Although not clinically depressed, many of my older male clients have older sad man syndrome.
Over the 30 years that I’ve been a career and personal coach, I’ve seen an increase in the number of men over 50 who report feeling sad although not clinically depressed. They function well in their daily lives but walk around feeling mildly sad, which far fewer of my female clients complain of. That’s why I call it Older Sad Man Syndrome.
At the end of this article, I’ll offer suggestions for ameliorating it, but first, it may help to know of factors that may be causal–if only to realize that it’s not all your fault, or maybe even not at all your fault.
Possible causes of Older Sad Man Syndrome
1. Men are no longer the focus of positive societal attention.
Media and higher education focuses disproportionately on women and their needs. Men are often portrayed as “Haves”, evil, boorish, or idiotic and women as worthy Have-Nots whose needs should take priority.
Putting aside the validity of that assertion, it certainly can’t feel good for a man to feel irrelevant. Indeed, that is what leading feminist writer Fay Weldon(link is external) famously asserted: “Men are Irrelevant.” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s bestselling book was “Are Men Necessary?” One of the most popular stories ever in The Atlantic was a Father’s Day cover story: “The End of Men.” Imagine how women would feel seeing a steady diet of woman as nincompoop with bestselling and prestigious books called “Are Women Necessary?” and “The End of Women.”
2. Women are allowed to organize. Men are not. There are countless women’s caucuses in workplace and politics, support groups,networking groups, activism groups. In contrast, formerly men’s organizations, for example, the leading service clubs, Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions were pressured to admit women. Yet the leading women’s service clubs–Soroptomist and Junior League–remain all female.
If there were a National Organization for Men or American Association of University Men not only would the media not give them the enormous free publicity given to the National Organization for Women and the American Association of University Women, they would be derided as sexist and unnecessary, for example with such broadbrush dismissals as, “There’s no need for men’s associations. Every association is a men’s association.” Sure, men can get together on an informal basis but the relative lack of ready-made organizations in which men can support each other can contribute to their malaise.
3. Employability declines. Work outside the home is core to many men’s identity. After 40 and certainly after 50, employability declines. And because men’s activism is far less supported than is women’s, men are having a particularly tough time of it. Certainly, my male clients who are 40+ are having a tougher time finding good work than are my female clients.
4. Men’s health declines earlier. One of the reasons for older men’s difficulty in finding or keeping good work is that they age more poorly than do women: Although their rate of smoking, drinking, and obesity are similar to women’s, they die 5.2 years earlier and earlier of all 10 of the top 10 causes of death–There are 4.5 widows for every widower. And death is merely the end point in a continuum of earlier decline and thus lower employabilty.
Men’s sadness about their decline can be exacerbated by knowing that even though they die younger, suffering the ultimate gender deficit, instead of society focusing on closing the gap as has been the case, for example, when women are under represented in science, there is far greater focus on breast cancer than on prostate cancer. Even efforts to address heart disease, which strikes men earlier and deadlier, focuses on women. For example, the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women initiative, in concert with Coca Cola, has emblazoned millions of cans and bottles of Coke with the Go Red for Woman logo and website.
These observations are, of course, subjective, so I conducted a review of PubMed, which aggregates the articles in 3,000 medical journals. Over the past 60 years(!), 95% of the gender-specific articles were about women! And when women were excluded from studies, it was typically for a reason other than sexism, for example, that the drug under study was for use by people of child-bearing age and researchers didn’t want to risk subjecting foetuses to an adult dose of an experimental drug.
5. Sexual decline. Perhaps in part caused by men’s earlier health decline, their sexuality also falls, often literally. Even to the extent that men remain sexually interested, they–as are older women–are often perceived as invisible. In concert with the other factors above, that can contribute to Older Sad Man Syndrome.
Addressing Older Male Malaise Syndrome
Here is what has worked best for my clients.Perhaps you’ll find one or more worth trying:
- Some of the above isn’t inevitable. For example, while it’s true that it’s harder to find good work in the second half of your life, it’s far from impossible. It just may require more effort. In your favor is that you’ve acquired skills and perspective that a young person hasn’t had the time to acquire. And you’ve had longer to have acquired friends and colleagues who’ll tout you. And while health decline is inevitable, its rate is partly under our control. You know: Controlling weight, blood pressure, diabetes, exercising, not smoking, keeping stress moderate, not using alcohol or other mind-altering substances. Of course, all that is easier said than done.
- Finding the silver lining. For example, if no one will hire you for a decent job, that gives you the opportunity to start a business or take early retirement and do things you’ve wanted to find time to do but haven’t, or simply the time to discover a new direction.
- Stay busy. Fill your days and you may find yourself too busy for malaise: Volunteer, take up a hobby, blog daily.
- Exercise. Daily exercise helps many depressed people. It should be even more effective with sub-clinical malaise.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy. A few sessions with a good cognitive-behavioral therapist may help you break free from your unproductive thinking.
Malaise is more common than many people will admit to, perhaps especially among older men. If some of the above resonates with you, I hope that, at least, you’ll realize you’re not anomalous. And perhaps realizing that along with trying one or more of the admittedly standard tactics may help.
Marty Nemko’s bio is in Wikipedia(link is external).