It’s no surprise males aren’t great at sharing their feelings. Since time began, comedians have had audiences – guys and gals alike – rolling in the aisles over this major difference in the sexes.
But true depression in men is no laughing matter.
Recognizing the Symptoms
Life doesn’t always run smoothly, and it’s natural to get upset when things go wrong. Moodiness is an ordinary reaction to losses, setbacks, and disappointments, and it passes with time. Severe male depression, however, can be intense and unrelenting. Symptoms include:
- Emotional changes such as despondency, anger, sensitivity, agitation and road rage
- Abusive or controlling behavior
- Decreased work productivity
- Withdrawal from once-favorite activities
- Inability to concentrate
- Fatigue and sleep disturbances
- Physical changes such as back pain, headaches, sexual dysfunction, or digestive disorders that don’t respond to normal treatment
Resisting the Myths
Men tend to be less skilled than women in recognizing symptoms of depression in themselves. One reason is because many still believe myths about how a man should respond to trauma. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org) notes these common misconceptions among men:
Depression = Weakness. Not so. Depression is not a personal failure. It’s a valid, recognized health issue, just like diabetes and high blood pressure. The strong man is the one who faces it head-on, gathering the weapons he needs to fight it.
Men should be able to control their feelings. Depression is a mood disorder, a medical condition that wrests that control away without your permission. What a man can control is his decision to either ignore it or get help.
Real men don’t ask for help. Such “real men” often suffer in silence, running the risk of destroying themselves or their relationships with others. A wise man calls on professionals well versed in treating depression, and compadres with arsenals of knowledge and treatment options they can draw on together.
Talking about depression won’t help. And ignoring it won’t make it go away. Talk therapy (psychotherapy) is a proven treatment for depression. Just getting the thoughts out of your head and into the open while talking with a friend or mental health professional can release a lot of stress.
Depression will make you a burden to others. Asking for help often does exactly the opposite. The burden is watching someone struggle who refuses to admit or allow others to share their battle. It usually makes people feel good to help a loved one.
Rural Suicides on the Rise
At a time when suicide levels are dropping for all other demographics, rates are increasing at an alarming rate among Caucasians – especially poor, rural, middle-aged white males.
According to a 2017 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the suicide rate in rural America runs 45 percent higher than in large urban areas (17.32 vs. 11.92 per 100,000 people). Farmers are especially vulnerable to depression, says Farm Aid communications director Jennifer Fahy, who’s witnessed a 30 percent uptick in calls to their crisis hotline. Politically motivated tariffs, falling crop prices, natural disasters capable of wiping out months of work in moments – all take their mental toll.
Rural residents, in general, regularly face challenges like higher poverty levels and lack of public transportation. Many simply can’t afford or easily reach health care and mental professionals outside their communities. This disparity should begin shrinking as more rural-based companies embrace employee-assistance programs and telecounseling to address mental health issues.
How Loved Ones Can Help
Austin Klise, author of 4 Strategies to Help Men Get Through Depression (www.huffpost.com/entry/4-strategies-to-help-men-get-through-depression_n_8303160), acknowledges that caregivers helping men with depression may have to balance their way through a minefield of defensiveness, denial, anger, and despondence. Here are four tips he suggests for doing that and emerging unscathed:
- Understand His Depression. Depression effects people on an emotional level, but also drains them physically and psychologically. Make sure he is eating a balanced diet and exercising, even if that means simply going for a walk together.
- Acknowledge His Depression. Approach him where he is comfortable, somewhere you have privacy and at least an hour to talk. Let him know you’ve noticed he’s been feeling down; gently give some examples. Explain your mutual goal; you both want him to feel better. Assure him that asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
- Practice Self Care. Because of the nature of depression, your partner may not be as connected or invested in your relationship as he was when he was healthy. As hard as it may sound, don’t take this personally. Do what you need to keep mentally healthy yourself. Hold onto your identity outside this relationship. Do things that feed your soul.
- Ask. “It can be incredibly hard to get a guy to see a doctor for even the most routine of checkups, let alone getting him to see a therapist or psychologist for depression,” Klise said. “Ask him to do it for you or your family.” Make an initial appointment with your family doctor, someone with whom he already feels comfortable. Call ahead to let the doctor know what his symptoms have been, mentioning things your loved one may forget or neglect to share.