Approximately 6 million men experience depression annually in the United States. Fortunately, there are many effective treatments for depression including talk therapy, medication, or a combination approach. Nonetheless, depressed men are often less likely than women to seek help and they are more likely to self medicate with alcohol or drugs. Traditionally men are socialized to “tough it out” and may worry that society will judge them for acknowledging their vulnerability. These biased views cause men to delay treatment, which worsens their condition and results in unnecessary emotional pain and isolation.
The first step in treating a problem is recognizing you have one. Too often depression is missed in males because the symptoms are atypical and/or different than those seen in women. When depressed, men are often fatigued, irritable, angry, apathetic, and have problems sleeping. It has also been shown that men are more likely to self medicate which might mask the signs, and complicate treatment.
Men are socialized to restrict their emotional expression and “tough out” their problems on their own. Unfortunately, this compounds the symptoms of depression and delays treatment. When depressed, your thoughts are influenced by your negative emotions. This makes it hard to look at things realistically and problem solve. It becomes a vicious cycle as emotions and thought patterns deepen psychological pain. Seeking help is often the only way to stop the cycle.
Luckily there are several types of treatment available for depression. Psychotherapy or talk therapy is the process of speaking with a supportive professional whose role is to help you respond to life’s challenges in a productive way. There are many types of psychotherapy including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Therapy (ITP), Psychodynamic Therapy, Couples Therapy, and Family Therapy. Your therapist might also recommend medications to address your mood. Medications may be short term, as needed, or helpful in the longer term. Regardless of the plan, make sure to weigh the potential benefits and limitations of different treatment suggestions with your doctor, and then commit to a plan.
It is important to see a professional as soon as possible, but remember that improvement takes time. Your goal is progress, not perfection. If you are taking an antidepressant, it might take several weeks before it begins to work. Try to do things you used to enjoy before you became depressed. Go easy on yourself, and reassure yourself that you will get better in time.
As stated above, boys and later men are socialized to “suffer in silence.” Many believe it is not masculine to show vulnerability and admit to difficulties. Be a role model to other men and boys and share your experience. Offer support, understanding, and encouragement to a troubled peer. Teach him that there is no shame in having emotions and seeking help when things become overwhelming.
The Marlboro Man embodies the stereotypical stoic male by showing little emotion, preferring to be alone, and turning to cigarettes and other harmful substances to deal with life’s struggles. It is notable that men are four times more common to commit suicide than women, and suicide is thought to be rising in males worldwide. We also know that depression can be a risk factor for cardiac disease, autoimmune and inflammatory conditions, and can make us more vulnerable to bacterial and viral illness. Given these risk factors, delaying or avoiding treatment is not an option.
Men are much more likely to self medicate their psychological pain than women. This can take the shape of alcohol or drugs. It might also manifest as being overly preoccupied with work, causing relationships and other essential activities to suffer. See a professional sooner rather than later. These deleterious behaviors may seem like a temporary solution, but only serve to exacerbate the underlying condition.
Several factors might contribute to depression in men. Some examples are genes, brain chemistry or hormones, and stress. We know that those with a family history of depression are more likely to experience the condition. Loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or a stressful situation may trigger depression. The brains of individuals with depression look different on PET scan, which illustrates the role of brain chemistry and hormones on the complicated neural connections that exist throughout the brain and body. Regardless of the cause, blaming yourself is not productive. It will most likely contribute to negative feelings about your self worth and may further delay treatment.
Do not make important decisions until you feel better. Depression can shape your thinking. It can be difficult to separate your negative thought patterns from reality. This could cause you to see things as worse than they are. Depression makes it hard to be flexible. Many people get stuck catastrophizing and thinking only in black and white. Once you are feeling better, you will be able to see complicated situations more clearly, and base your decisions on the real facts instead of how badly you feel on the inside.
As stated above, there is a troubling upward trend in male suicide. If you notice yourself having thoughts that life is not worth living, seek help immediately. There are literally hundreds of different treatments available for depression, and many public health resources. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), Depression and Bipolar Support Association, and your local church or synagogue are only a few.
Men are often socialized to remove themselves from their emotions. This pattern encourages men to ignore the signs of depression and causes negative physical and psychological consequences. Chronic depression can be a risk factor for many health conditions, and in the worst case scenario, lead to suicide. It is important for mental health providers, women, and other men to encourage their male peers to seek help. Help popularize the notion that men do not need to face their troubling emotions alone. Seeking the support of a professional can be life changing in terms of treatment and prevention of further depressions.
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