Science Says Being Short Makes You Depressed

It can make you depressed, too: Short dudes are more likely to have poor self-esteem and commit suicide.

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Oct 20 2015, 4:00am

Still from the film 'Twins.' Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Try to spin it any way you want, but being short sucks. You can't reach things, it's a hassle to find clothes that fit, and people feel like it's OK to make comments about your height bordering on hate speech. Those of shorter stature who also happen to have a penis seem to fare even worse than their female compatriots for a litany of reasons. Put plainly, it blows to be a short guy.

It makes sense that we've been culturally conditioned over tens of thousands of years to correlate height with strength, virility, and survivability. What once factored in as legitimate component in defeating other predators in our angsty hunter-gatherer days is now more or less a non-issue when it comes to one's survival. Unfortunately for our diminutive male friends, society hasn't shaken those vestigial prejudices about their worth—to the point that being a short guy can actually contribute to depression.

Recent research on military men at Camp Pendleton showed an increased risk of depression for the guys who stood 5'8" and below. Valery Krupnik, the clinician at the helm of the study, stated that the physical demands of a career in the military likely play a role in these cases of depression. "When people find themselves outliers for reasons beyond their control, like physical attributes, they face a challenge in addition to all the challenges average people face," Krupnik told LiveScience.com.

As for civilians, the data doesn't paint a pretty picture either. The average male in the United States, according to the CDC, stands just over 5'9". Those falling below that benchmark will face a variety of hurdles, ranging from career prospects to dating partners, all of which can plummet a guy's self-esteem.

Daniel Freeman, a clinical psychologist at Oxford who has studied the effect of height on paranoia, told me that among those who are taller, "the chances of feeling anxious or depressed tend to be a little lower. Greater height is also associated with a slightly lower risk of suicide."

In fact, for every two inch increase in height in men, the risk of suicide goes down 9 percent, according to a Swedish study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Even after controlling for socioeconomic status, education level, and prenatal factors, the researchers still found a "twofold higher risk of suicide in short men than tall men."

The reasons for this probably have something to do with the fact that shorter people face microaggressions every day, in all aspects of life. "The taller you are, the more likely you'll do better at school," said Freeman. "Being tall is also associated with career success. It has been estimated that a person who is six feet tall is likely to earn over £100,000 ($150,000) more during the course of a 30-year career than someone who is five foot four."

Being a short guy basically rules out being an NBA player (average height, 6'7"), a ballplayer (average height, 6'2"), or a footballer (average height, 6'0"). Of the 43 presidents in US history, only 13 have stood 5'9" or shorter, and only six were under 5'8". There are a handful of short men in the entertainment industry, but most of them lie about their height through subterfuge and cinema trickery; those who are honest about their stature have either made it part of their personal brand or are so fucking good that it doesn't matter.

There's some debate as to why tall people make more money than shorter folks. Some say it's the social conditioning taller children get as their peers subconsciously look up to them that helps to propel them into pathways towards leadership roles later in life. Others attribute the difference to the self-confidence boost tall folks enjoy in their day-to-day lives.

Research: A Virtual Reality Train Ride Reveals a Link Between Height and Paranoia

But that's what the scientists are saying. To see how it all shakes out, I spoke with a number of short men to see if their life experiences squared with the cold numbers.

Mark Steffen, a 5'6" man in New York City who has been clinically diagnosed as Bipolar-I, thinks his height plays a role in his being taken seriously in the workplace. "I've noticed that people don't really listen up when I talk in meetings. Then, when I get very stern and 'take no prisoners,' people will agree, then come up to me after and say that they didn't know I could be so forceful. It's nice that I've found a way to be effective, but it sucks that I have to be a dick in order to get people to listen up."

That kind of constant trivialization can weigh on someone, and Mark said his height actively contributed to battles with depression he faced over the years. "When you're actively trying to dig yourself out of a hole and do the things you know you should do, you have this extra layer half of the time of self-doubt."

In Los Angeles, Ely Henry, a 5'6" (OK, more like five foot five and a half) guy who has been diagnosed with dysthymia—persistent depression—shared a similar story. "When I was younger, I [felt] insignificant [and] had to compensate. Spoke louder, more frequently; wanted to make my voice heard," he told me. "I felt like being smaller made me need to fight harder to be taken seriously. As I've gotten older I've come to peace with it. Now it's just a bummer getting things from high shelves."

The most depressing thing, of course, is that it's something out of his control—and, Henry added, "when you really look at it, it's not something that generally even affects me. Like with most superficial issues, anyone that cares about how short or tall you are is an asshole."

But not every short guy I spoke with found his stature to really affect his mood. Jordan Rock, who is 5'6", says he's generally been very happy and actually appreciates how being short shaped him into the man he is today. "Being a little kid and not being able to easily reach things likely thought me how to problem solve, overcome challenges, think outside of the box, and deal with the cards you're dealt."

While there's still plenty of evidence that short guys get the short straw in life, stories like Rock's show that it doesn't always have to be a bummer. Did you know Gandhi was only 5'4"?

Across the board in scientific study, height has an association with various markers of success and happiness—but that association is relatively small, explained Freeman, the Oxford psychologist. "It is obvious that you can have great success whatever your height. It's just that greater height confers a bit of an advantage."

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