Can Masculinity Cause Depression? A Look At The Rock’s Experiences with Depression and Masculinity
In 2018, Dwayne Johnson revealed that, when he just 15 years old, he traumatically rescued his mother from a suicide attempt (Mancuso). Although the action seemed incomprehensible to him at the time, it was clear that his mother’s case of depression had gone untreated for too long. For years, Johnson’s family struggled to afford basic living conditions, and just a few months prior to the incident, they were evicted from their apartment and had their car repossessed.
Johnson’s mother had lost control of the life that she had found herself in, and one day, she walked out of her car on a major interstate in Nashville into oncoming traffic (Izadi). Johnson frantically pulled her back onto the shoulder of the road and saved her life as trucks and cars swerved out of the way (Izadi). He was extremely fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. So that no one was harmed. But this incident would spark and feed into Johnson’s lifelong issues with mental illness.
Dwayne “The Rock” Douglas Johnson was born into a professional wrestling family on May 2, 1972, in Hayward, California (Biography). As the grandson and son of professional wrestlers, Johnson spent much of his childhood watching his father wrestle in the ring (Banks). When Johnson was 14, his family moved to Honolulu as his father continued to perform in wrestling stunts for the WWF (now known as the WWE) (Banks). In Hawaii, even though his father found success in wrestling, the family’s financial security was constantly in question. Living conditions continued to decline, and Johnson and his family reached their lowest point together. He claims that one day, “‘[his family comes] home, and there’s a padlock on the door and an eviction notice’” (Banks).
As their lives spiraled out of control, Johnson turned to a more destructive path as a teenager. He participated in theft groups that targeted foreign money held by countless tourists in Hawaii and often found himself back in police custody (Banks). However, eventually, he began to mature, and his mindset began to change as he trained and built his body. His family continued to stay together and hopped around the States until finally settling in Bethlehem, PA.
There, at Freedom High School, Johnson put his athleticism and strength to use. He thrived on the football field and played under his head coach, Jody Cwik, who became a mentor and father figure for Johnson (Banks). His life and overall mood in high school improved when he started to get better grades as well as recruitment offers from numerous colleges. He happily accepted a football scholarship at the University of Miami. But his career there became unfortunately riddled with injuries (Banks).
During his college years, Johnson didn’t receive much playing time, and his life began to take another miserable turn as he found himself fighting off constant sadness. He graduated and pursued his dream of playing football professionally, but it never happened. Johnson fell short in the 1995 NFL draft and was quickly cut from the Canadian Football League after just two months (Foy). His life had hit rock bottom, and his depression was winning the fight over his life.
Today, after overcoming the worst of his bouts of depression. Dwayne Johnson finds himself regarded as a highly successful actor and wrestler with a strong and charismatic character. In recent years, he has become an outspoken advocate for individuals that may be struggling mentally. As a celebrity and idol for many, he has shown his support for the cause and uses his fame as a platform to destigmatize depression and to inspire others with it to find support and continue fighting together. Even with all the success in his life, he still faces the daily challenges of depression and often consults with a therapist for help. He is a testament that mental illnesses do not discriminate and that anyone, no matter age, race, or sex, can fall prey to depression.
As someone whose public appearance seems to embody the ideal image of masculinity, he is a top role model for everyone, but especially for men that are reluctant or choose not to seek the professional diagnosis and treatment that they may require due to the stigmas and image that our culture has created of how men think they have to act. Johnson’s story can teach anyone a valuable lesson about the difficulties that individuals with depression live with as well as how our society can help them feel included and in the company of others.
He has specifically addressed the numerous issues with depression among men many times and continues to play a leading role in that specific de-stigmatization. He sets a good precedent, and his life is a reminder of the fact that everyone is human and can experience the same pain that many people in the past and future have/will endure. Moreover, he hopes that by continuing to share his story, he can give hope and inspire fans with depression to make the right choices, and for those without it, to support their fellow humans in their mental health.
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Depression is a mental disorder that has a long list of potential causes. But these can be summed up in a couple of categories of general risk factors. Ones that can increase the likelihood for any human to become depressed. First, genetics and a family history of depression can play a very important and revealing role in gauging someone’s vulnerability. For example, if someone has a parent or sibling with major depression, that person likely has a 2 or 3 times greater risk of developing depression compared with the average person (around 20-30% instead of 10%) (Levinson).
