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Shards of sorrow: Older men's accounts of their depression experience


The experience of depression is diverse based on social locations and context. A sociological perspective building on masculinity, illness work, and the self provides a useful theoretical framework to understand how older men negotiate emotional suffering. This article examines older men's accounts of their depression experience from a social constructionist approach. This analysis is based on data from 77 in-depth interviews with depressed older men who participated in a larger mixed-method study, the Men's Health and Aging Study (MeHAS). We show how older men construct depression accounts in which they integrate biological and social factors associated with feeling a loss of control. This is experienced as a shamed masculine self given their inability to perform manhood acts, which leads them to severe social bonds. Men's accounts also shed light on how they resist the shaming of the masculine self by deploying two primary strategies: acting overtly masculine through aggressive behavior and by retracting from social interactions that may lead to feelings of shame. These strategies appear futile and they are only partially able to embrace alternative masculine values in line with roles as grandparents and older, wiser men. Depression in older men is characterized by an ongoing negotiation of limited statuses and roles given dominant conceptions of masculinity.

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