Men Get Depressed Too
Men get depressed just like women. But unlike women, they often feel ashamed of their depression and try to hide it. Socialization is often to blame.
Little boys are taught to be tough. They are told that it’s o.k. to experience emotions, but not to act on these emotions. Emotional conflict and emotional confrontation are to be avoided. Little boys learn the rules of a good poker player: Hide your hand and bluff.
Males are taught that their worth is determined by prowess and outward success. They are taught to get their names known, make more money than their neighbors, become big shots at work, realize that relationships are always trumped by work, stay in shape, keep playing sports, buy big toys, make sure their wives are good looking and forever in love with them, be the heroes to their kids, and make success stories out of their children’s lives.
So what happens to a guy when he reaches middle age and isn’t the success story of his neighborhood or when he’s laid off and can’t find another job? What happens when his wife leaves him, when he can no longer afford his toys or his house? What happens when he hasn’t nurtured the relationships with his children enough to sustain close, long-distance relationships? What happens when sports are a thing of the past? What happens when he gets fat? When guys get sad, they try and handle it themselves. When they can’t, they often become frustrated, irritable, angry, and sometimes violent. They become workaholics. Or they turn to alcohol, drugs, or risky behavior. What they don’t do is get help. Most males believe that seeking help is a sign of weakness and they can’t be seen as weak.
Depressed men don’t exhibit the same signs as women. While women who are sad show their despair, cry and complain of feeling worthless, guys who are struggling often complain of fatigue and trouble sleeping. However, both sexes express loss of interest in the things they used to care about.
It is estimated that more than six million men a year experience a depressive disorder. Statistics tell us that males are four times more likely than females to succeed at suicide.
How Best To Help Men Who Are Struggling
The best thing we can do for guys who are struggling with sadness is to normalize the experience. Like their female counterparts, men experience pain: loves lost, physical limitations, traumas from the past, guilt, lonliness, dreams that never materialize, the haunting question of ‘Is this all there is?’ Males should be helped to realize that it is the strong who ask for assistance. They should be encouraged to seek help. If a guy is uncomfortable with seeing a therapist, one might suggest others with whom he can talk: pastors, siblings, parents, friends…
It is also helpful for men to see that invention and reinvention do not have a necessary end. Males do not have to be defined by one career or their physical prowess. The end of one stage can be the beginning of another. Professional athletes who can no longer storm the court go on to coach or mentor. One stage is not better or more important than the next. The loss of one job can lead to the excitement of the next. Retirement can be a time to nurture relationships, to give to society, or to immerse in intellectual challenges. Former president Jimmy Carter did as much after office as he did while in Washington.
Many guys benefit from joining groups with other males. While these groups can be therapeutic ones, they also can be groups based on shared interests. Elks halls and VFWs are crowded for a reason. Guys enjoy spending time with others who have had shared experiences.
If medication is needed, guys need to be encouraged to see that it is the strong who take it. Depression has a chemical basis. Refusing to take a medication for depression is much like refusing to take medication for high blood pressure.