Given this, it is extremely plausible that Johnson’s case of depression has a very strong connection with his genetics, specifically with those from his mother who has suffered from major depression herself. This family history is an effective indication that he already had a higher possibility of depression than the average person for his entire life. Although the connection between genes and depression is still becoming widely researched. It is very doubtful that any one gene causes depression in any large number of people. Exact genes are difficult to determine. And psychiatrists don’t yet know exactly how many genes become involved in depression. But they do understand that no one simply “inherits” depression from their mother. Or father (Levinson). Instead, individuals inherit a unique combination of genes that can predispose them to a particular mental illness (Levinson).
Another large category of risk factors is environmental stress, which covers a variety of the trauma and hardships that one can experience in life. This can include financial problems, difficult relationships, major life changes, loss of a loved one, other illnesses, and many other emotional occasions. The effects of environmental stress are extremely profound, and with about 6 of every 10 men experiencing at least one trauma in their lives, it is not unlikely for a man to develop depression throughout his lifetime (Critical Look). Compared to women, men are also more likely to experience trauma related to accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster, or to witness death or injury (Critical Look).
Johnson’s story is an example of a life that was fraught with physical and emotional pain and aligns with a few of the most common examples of environmental stress. In addition to the childhood trauma of facing poverty during his childhood and witnessing his mother’s suicide attempt, his lack of success in his college career and the following years took a toll on Johnson’s mental health.
After all of those years of training and an initially promising college career, Johnson’s aspirations were no more than a pipe dream. The physical aspect of his football injuries in college that combined with the emotional pain of falling short of playing professional football is an intense case of stress. To make matters worse, among all of this disappointment, Johnson and his long-term girlfriend broke up around the same time, leaving him with a broken heart and the lack of that support group. These continuous and negative stimuli understandably caused his mental health to reach a breaking point, quickly leading to his episodes of depressive behavior.
Following these incidents, during what he calls his “‘absolute worst time’” and the lowest points of his depression, Johnson had lost all motivation to move forward in life and work hard (Rosemurgey). At the time, he didn’t know what was wrong with him, but he simply didn’t want to do anything, and he remembers that he was constantly crying throughout his college days and beyond (Rosemurgey). He believes that he experienced the same pain that his mother had gone through since he also dealt with suicidal thoughts (Foy). Although Johnson has not explicitly revealed the exact nature of his diagnosis, with an overview of his journey, it is clear that his failures and the way he responded to them on and off the football field matched the symptoms of major depression.
Major depression is a broad form of depression that interferes with the ability to perform and enjoy life’s normal activities. The list of symptoms includes feeling hopeless, extremely tired, having difficulty sleeping, and not finding pleasure in activities that are usually enjoyable; however, there are potentially many other more subtle signs that could indicate depression, such as irritability and anger, risky behavior, or physical symptoms, such as headaches (Men and Depression). Although Johnson’s symptoms aligned with the “classic” symptoms of depression, the reality is that since everyone varies biologically, there is a wide variety of signs of depression that patients can exhibit, especially men.
This introduces the fact that, even with a professional, there is still a chance that a patient may not feel the need to reveal or disclose certain symptoms if they don’t align with the traditional symptoms depicted in popular media (Greenbrook). In fact, according to a 2013 study in JAMA Psychiatry, it was found that there is no significant difference between the rates of depression for men and women; however, studies that used more traditional depression scales found that depression is more common in women than in men (By the Numbers). This discrepancy may suggest that a better scale becomes required to account for more elusive cases in such studies to more accurately obtain data.
Without proper treatment and recovery, major depression can eventually lead to extremely negative consequences and completely destroy one’s mental stability, leading to violent behavior, problems with alcohol or drug use, and self-harm or suicide (Men and Depression). Unfortunately, this is a leading issue for everyone, but men especially experience these symptoms more severely. Although women attempt suicide more often than men, men are 3.5x more likely to die by suicide. This is because men use methods that are more likely to cause death, such as guns, act more impulsively on suicidal thoughts, and few men show warning signs by reaching out for support and talking about suicide. Among these three reasons, the easiest and most important one to control is increasing the ease of asking for help – a cause that Johnson resolutely talks about and encourages.
Johnson often alludes to how the first step to recovery is realizing that there is a problem that cannot be dealt with independently and quickly pursuing professional help. Thus, he always talks about the importance of a diagnosis saying that “the key is to not be afraid to open up” and seek the help that may be required (Foy). Even though there is increasing support for individuals with mental illnesses, refusing to find treatment is still an issue for a majority of victims.
