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The Relation Between Masculinity Roles, Depression And Social Media

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Research shows a link between masculine roles, depression and social media (SM). This was explored via semi-structured interviews using male participants between 18-30 years of age who frequently used SM. Interview questions focused on attitudes and opinions about social media activity and masculinity. Thematic Analysis was used to analyse the data, and 2 themes were identified. Theme 1. was masculine expectations/roles and theme 2. was insecurity/body image. Results show that respondents feel pressure to conform to traditional masculine roles such as they are reluctant to show emotions and feel pressure to present the self in a good-light. Furthermore, respondents’ participation in social media impacts how they feel about themselves, particularly when viewing images of other people online, which has important implications about their well-being.


Depression is a significant problem among men. Suicide rates are three times more common for men than for women in the UK (Hawton, 2000). Depression in men is far less likely to be diagnosed and treated than in women, (Moller-Leimkuhler et al., 2004) what could stem from the fact that men are reluctant to ask for help and tend to deny that they have a problem of emotional nature at all.

Masculine depression

Masculine depression is a form of depression where men are feeling pressure to suppress their emotions in order to avoid being perceived by others as vulnerable or weak. Crying or being emotional is strongly associated with feminine characteristics so men are told to “Man up” in order to conform to these masculine norms (Magovcevic & Addis, 2008). According to Helgeson (1995;1968) psychosocial mechanisms such as gender role socialisation can result in masculine depression. Gender is socially constructed, and it leads to different patterns of expectations about appropriate behaviour for men and women. Men receive messages from early on what is allowed, and what is normal behaviour to their gender. These masculine identities are normalised, idolised and internalised (Helgeson, 1995; 1968). Denial of depression is one of the characteristics men use to demonstrate their masculine identity and avoid being categorised to lower status groups like females or homosexuals (Courtenay 2000). Conforming to traditional (or hegemonic) masculine norms are highly linked with depression according to a vast majority of the studies (Nadeau, Balsan, & Rochlen, 2016).

Body Image

Men are increasingly subject to anxiety because of their body image. Masculine bodies are idolised and eroticized in the media (Shilling, 1993). The idolised man in Western societies are white, muscular, confident and ambitious, so pressures on appearance is on the rise (Shilling, 1993). Men`s sports have maintained the normalised and idolised form of heterosexual masculinity for decades (Messner, 1992). Athletes are seen as fearless warriors with muscular bodies, who display highly hegemonic masculinities. Many young boys view these sportsmen as role models and many men desire to be associated with the hegemonic status. Men`s body image affecting men`s self-esteem and increase feelings of insecurity worldwide (Messner, 1992).

Social media

Social media (SM) is gaining increasing importance amongst youths’ daily lives. The link between social media and depression is heavily researched. However, research shows ambiguous results. Sander and colleagues (2000) have found no connection between internet usage and depression. Studies such as “Facebook envy” and “Facebook intrusion” consistently found higher rates of depression in participants (Błachnio, Przepiórka, & Pantic, 2015). Facebook envy characterised by feelings of inferiority in response to comparing oneself and one`s life to others` posts and photos and their idealised portrayal of lifestyles. Facebook intrusion is a loss of control over SM usage, that disrupts daily activities and relationships of the individual. Men found to be more likely than women to have Facebook intrusion. Furthermore, negative comparison of the self with other individuals found to be related to depression (Błachnio et al., 2015). SM usage was associated with various mental health problems including depression, low self-esteem and narcissism (Andreassen, Pallesen & Griffiths, 2017). The accessibility of SM and that they can be easily subject to judgement, can increase the pressure on men to prove their masculinity to others.

The impacts of social media on masculine identities are not widely researched. Most of the studies focused on female participants. Thus, the aim of this study is to explore how does social media influence masculinity and wellbeing.


Interview Themes

The study was aiming to find out how does social media influence masculinity and well-being. From the interview, 2 themes were identified (see Appendix iii.), one was masculine roles/expectations where respondents elaborated on the issues of being part of the masculine identity and mentioned how these expectations are changing with time. The other theme found, identify issues associated with social media usage and self-esteem. The following section will outline the 2 themes found in these data concerning masculinity and social media usage. In the discussion part, these are compared to well-being and mental health.

