I received my first tutorial about men and depression when I was living in the Pittsburgh area and working as a therapist. This was early 1990’s. I had a male client who had presented for “stress” and problems with colleagues and family members. He was mid 40’s and working in the banking industry. I don’t remember which session it was but I can still hear the bellowed response when I suggested to him that he might be depressed.
“I’m not DEPRESSED……I am STRESSED”.
I didn’t challenge him but suggested to him that he consult his primary care doctor for something to help “relieve” his stress. A week later he proudly comes back and tells me that he has been given something for stress. What was it? An antidepressant. I started to observe the ways men talked about their moods, feelings and mental health.
Working in the Pittsburgh area meant that football and the Pittsburgh Steelers were a huge part of everyday life. When I saw an article about Terry Bradshaw and his admission that he had been treated for depression, I ran off copy after copy. If Terry Bradshaw, pro football Hall of Famer, winner of 4 Super Bowls could talk about his depression I believed that other men could also. Sometimes they can.
Two men in the field of psychology have written about the myth of male depression through their own acknowledged experience with depression: their own and that of their fathers. Terrence Real wrote I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, which came out in paperback in 1998.
Dr. Archibald D Hart, clinical psychologist and Dean Emeritus at Fuller Theological Seminary wrote Unmasking Male Depression: Recognizing the Root Cause to Many Problem Behaviors Such as Anger, Resentment, Abusiveness, Silence, Addictions and Sexual Compulsiveness which was published in 2001.
Do men get depressed? Yes they do. It doesn’t appear in many of the same ways that depression is reported or experienced by females. It is more likely to surface with complaints about sleep difficulties, loss of interest in things like work, family, or sex. Men will report fatigue, stomach pain, or headaches, difficulties with concentration and overeating or under eating. They are more likely to demonstrate irritability, rage, and volatility in relationships and work situations.
While women internalize their pain and blame themselves, men externalize their own inner pain by blaming others or by engaging in more high-risk adrenaline type behaviors including an increase in alcohol, sexual compulsivity, working out, excessive work behaviors etc. Being busy, removed or distant can be a mask that hides depression.
Men will have thoughts about suicide or suicide attempts. According to a 2015 report published by the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and based on statistics taken from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Males are 4 times more likely to die by suicide than females
- White males accounted for 7 of 10 suicides in 2015
- The rate of suicide is highest in middle age-white men in particular
Men are “supposed” to shoulder things and not show vulnerability. Admitting to depression is exposing your flank to the enemy or “being a wimp”. There is a tremendous amount of shame for men to talk about their inner despair. Beliefs about masculinity perpetuate the myth that men are not supposed to express vulnerability. Those myths can kill, and they do.
Depression can be beaten if men are brave enough to seek help. Being a man doesn’t have to just mean being physically strong, impervious to pain and a rock. Sometimes strength is like being a willow tree, strong enough to bend.
I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression by Terrence Real
Unmasking Male Depression:Recognizing the Root Cause to Many Problem Behaviors Such as Anger,Resentment, Abusiveness,Silence,Addictions and Sexual Compulsiveness by Dr. Archibald D Hart