According to data from the National Health Interview Survey from 2010-2013, it was found that 9 percent of men in the United States have daily feelings of depression or anxiety while only 1 in 4 of that share spoke to a mental health professional (By the Numbers). Additionally, these numbers were the share of men at that given time. To elaborate, in showing how many men are affected over the course of their lives, it was also found in the 2013 JAMA Psychiatry study that 30.6% of men suffered from a period of depression at least once in their lifetime (By the Numbers). It seems that men are much less likely to voice struggles with mental illness, and even thoughts of suicide, in fact, 49% of men feel more depressed than they admit to the people in their lives (Critical Look).
As a man often in the spotlight, Johnson understands the difficulty for other men to acknowledge and admit to their mental illnesses. Johnson puts it well, saying that in today’s culture there is “‘a wiring in [men] and a constitution that oftentimes doesn’t let us talk about when we’re scared or vulnerable’” (Mancuso).
This reluctance to admit to emotional or mental problems is an issue, and it leads to the several reasons why so many men often go undiagnosed, which include downplaying the symptoms, reluctance to discuss them, and refusing treatment (Signs of Depression). This seems simple to solve but a person’s emotions are sophisticated, so it is impossible to pinpoint the exact motives for each individual, and it can be hard to convince someone quickly. The individual may be dealing with internal conflicts of their image among their family and friends, find it uncomfortable or unmanly to express the feelings and emotions, or simply lack the knowledge to recognize the symptoms.
The Rock defeated Stone Cold Steve Austin (left) in Austin’s final match at WrestleMania XIX in March 2003.
Avoiding diagnosis or treatment greatly increases a victim’s risk of suicide, which Johnson knows from personal experience, so he always has a lot to say about the treatments and stigma around depression among men. For example, one treatment that Johnson found in his journey is that he can relieve his depression by exercising since his knee-jerk reaction to sadness is some sort of action, so he hits the gym a lot (Mancuso). This method can also be backed up by studies that have shown that getting active can cut a person’s risk of depression by 19% (Mancuso).
In terms of his online presence and advice, when he is asked about the moments that led up to sharing his life story, he often mentions the motivation that if his past can help somebody, then he is happy to share. One of the main messages that Johnson pushes is that “‘depression doesn’t discriminate’”(Mancuso). The meaning and goal of this message are that everyone is human and can experience depression. For all those victims hesitating to seek support, knowing that they are not the first nor the last person to go through depression is an important part of the narrative that Johnson wants to push.
Since depression rates in the United States are an increasingly mainstream problem, Johnson is helping lead the process of normalizing men and discussing their emotions as the first step to ultimately breaking down the stigmas. Similar to many men around the world that may be suffering but remain reluctant to say, Johnson was once in the same position. Growing up, he was an only child that always kept his emotions bottled up, which he later regretted since seeking treatment seemed like a terrifying option that would force him to reveal the more vulnerable and emotional side of his situation (Mancuso).
By following Johnson’s push to remove the stigmas associated with depression, we can greatly improve the lives of many of those around us. It’s a small task of spreading the word and educating the public, but it is necessary for our society to try to slow down and minimize the increase in depression rates. The destigmatization of depression would help relieve the needless internal conflicts that many individuals experience on their way to reaching out for help or not.
Johnson’s life story is heart-warming because, in the end, he succeeded. He was a depressed young adult that found his way through not only life’s hardest obstacles but also depression. He managed to struggle through the lowest lows when there was no motivation to do anything at all. Today, in addition to his likable public image, he is a great advocate for removing the stigmas of depression, which Johnson claims all began when he was helping a fan who was fighting his own battle with depression (BBC). He realized the help that his past could provide to more than just that fan, so he went to Twitter and shared an article that documented his life journey with depression (Foy).
He received a tremendous response from his fans and was encouraged to continue to give advice and to talk about his experiences in order to help others that are going through the same tough times. Now, Johnson has selflessly left all the scariest and emotional parts of his life journey out on the internet to help those in need of his positivity and strength. From decades of his own experiences and multiple episodes of depression, Johnson will continue to speak candidly about mental illness and its effects as well as the harmful role that masculinity can play by staying silent on mental health issues in American culture.
Near the beginning of the coronavirus quarantine in the US, Johnson had an Instagram Live chat with California Governor Gavin Newsom (Kurtz). They discussed the results of social-distancing, the unemployment, the deaths happening everywhere, and the mood of the quarantine in general (Kurtz). Nowadays, with a life of experience and a better understanding of depression, Johnson says that, especially amidst the pandemic, he still has days where he is unstable. He says that life has been about 50/50, consisting of an equal share of ups and downs, and he advises fans to hold onto a fundamental faith that things are going to be OK during this time. Near the end of their chat, Johnson left a statement for all those individuals struggling with depression amid this pandemic: “‘Things will be OK. And you’re not alone. And we’re all experiencing this [quarantine] together’” (Kurtz).