Masculine roles/expectations

The respondent raised an issue about certain negative aspects of traditional gender expectations, such as the lack of the ability to express their feelings, and the messages they get about appropriate behaviour from society. However, respondents added that as time changes societies expectations are changing regarding traditional masculinity.

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Insecurity/Body image

Respondents mentioned the negative sides of having a social media account, and generally being part of the social media society. Participants had a negative impact on their self-esteem and body image while engaging in social media usage, comparing themselves to other users.


The aim of this study was to explore how does social media usage influence individual`s masculine identities and how does it implicate their mental health. Theme 1. show that respondents feel pressure to conform to traditional masculine roles, whereas theme 2. show that respondents’ participation in social media impacts how they feel about themselves. Themes were identified where masculine expectation/roles and Insecurity/Body Image discussed above.

Represents masculine roles and expectations, and it is strongly linked with gender role socialisation. This theme is aligned with this theory because respondents felt they must avoid posting personal information online, as it wasn`t seen as a manly thing to do. Men are feeling pressure to prove their masculinity by restricting their emotions and denying their mental health problems. Masculine identities are socially constructed, and these ideal expectations are often unrealistic, creating a discrepancy between the expected and the real self. This can create a pressure on the individual, because deviating from the norm can result in rejection and ridicule by society. As a result, men can acquire internalizing symptoms such as emotional numbness or somatic symptoms and externalizing symptoms in the form of anger or isolation (Magovcevic & Addis, 2008). However, respondents felt that the traditional masculine role is slowly changing, and there is a different kind of pressure on young boys, a strong desire to conform, in relation to self-presentation and body image.

Literature shows that the primary motives of SM usage among youth is to promote the self in favourable ways (Manago et al., 2008). Theme 2. shows that respondents felt insecure when they were constantly viewing images of people with idolised masculine bodies, such as sportsmen, and individuals in the media industry and compared their bodies to these masculine body images. This theme is aligned with the term “Facebook-envy” where individuals experience negative emotionality while engaging in social media activity. Indeed, respondents felt that comparing the self is a natural and inevitable process. According to Festinger (1954) social comparison theory individuals gain a sense of validity by comparing the self to others. The accessibility of SM magnifies this process in a way that individuals can be subject to scrutiny by their peers and that the judgement is widely available online in any time of the day, meaning there is no escape from judgement. Studies show that body image affects self-esteem and confidence of the individuals, something that has been studied extensively with girls, and beginning to have an impact on boys also (Olivardia et al., 2004).

These findings demonstrate a link between social media masculinity and self-esteem, suggesting that the affective valence of SM activity might have an impact on male respondents` wellbeing.

Studying social media with male participants gives an insight into the processes that trigger depression in men and can help design interventions for individuals with hegemonic masculine identities who display externalising behaviours such as cyberbullying or misogyny.


My themes that I used mainly represents participant 2 and 3. Participant 1 had a very different view on the research question compared to participant 2 and 3, where I found more cluster in the data. That could stem from age and cultural differences. Participant 1 might have displayed hegemonic masculinity, so denial of influence and not talking about emotions could be reflected in his answers. It is also possible that participant 1 is simply not affected by social media. The fact that there were only 3 participants and there were only 2 themes to identify might have influenced me to choose themes that match with my research question, although I tried to represent the main message of the participants in an impartial way. The material did not affect me emotionally or personally. My preconceptions of the answers to my research question were refuted, and so it did not influence my analysis.

Limitations of the study can be the effect of social desirability, meaning that participants highly monitor their answers. The sample size is small, so the study cannot be representative. There is not enough question to explore the topic in detail. Future research can have a different methodology, gathering data through conversations or comments online, analysing with thematic analysis with more participants from different ethnic groups.

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The Relation Between Masculinity Roles, Depression And Social Media. (2021, September 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 21, 2023, from
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