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Salud mental

Print version ISSN 0185-3325

Abstract

FLEIZ BAUTISTA, Clara; ITO SUGIYAMA, Ma. Emily; MEDINA-MORA ICAZA, Ma. Elena  and  RAMOS LIRA, Luciana. Male uneasiness: narratives from a male adult group from Mexico City. Salud Ment [online]. 2008, vol.31, n.5, pp.381-390. ISSN 0185-3325.

Introduction Distresses related to depressive conditions in men have not been sufficiently acknowledged, and yet less studied. The difference between distress and its attention is originated in factors such as a rigid and dual classification of the problem, a false conception that it is a <<women's problem>>, and the social stigma that leads men to accept and face negative emotional states that affect their life quality. This article shows the results of a qualitative study which sought to uncover the social construction of distress from a gender approach and to deepen the understanding about the way men live it and exteriorize it. The concept of loss was taken as a methodological strategy throughout the study to access the male distress experiences, considering that, before an emotionally meaningful loss or an unfavorable event, individuals may react using those experiences. Method Four adult men participated in the study; they were selected using an intensive intentional sampling strategy. We carefully selected only a few cases, seeking to characterize the object of study and to obtain profound information based on reality; they were males who had suffered an important loss. They received a detailed explanation of the study and its objectives, voluntarily accepted to participate and allowed the recording of the interviews. Confidentiality and anonymity were guaranteed. The information was gathered by means of in depth interviews and a thematic guide. We developed categories of analysis from the guide and the study objectives to classify data. Categories were grouped according to their meanings and they generated subcategories that allowed a deeper and more precise analysis. Results The analysis focused on the experiences of four men: Manuel (30 years old), Oscar (36), José (40), and Rodrigo (40). They lived in Mexico City. Manuel and Rodrigo completed high school education, while Oscar and José obtained a college degree. They had different marital status: Oscar is single, Rodrigo is a widower, José is separated from his wife, and Manuel lived together with his girlfriend. Their most important and emotionally meaningful losses, which had caused distress, are described as well as the relationship these had with other aspects of their masculine subjectivity, such as sexuality, the body, violence, sports and work. Loss of couple. Losing the couple was one of the most important experiences the four men lived. This had common causes: psychological and physical violence, cheating, and sexual dissatisfaction. Manuel and Rodrigo spoke about extremely violent episodes where they were beaten-up by their fathers and schoolmates during childhood, followed by brawls during youth as a way of gaining respect. They also said they later reproduced this violence in their relationships with women. Both were jealous and controlling men, but they used different ways to intimidate their couples. Manuel did not use physical, but psychological violence. Instead of psychologically controlling his couple, Rodrigo used to act violently against her. Different elements can be identified from the experience of these men, which entwine in the distress-gender-violence relationship: <<uncontrollable>> jealousy that triggers violence and using physical or psychological violence as a means for controlling and subordinating the couple. Once they committed and act of violence, they experienced guilt and fear of neglecting that lead them to the rarely kept promise of never doing it again. These events are usually minimized, naturalized, and hardly acknowledged. In the case of cheating, it is important to consider the context where breaking-up takes place, since it is necessary to incorporate other relevant elements of masculine subjectivity: the relationship with the body, the practice of sexuality, the forced heterosexuality, and the continuous evaluation of manhood through social pressure from other men (father, brothers, uncles, and friends). Manuel's experience represents an example of this, because his link with sports and the fitness world allowed him to model his body in order to keep an appealing figure for women and a vehicle for socializing with other men that had similar interests. Being a part of this fellowship allowed Manuel to become a personal trainer and to have several affairs while he was living together with his couple. He said his interest in women and the constant cheating had four basic reasons: the context where fitness takes place, living together for a long time with the same person, feeling sexually unsatisfied, and the realization that her partner showed little interest at home and in doing housework. Thus, in the relationship distress-gender-cheating, when she finds out about him cheating and decides to break-up with him and she leaves him, become the causes on Manuel's distress. José told that problems in his sexual life caused the end of his relationship. He lost his interest in sex and ceased contact with his wife for five or six years because on a genital infection. He also had diabetes since his youth, which also contributed to his lack of interest in sex. José was reluctant to seek medical or psychological help, so his wife decided not to stay with him anymore. Then he reacted with sorrow, impotence, and anger, feelings he considered as a depressive phase. Loss of health. The loss of health could be the result of a chronic illness or a severe injury. It was a distress generating experience for two of them, which had an important impact on their masculine identity in two basic axes: the body and the sexual life. The experiences of José and Manuel allow recognizing the difficulty that men face when they try to accept and admit their own illness and vulnerability, as well as their reticence for taking care of their bodies and health. José said his first painful event was when he was diagnosed with the diabetes at age 25; it was a total self-image change. <<I was not normal anymore, I became a sick man>> who had to take medication for life. The most traumatic situation Manual had lived was when one of his girlfriends stabbed him in his heart during a fight. This changed the meaning of his life and body; he was downhearted for seven years, affecting his work and his social and sexual life. The origin of distress is beyond losing a couple or health in these cases, because, deep down this distress-health-gender relationship, the problem is in losing the ability to fight or in stopping being sexually active, and therefore in not being able to sustain the gender based commands. Loss of job. Oscar talked about one of this distress generating experiences. Even though he considered himself a competent architect, he had not reached a position where he could get enough social success and economic balance. His story offers the possibility of understanding the meaning of a well-paid job in the life of men: the notion of value as a self-reference, the illusion of self-nomination as someone different and unique, the possibility of recognition and appreciation from others, and the money and power. These elements interact to structure what seams to be one of the most important axes for masculine identity. Because when men cannot enter into the working world, they face crisis and distress periods, which in turn have negative repercussions on their gender identity. Male expressions before losses. There were some fundamental physical expressions of distress: muscular pain, difficult in sleeping, laziness, and untidy appearance. The most frequent emotional expressions included sadness, anger, rage, and vindictive impulses. Other manifestations were more related to the way they have learned to <<master their emotions>> by repressing their feelings: not to cry, not to be vulnerable before others, not to show any feelings, and to endure pain.

Keywords : Distress; males; gender; mental health.

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