As a young man myself, I greatly admire Johnson’s use of his platform to attempt to break down social expectations and stigmas surrounding depression and the role that masculinity plays in this. In our world, with depression and suicide rates continuing to be so high, it is important to unite all people, no matter their race, sex, or age, to support those who need help getting the treatment they require in the destructive culture that we have built in the United States.
But not all stories of depression end as happily as Johnson’s, and he knows this. Over time, courageous and kind-hearted figures like Dwayne Johnson can help slowly shift the landscape of how depression is viewed in our society. There is progress being made, but with people’s lives in question, Johnson leads the urgent call to finally break down the stigmas of depression.
Written by Jiming Xu
Works Cited : Can Masculinity Cause Depression? A Look At The Rock’s Experiences with Depression and Masculinity
Banks, Alec. “The Unbelievable True Story of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.” Highsnobiety, Open Menu Highsnobiety Logo Latest Style Sneakers Culture Shop Search, 19 May 2016, www.highsnobiety.com/p/dwayne-the-rock-johnson-biography/.
“Behaviors in Men That Could Be Signs of Depression.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 21 May 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/male-depression/art-20046216.
“By the Numbers.” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, Dec. 2015,
www.apa.org/monitor/2015/12/numbers. According to the National Health Interview Survey (2010–13), around 9 percent of men have daily feelings of depression and anxiety. This number has likely increased since then as depression rates increase in the United States. Only a quarter of those men spoke to a mental health professional. In 2013, according to a study in JAMA Psychiatry, 30.6 percent of men suffered from a period of depression in their lifetime. They found no significant difference between the rates of depression for men and women; however, studies that use more traditional depression scales found that depression is more common in women than in men, which may suggest that a better scale is required to conduct such studies.
White men age 85 and older have the highest suicide rate of any demographic in the United States, four times larger than the population as a whole. 51 out of every 100,000, which is more than any other group by age, sex, and race, according to 2012 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“A Critical Look at Men’s Mental Health.” MindWise, 19 Feb. 2019,
www.mindwise.org/blog/uncategorized/a-critical-look-at-mens-mental-health/. About 6 of every 10 men experience at least one trauma in their lives. Men are more likely to experience trauma related to accidents. Physical assault. Combat. Disaster. Or to witness death or injury. Men are almost two times more likely to binge drink than women. And they also have consistently higher rates of alcohol-related deaths and hospitalizations. Men are also more likely to have used alcohol before dying by suicide. 49% of men feel more depressed than they admit to the people in their lives. Men are much less likely to voice struggles with mental illness, and even thoughts of suicide.
“Dwayne Johnson.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 3 Aug. 2020, www.biography.com/actor/dwayne-johnson#:~:text=Dwayne%20%22The%20Rock%22%20Johnson%20was,WWE%20Heavyweight%20title%20numerous%20times.
“Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson ‘Moved’ by Mental Health Support.” BBC News, BBC, 12 Apr.
2018, www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-43735777. Johnson is moved by the support he has received for his advocacy on the topic. He says that it all started when he helped a fan who was fighting his own battle with depression. At the time, he made sure that the fan knew he was not alone. He says that if his past can help others, he is glad to continue to speak out.
“Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson Shares His Depression Story.” Greenbrook TMS Therapy for
Treatment-Resistant Depression and OCD, www.greenbrooktms.com/blog/dwayne-the-rock-johnson-shares-his-depression-story. When he began speaking out about mental illness on the Oprah network. He said that one of the most essential things is realizing that you are not alone. He regularly talks about how men often struggle with mental health. Because they are reluctant to admit it and seek treatment.
Many men often experience a different kind of depression. One hat has symptoms that are not normally depicted in popular media. So they can easily continue without knowing about the state of their mental health. Some symptoms listed are fatigue. Difficulty sleeping. Weight gain or loss. Body aches. Headaches. Digestive issues. Trouble concentrating. Agitation. Reckless behavior. And self-medicating with drugs. Johnson says that an important thing about individuals struggling with depression is that you are not the first to go through it. And you will not be the last to go through it either.
