Depression affects our overall well-being. It affects the way we feel, think, and our daily functions. It’s also known as Clinical Depression or Major Depressive Disorder. A person must have the symptoms for Depression for at least two weeks to be diagnosed with it.
Depression in men is not something that is commonly accepted. How many of your male family members have spoken about mental health issues?
Most of you would reply in the negative because expressing emotions is considered a sign of weakness in many cultures and especially unusual if a man expresses it which is quite sad as because of this many men over the years have suffered as suppressing or denying their negative emotions has been normalised for them.
Most of you must’ve heard the phrase ‘boys don’t cry.’ This statement has taught boys and men that expressing emotions or even feeling something deeply is not normal. This statement is deeply flawed and if anybody says this should be immediately asked to retract this statement.
Feeling emotions is something which makes us uniquely human. Without emotions, we’re no better than robots. So, why is it okay for certain people to experience and express them whereas others are discouraged to do so? Women are generally more expressive and honest about their feelings which is why some people consider them weak because of this messed up concept of equating expressing emotions with being weak. To accept that we’re feeling sad or hurt is a sign of courage not weakness because it’s much more difficult to say that I am sad and hurt than to say that I am happy or I am angry.
A quote from the movie Dear Zindagi touched my heart which is, ‘Khul kar ro nahi sakogi, toh khul kar hass kaise paogi? (If you’re unable to cry openly then how will you laugh openly?). This dialogue makes a lot of sense if we think about it.
One important fact, the incidence of completed suicide is vastly higher among males than females among all age groups in most of the world. As of 2015, almost two-thirds of worldwide suicides (representing about 1.5% of all deaths) are by men. Depression is one reasons for it. Surprisingly though the diagnosis for depression is more in women than in men.
Men seldom consider going to a mental health professional due to lack of acceptance that they too can suffer from mental health issues like any other human. Rather they supress their emotions and some even find ending their life better than admitting that they’re feeling weak, sad and need help. As man of the family, they might not share the emotional problems and even hide or deny what they’re going through and might even be harsh with themselves for feeling that way. They might think that they’re the pillar and have to be strong always or at least put a strong front even if they feel weak.
Financial issues, strained relationships, loss of a loved one, big life changes, and others are some depression triggers for both men and women. Genes could also be a reason for depression in some people whereas depression can also be comorbid with certain illnesses and make it worse or it could also be a side effect of certain medications. In some populations, including the elderly, the suicide rate among men is 7 times higher as compared to women.
It has been found that men also tend to use more lethal means, including firearms and hanging, but fewer show warning signs of forthcoming attempts. It seems that they don’t want any chance at surviving as that might lead to feelings of shame that they’d rather not deal with.
There are quite a few risk factors involved which lead them to take such an extreme step one is inability to express themselves and communicate when they’re feeling low. In many households fathers are emotionally distant whereas mothers are still expressive. You might have seen your mother cry but this can be rarely said about fathers.
Bottling up of emotions has so many negative effects not just on the mind but on the body as well because our emotions need an outlet and when they’re denied that they then try to come out in the form of physiological responses such as forgetfulness, headaches, digestive problems, back aches, diabetes, high blood pressure and even heart disease. Men are more likely to consult doctors for physical problems rather than emotional problems.
A 2013 study by the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Rochester found that people who bottled up their emotions increased their chances of premature death from all causes by more than 30%, with their risk of being diagnosed with cancer increasing by 70%.
Avoiding emotions can also lead to problems with memory and other issues such as aggression, anxiety, and depression. Men find it difficult to talk about their feelings openly because some societies have given them the idea that men have to be macho devoid of any feelings.
They don’t like to accept that they need help, which is why they stay in denial for a very long period of time. If a person is not even aware that he has a mental health problem which is putting him at a greater risk of suicide, why would he seek help? Rather, some men self-medicate, that is they drink and smoke to get rid of whatever emotions they’re feeling and escape that stressful situation for a while. Little do they know that self-medicating puts them at a greater risk of severe depression and suicide.
Other risk factors are related to family or work. When there’s an economic downturn. A study published in 2015 study found that for every 1% increase in unemployment there is a 0.79% increase in the suicide rate which is a serious concern as the rate of unemployment and rate of inflation have increased in India and are still on the rise.
All this proves two things-
- Depression diagnoses in men is less than in women because they seek mental health help less than women.
- Men die by suicide more than women because it’s easier for them to kill themselves than accept that they’re feeling low and need help.
Some signs of depression in men-
Signs that somebody might be going through something serious such as depression. According to one study depression in men is manifested in the form of anger, hostility, abusive behaviour, aggression, risk-taking, substance use, and escaping behaviour. These symptoms are quite different from the typical symptoms of depression such as sadness, crying, etc. All these ways of acting-out are basically to mask their internal turmoil. Men with depression may go into self-isolation, productivity at work declining, feel lethargic and lose interest in family, work and hobbies.
They might feel anxious or on the edge, they might have problems with sexual desires, and performance, feeling empty, sad or flat, sleep and appetite issues, thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts, withdrawing from near and dear ones. Therefore, if you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above do not ignore them as it could be a silent cry for help.
When things get overwhelming and you start experiencing symptoms of depression for more than two weeks such as low moods, drastic change in appetite and sleep, not wanting to engage in activities that used to bring you joy earlier also known as anhedonia, experiencing fatigue with no apparent reason, social isolation, numbness or excessive crying, restlessness, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and helplessness then it’s always better to consider therapy for depression because if it prolongs it can further affect the mood, health, daily functioning, work and relationships of people going through depression.
Type of depression-
Major depression— symptoms included in this type of depressing create hindrance with a man’s ability to work, sleep, maintain relationships, eat, and enjoy their hobbies like they once used to.
