: Men and women who scored higher on toughness had a greater preference for the wait-and-see approach (OR=1.14, p<.01). Women were less likely to prefer the wait-and-see approach (OR=.58, p<.04) and scored lower on toughness (B=-.70, p<.01). Men's greater levels of toughness partially mediated the sex difference in treatment preferences (OR=.91, p<.03). Conclusions: Men's greater adherence to the toughness norm explained part of the sex difference observed in treatment-seeking preferences, but toughness undermined women's treatment seeking as well. Findings could be used to inform novel public health communications intended to attract both men and women to psychiatric services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)740-746
Number of pages7
JournalPsychiatric Services
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2011
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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