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Approved by Dr Adil Jawad MBBS, DPM, FRCPsych — Clinical Lead for MindClinix

How to understand depression in men and overcome it.

“Depression never discriminates” tweeted Dwayne Johnson, aka the Rock, in 2020.

The world listens when a male celebrity stands up and says something like that. This admission from a man, star or not, should not be remarkable; and yet it is, because it is not commonplace to hear a man publicly admitting that he is depressed.

National Stress Awareness Day, an annual event held on the first Wednesday in November, is keen to change that and get men talking about their depression. But, before you can talk about your condition, you need to understand it.

 

The symptoms of stress and depression. 

At times, we all feel sad, anxious and stressed. For some of us, however, these feelings remain a constant companion for weeks at a time and there’s a strong chance that we’re suffering from more serious clinical depression.

This depression makes itself felt in several ways. Inwardly, we might feel worthless and of little value to society. A feeling of hopelessness and shame engulfs us.

Clinical psychologists might conclude that we have depression, or dysthymia, especially if we show signs of fatigue.

If our speech seems ponderous and physical movements sluggish, this is a sure sign that the motor functions in our brain aren’t working correctly, and depression is a likely cause.

Friends notice that we become more anxious, withdrawn and less sociable. A late return from work becomes commonplace. 

They note how irritable we get during a conversation, especially when discussing their concerns, backing away as we become increasingly argumentative.

They note with alarm that we are drinking more and eating for the sake of it, or not at all. Our friends are concerned that we seem to be experiencing frequent migraines. All signs of clinical depression.

Signs that are well-known and documented show that men have a real problem talking about their mental health.

 

Why don’t men talk about mental health?

For centuries, men have been conditioned from childhood to ‘act tough’, that only the weak cry. To deviate from this code of manliness is to show weakness and vulnerability.

For generations, therefore, men disguised any inbuilt insecurities that were at odds with their role as the primary breadwinner. 

Fathers worked away from home much of the time. When they returned, many struggled to engage and show their emotions, and over time they passed on these inhibitions to their sons.

 

Why men’s health is a cause for concern.

Research shows that twice as many women as men are diagnosed with depression, fostering the perception that depression is a female problem, yet the chances of men committing suicide are more than three times greater than women. Men don’t fit the traditional criteria of depression as much as women.

Worldwide, happiness peaks at 47-49, and then it declines. There comes the realisation that more life lies behind than ahead. This stark fact can come as a shock, and many men struggle to handle it.

This can be a significant factor in marriage breakups. Men become depressed and increasingly hard to live with. Their relationship begins to fall apart under the strain. To save it, they need to look after themselves.

How to look after your mental health.

Talk to your doctor, who can determine whether what you are experiencing is physical or something else. They may recommend that you talk to a mental health specialist.

Talk to a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, who can help you to understand what you are experiencing and how you can deal with it. They may advise that you don’t need medication at all. Everyone is different, and one size doesn’t fit all.

Join a men’s group. This can be an intimidating move, but it will allow you to share experiences and discover ways to manage your depression from other men, who understand what you’re going through because they’ve been there.

Take more exercise. Keep not only your body invigorated, but also your mind. Exercise can be a welcome diversion and help to process thoughts.

Take one day at a time and break down daily tasks to make them manageable. Be kind to yourself.

Build a routine, starting with when you eat and when you sleep.

Important decisions can wait. Sort out your health first and let everything else follow in due course.

Leave out the alcohol. It only feeds your depression.

But, what if it’s not you that’s suffering from depression, but a close male family member or friend? What then?

 

How to help a man with depression.

It can be hard to know how to help a man you see struggling with depression. 

You know you can’t simply tell him to ‘get a grip’. So, what can you say and do? Here are a few ways you can help:

  • Gently show him that he isn’t alone. There are many men just like him.
  • Encourage him to talk about the way he is feeling.
  • Learn to be a good listener who doesn’t judge.
  • Always reassure and help him to see that his situation isn’t hopeless. There are treatments out there.
  • Gently suggest that he talks to a health professional, such as his GP. If he’s feeling tired, this may be enough to persuade him.
  • He may welcome your offer to make that initial contact and accept your suggestion to accompany him on the initial visit.
  • Be alert to any comments about suicide, informing his GP if you are concerned.
  • Gently encourage him to be sociable, even if it’s just a walk around the block. But tread carefully.
  • Help him to understand that the world has changed. He no longer needs to see himself as the only breadwinner.

National Stress Awareness Day can’t achieve miracles and changes won’t happen overnight, even with the support of celebrities such as the Rock.

However, if by raising awareness, they can encourage more men each year to open up and talk about their depression, they will be on the road to beating this hidden illness, one small step at a time.

Written by Charles Waters.
October 2021.

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