Subtypes of major depression include:
- Psychotic depression—severe depression associated with delusions, or hallucinations. In this type a man may feel worthless, believe he is sick when he is not, or he may hear voices and see things that are not real.
- Seasonal affective disorder—this type is more common during winters or countries where winters last for a long period of time. This is due to presence of less amount of sunlight which can lead to certain deficiencies in the body affecting our mood and behaviour.
- Persistent depressive disorder also known as dysthymia- in this type of depression the symptoms last for 2 years or more but are less severe as compared to those in major depression.
How can we help someone we know is going through it?
If they’re not being themselves could be one sign that they’re not feeling the way they usually do either. Just asking simple questions such as, ‘Are you feeling fine?’, ‘You’ve seemed quiet these days, ‘Is there anything troubling you?’
Lending your ears, offering support, understanding and patience are some other ways. Don’t ignore comments or even jokes about suicide, as nobody could crack such jokes without having thoughts about it at some point in time. Try to encourage him to socialise or take him out for a physical activity which will help him, as social support and physical exercise have been found to have profound effects on people with depression. The person might have no motivation due to feelings of hopelessness, but one should try to be patient and empathetic.
Being hopeful and saying positive things to him about his depression improving with time. Try to make sure that he doesn’t use unhealthy coping techniques such as substance use. Encourage him to share and talk about his feelings as it can make the emotion less intense. Just sharing about your feelings can be therapeutic. If possible, let him take a break for some time to relax or improve depression in men.
Coping with strong emotions requires much effort, but you’ve won half of the battle if you just become aware of your real emotions and accept them. Anger is usually considered a secondary emotion such as the tip of the iceberg but underneath there could be different emotions that a person is not ready to accept or confront as it might make him feel vulnerable and weak such as hurt, sadness, frustration, and grief.
Acknowledging our emotions is quite important. Trying to identify and describe what you’re feeling might help. Joining a support group might help a person feel less alone, as there are many people going through a similar problem as us. Catching up or getting in touch with an old friend also helps a person feel better. Try out a new activity or something you’re interested in.
Self-care is something that is crucial for our mental and physical health. Making time for self-care such as going out once a week, or doing something you enjoy half an hour a day can also be enough to help someone feel better. Eat well and healthy. Depression can lead to stress eating and eating more items rich in sugar and refined carbs and junk food which can be bad for you. Eat more greens, fruits, food rich in Omega 3, keep a check on your vitamins levels. Research has found that curcumin which is present in turmeric has the potential to improve a number of health problems, even depression.
However, the doctor’s approval should be taken before including it in your diet. Sleep for at least 8 hours a day, has a good bedtime routine. Have a healthy morning routine such as waking up early, going for a walk (if possible), do some workout, practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, different types of meditation such as guided meditation or mindfulness.
Daily walking for some time can boost your mood and reduce the risk of depression and even the impact of depression by a great margin. Many studies have proved the benefit of exercise on your stress levels and mood. It releases feel-good hormones such as endorphins, which can uplift a person’s mood and help him regulate emotions better. List your strengths, achievements, and qualities that you love about yourself, you can also take the help of others to add to the list.
Many times we’re ignorant or we forget many of our qualities because we’re so focused on the negative that we forget the positive qualities we possess. Practicing gratitude by focusing on what you have instead of concentrating on what you don’t have. This helps you be more grateful towards others and yourself. Reading good and motivating books where people have written about their struggles, failures and losses and how it helped them attain success and led to their post-traumatic growth can also be motivating for a person going through depression. Practice self-love, accept yourself and compare your progress and yourself to what you were yesterday instead of comparing yourself to others.
Lastly, consulting a professional is recommended. Treatment of depression will also depend upon its diagnosis. Visiting a clinical psychologist for the diagnosis is important to understand the level of depression. Whereas emotional and social support is crucial for a person going through depression, professional help might be necessary in some severe cases. After the diagnosis, the person can go for depression counseling or depression therapy to alleviate some of the symptoms of depression. Depression treatment is important for a person (depression in men) to ameliorate the suffering.
There are certain types of mediation that can be practiced when a person is going through depression and even when going through a difficult or traumatic time. Mindfulness meditation has proved to be beneficial in such cases. Depression therapy can include meditation, and meditation is something that should be incorporated in our daily routine for better emotional regulation. It helps us declutter our thoughts, become mindful, come back to the present moment, focus on the breathing process and the bodily sensations. All of this can help uplift a person’s mood and lead them towards making better decisions, as it helps us become calm and composed.
Counseling for depression should be encouraged, especially for men. We all are humans and sometimes things get a bit too hard to bear and seeking a clinical psychologist for depression counseling is important. They can help us alleviate our suffering. The way it is normal for us to seek a medical doctor if we are suffering from a physical problem, similarly, counseling for depression should be normalised as the mind is also a part of us as our body. Consulting a clinical psychologist for our problem does not make us weak. Therapy should be treated as a regular check-up for the mind, just like medical check-ups are for the body.
Depression is a serious illness that can lead to irreversible actions and dire consequences, therefore, it’s important to take it seriously especially in men as it might not be directly visible but if you notice the signs and symptoms mentioned above in yourself and someone you know then please consult a mental health professional. Remember, there is no shame in accepting that you feel sad or low. It’s normal to feel that way sometimes. We’re humans who are supposed to experience a diverse range of emotions, and in the face of a stressful event, it’s okay to feel weak. Accepting your emotions is the first step towards healing.
Remember the two A’s towards healing-
- Awareness of your emotions and thoughts;
- Acknowledgment of the feelings and emotions.
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