Daily Archives: May 14, 2010

Ideological dilemmas and depression


Tim Lott’s recent article ‘Men are suffering a depression epidemic…’ in the Daily Mail argues that one of the causes of men’s depression is the fluidity of the roles they are ‘expected to play in modern life, both professionally and emotionally, and as fathers and husbands’, which ‘can lead to a lot of painful doubt about what the role of a man actually is’. That is, men are ‘expected to be strong yet sensitive, successful but not materialistic, caring yet masculine’. Whether it is fair, as he does, to blame women for this is a moot point. However, the article does provide an interesting example of how ideological dilemmas may affect mental health.

Billig et al (1988) first introduced the concept of ideological dilemmas in a book with the same name. Their aim was to make a contribution to the debate surrounding the nature of ideology by questioning the notion that ideologies are always constituted by integrated and coherent sets of ideas. Although they did not deny that ideologies could conform to this classical Marxist definition, they argued that a different kind of ideology existed. These ‘lived’ ideologies are the beliefs, values and practices of a given society. In other words, these ideologies are a society’s ‘common sense’ ways of doing things. Unlike their Marxist counter-parts, these ideologies are often characterized by inconsistency, fragmentation and contradiction, which do not provide clear and concise ways for people to think and act. Billig et al (1988) provide numerous examples, such as the dilemma between ‘many hands make light work’ and ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’, or, ‘look before we leap’ and ‘he who hesitates is lost’.

Edley (2001) argues that the concept of ideological dilemmas can also inform our understanding of gender and gender relations. One such example is the dilemma of work versus family. That is, how do mothers and fathers fulfill their career aspirations as well as their parental obligations, and also find time to develop their own relationship by having quality time together away from the demands of children and work? In addition, men are today, confronted as never before with mediated messages that invite them to openly confront their emotions, be sensitive, caring and feel comfortable seeking help, whilst at the same time they are expected to be appear powerful, strong and self-reliant (Gough, 2009). It is these ideological dilemmas that Lott and MIND identify as often leading to men suffering depression.

Men are suffering a depression epidemic too… and some of it is caused by women

MIND – Men’s mental health

Ideological Dilemmas: A Social Psychology of Everyday Thinking

Gender fatigue: The ideological dilemma of gender neutrality and discrimination in organisations