What We Know About Depression and Teen-age Boys

Teen-age boys are much more likely to express their sadness through anger than are girls.

Traditional school counseling and therapy are often not best suited for connecting with young males. Finding something to “do” together makes talking much easier.

Even though teen-agers, and boys in particular, often act hostile or indifferent to our offers to help, they are hungry to have someone who really wants to understand them.

Remember that what seem like “small” slights can seem “huge” when you’re a teenager. Our self-esteem and connection to others is very vulnerable. It doesn’t take much—a negative word, an indifferent stare, a lack of appreciation, a rebuff from a girl we like—to throw us into a tailspin.

Being laughed at, teased, or humiliated is one of the most crushing experiences young people go through, particularly males. The resulting experience of shame is at the core of much of the violence we see in young males. “I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed and humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed, “says James Gilligan, M.D., author of Violence: Our Deadly Epidemic and It’s Causes.[i]

Sex, success, and self-esteem are very much intertwined for teen-age boys. We need to find ways to reach out to them and discuss these often taboo topics. One of the techniques I used with my teenage son (on separate occasions with my teenage daughter) was to get him in the car to take him somewhere. I would always take the long way around and use the time to talk to him about all the things I wished my father had said to me when I was his age. Usually he was silent or would make disgusted or disgusting sounds. But he couldn’t escape and later as an adult we joked about it and he told me they were even helpful at times.

While suggestions of suicide should always be taken seriously, we need to be particularly concerned about young males. They are much less likely to let us know that they are becoming increasingly depressed and much more likely to complete a suicide attempt than are young females.

There are a number of researchers and clinicians who work with boys that recognize the different ways boys express their unhappiness. “We see boys who, frightened or saddened by family discord,” say Dr. Dan Kindlon and Dr. Michael Thompson in their book Raising Can: Protecting The Emotional Life of Boys, “experience those feelings only as mounting anger or an irritable wish that everyone would ‘just leave me alone.’ Shamed by school problems or stung by criticism, they lash out or withdraw emotionally.”[ii]

“In so many cases, what in the teenage years may look like a bad boy is really a sad boy, whose underground pain may lead him to become extremely dangerous to others, or much more likely, to himself,” says Dr. William S. Pollack, author of Real Boys’ Voices. Tragically, boys rarely ‘attempt’ suicide; when they reach out for a knife, a rope, or a gun, generally they are not crying for help. Rather, they are very much trying to get the job done.”[iii]

[i] James Gilligan. Violence: Our Deadly Epidemic and Its Causes. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1996, 119.

[ii] Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson. Raising Cain: Protecting The Emotional Life of Boys. New York: Ballantine Publishing Group, 1999, 3.

[iii] William S. Pollack with Todd Shuster. Real Boys’ Voices. New York: Random House, 2000, 148.

©2010 Jed Diamond

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Jed Diamond is the internationally best-selling author of nine books including Male Menopause, The Irritable Male Syndrome: Managing. The 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression. and Mr. Mean: Saving Your Relationship from the Irritable Male Syndrome. His upcoming book, Tapping Power: A Man’s Guide to Eliminating Pain, Stress, Anger, Depression and Other Ills Using the Revolutionary Tools of Energy Psychology will be available next year. For over 38 years he has been a leader in the field of men's health. He is a member of the International Scientific Board of the World Congress on Men’s Health and has been on the Board of Advisors of the Men’s Health Network since its founding in 1992. His work has been featured in major newspapers throughout the United States including the New York Times, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. He has been featured on more than 1,000 radio and T.V. programs including The View with Barbara Walters, Good Morning America, Inside Edition, CBS, NBC, and Fox News, To Tell the Truth, Extra, Leeza, Geraldo, and Joan Rivers. He also did a nationally televised special on Male Menopause for PBS. He looks forward to your feedback. E-Mail. You can visit his website at

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