Michael, 49, found himself at 40 divorced for the second time and battling his now-ex-wife for custody of their three daughters. At the same time, he’d been laid off from his job at a company he’d been loyal to for the last 15 years.
“I’ve always been a very spiritual person, but had never conceived that my faith and my wellbeing overall would be so challenged that I seriously considered leaving this planet because it felt like, ‘How much can a person take?’” confides Michael. “Look – I’m not new to mental illness. My father died an alcoholic; my mother, bless her, fights her addiction every day. My brother is an alcoholic.
“It is a shock and a surprise to me, still to this day, I never turned to alcohol. Especially because I know how deep I sank into depression. I got to a point of nearly no return, even looking at my girls in the eye and knowing that I was considering choosing escaping the pain over staying and sticking it out with them.”
A year after his divorce, Michael sought the assistance of a therapist – and although he reluctantly accepted a depression diagnosis, he is now an avid champion for change in male mental health.
“(Men) don’t always want to admit when something doesn’t feel right and we can’t fix it on our own,” he muses. “It took me a bit, but I feel better now, as a father and a romantic partner and an overall human being that I’m not under the thumb of such a debilitating illness.”
Depression isn’t unique to women, of course, but men statistically have had a harder time admitting, or sometimes even considering, the possibility of depression. But when left untreated, male depression can become debilitating; it’s said that suicide rates in the United States are four times higher for men than they are for women.
For this reason, as well as so many others, the need for awareness and support for depressed men is unarguably necessary.
There are many similarities in depression in men and women, including greater risk of it given family history; stress is also a risk factor. But there are also differences between how men and women experience depression symptoms, including how willing men are to talk about their depression.
Beyond that are other differences. Women may exhibit more outward signs of depression: their weight may change, as well as their appetite; they may look and sound increasingly anxious; their sleep may be disrupted. Women are also more likely to show their depression by crying or other outward ways of showing sadness.
Men, on the other hand, tend to hide their sadness – they don’t cry just as easily, and may abuse substances quietly or secretly as a way to cope. Many men do their best to “ride it out,” hoping the depression will go away on its own, instead of looking for help from professionals, or even advising friends and family.
The danger to this is that regardless of gender or sex, the longer one waits to seek treatment for depression, the more severe and damaging the depression can become.
The signs and symptoms of depression in men are similar to those in women, but not all men will experience all symptoms (just as not all women will experience the same symptoms). Here are some symptoms that may present in a man with depression:
- Controlling or abusive behavior
- Loss of interest in work or play
- Changes in appetite or eating habits
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Physical pain (muscle pain, stomach pain, headaches)
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal ideation
- Suicide attempts
Because many men are so reluctant to talk about the signs – due to societal pressures or the man feeling as though he’s “less than” if he admits to a “weakness,” – depression is likely to be downplayed, and treatment dismissed. Sometimes, men fail to recognize their symptoms altogether.
If you’re a man and reading this, and think you may have depression, there’s hope.
You don’t need to announce to the world you have depression, but finding a professional is a wonderful idea. You can start with your family doctor, or find a reputable therapist in your area. There are even online options.
Medication is an option, as well as brain simulation therapy, but what’s very common is therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a gold standard in treating depression, and it will help you learn how to manage your symptoms, prevent relapse, learn techniques to handle stress, cope with grief and anxiety, manage chronic pain, and treat your mental illness when you’d rather not opt for a prescription. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what CBT can do for you.
Depression is treatable. It’s not a weakness. In fact, when you seek assistance for depression, you’re showing incredible strength and commitment to yourself.