Foy, Chris. “Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s Struggles with Mental Health Issues.” FHE Health –
Addiction & Mental Health Care, 26 Nov. 2019, fherehab.com/learning/dwayne-the-rock-johnson-mental-health/. Johnson played football, wrestled, and ran track. He always had aspirations to play football professionally but fell short in the 1995 NFL draft. He attempted placement in the Canadian Football League but was soon dropped as injuries continued to impede his progress. Furthermore, he was forced to switch his focus onto something else: wrestling. Although his mother remembers nothing from her suicide attempt, it heavily traumatized Johnson. His struggles in football and his breakup with his girlfriend placed him in one of the most difficult positions of his life. Johnson discusses masculinity and its relationship with mental health, and his stances are acclaimed by many on social media. While he had depression, one of the best coping mechanisms for him was talking to people rather than bottling it all up.
Izadi, Elahe. “’You Are Not Alone’: Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson Opens up about Depression.”
The Washington Post, WP Company, 2 Apr. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2018/04/02/you-are-not-alone-dwayne-the-rock-johnson-opens-up-about-depression/. Johnson speaks publicly in an interview about his family’s struggles with depression. Johnson’s mother’s suicide attempt when he was 15 really affected his mental health as well. He was constantly crying and didn’t want to do anything or go anywhere. Months after his family had been evicted from their home due to poverty, his mother walked out of her on a major interstate in Nashville and into oncoming traffic. He quickly grabbed his mother back as trucks and cars swerved out of the way. He states that he is lucky that nothing seriously bad happened. Johnson is an advocate for helping others with depression, and he pays close attention when others are in the same pain he has experienced.
Jain, Chitra. “Dwayne Johnson’s Take on Mental Health Issues and Dealing with Depression.”
Republic World, Republic World, 2 Mar. 2020, www.republicworld.com/entertainment-news/hollywood-news/dwayne-johnson-on-mental-health-and-depression-heres-what-rock-faced.html. Depression does not discriminate, and he discusses how especially men need to learn how to talk about their emotions. Johnson was an only child and kept his emotions bottled up, so he shares his story and pushes people to talk about these things. He had a promising football career and played well in college, but injuries disrupted his career. Along with his mother who also suffered from depression, he wants people to know that there are many others struggling as well and that they are not alone.
Kurtz, Judy. “Dwayne Johnson Stresses Importance of Maintaining Mental Health amid
Pandemic.” TheHill, The Hill, 10 Apr. 2020, thehill.com/blogs/in-the-know/in-the-know/492283-dwayne-johnson-stresses-importance-of-maintaining-mental-health. Present-day Johnson opening up about dealing with the coronavirus and social distancing. He speaks about mental health from decades of experience. The pandemic has been 50/50 for him; some days he is optimistic and happy, but other days his outlook wobbles because it is impossible to know what is going to happen in the near future. Johnson discusses his therapy sessions and the depression that the pandemic can cause.
Levinson, Douglas. “Major Depression and Genetics.” Genetics of Brain Function, med.stanford.edu/depressiongenetics/mddandgenes.html.
Mancuso, Vinnie. “The Rock on Depression: ‘You’ve Got to Talk About It, and You’re Not
Alone’.” Men’s Health, Men’s Health, 25 May 2018, www.menshealth.com/entertainment/a20914834/the-rock-interview-depression/. Johnson talks often about the conversation and ongoing stigma around depression for men. Johnson personally deals with sadness by exercising. He says that his knee-jerk reaction to sadness is some sort of action, so he hits the gym a lot. Studies have shown that getting active can cut a person’s risk of depression by 19%. However, it is increasingly important to realize that you have a problem in the first place, which is why Johnson strongly recommends that men especially discuss their emotions and problems.
Mejia, Zameena. “The Rock Reveals How He Beat Years of Depression.” CNBC, CNBC, 3 Apr. 2018, www.cnbc.com/2018/04/03/dwayne-the-rock-johnson-reveals-how-he-beat-years-of-depression.html.
“Men and Depression.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/men-and-depression/index.shtml.
Rosemurgey, Emma. “Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson Opens Up About Mental Illness And Suicide
Attempt.” LADbible, LADbible, 17 Oct. 2019, www.ladbible.com/mental-health/celebrity-dwayne-johnson-opens-up-about-mental-illness-and-suicide-attempt-20180402. Johnson reveals details of his history with mental health. Particularly, he described his mother’s suicide attempt when he was just 15 years old. He states that his mother doesn’t even remember what happened the day of the suicide attempt. He was signed but then dropped by the Canadian Football League as well as his breakup with his long-term girlfriend at around the same time. In contrast to his positivity and strength on TV, he has had a lifelong battle with mental illness.