Human beings are creatures that have physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental dimensions to them. These aspects of ourselves are intertwined and affect one another in ways we’re learning more and more about each day.We have complex inner lives that are marked by highs and lows. When you mix that complexity with a messy world that is marred by sin, you have the makings of a potentially difficult daily existence.
Depending on your socialization as a man, you may have been taught to keep your emotions in check, to disregard them, and to power through whatever obstacle presents itself before you. This way of life is a little like not servicing your car and driving it around while ignoring the “check engine” light.
Sure, you can get around with it for a while, but eventually, that car will break down. Our emotions were given to us by God for a reason. They tell us whether everything is okay or warn us if there’s something that urgently needs our attention.
We ignore them at our peril. Unfortunately, many men do ignore or suppress their emotions and the warning bells they are sounding, and this can make for poor emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual health.
When it comes to depression in men, it is important to understand what it is and how it affects us. Depression is a common mood disorder that affects one’s body, feelings, thoughts, and behavior. It affects one’s ability to handle daily activities; for it to be diagnosed as depression, the symptoms must persist for at least two weeks.
Depression afflicts men and women, young and old, people of every culture and ethnicity, religion, and social class. It is not a respecter of persons. More than 264 million people across the world suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organisation. Broadly, in the United States, about 19% of adults have experienced a mental illness.
More specifically regarding depression, about 7.1% of adults (17.3 million people) have had at least one major depressive episode in their lives. While women are twice as likely to have depression as men, it remains the reality that many people in the United States and across the world suffer from depression. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, these numbers have only increased.
Symptoms of Depression in Men
The more common symptoms of depression in men and women include the following:
- fatigue, feeling tired, and lacking energy for simple tasks
- feeling empty or sad and hopeless, losing that sense of optimism about your circumstances and the future. A usually vibrant emotional life feels dull, and you are weepy
- sleeping too much or too little.
- difficulty concentrating on work or tasks, struggling to remember details
- eating too much or too little, and behaving differently toward food
- unintentional weight changes
- aches, pains, and digestive problems, which include back pain, headaches, cramps, joint pain
- indecision, being unable to make decisions particularly if you’ve always been decisive
- inability to meet family, work, or other responsibilities
- suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts. While women are more likely to attempt to commit suicide, men are four times as likely to succeed because they use more lethal means
- loss of interest in hobbies, no longer finding pleasure in the thing that used to excite you.
- feeling restless and agitated
While there are many similarities in the symptoms of depression in men and women, there are some that are particular to depression in men. There are also masking behaviors peculiar to men that also hide depression.
Compulsive behaviors: Increased consumption of alcohol, substance and drug abuse, gambling.
Anger: Becoming more irritable, hypersensitive, losing your sense of humor, getting angry quickly or over small provocations, becoming more verbally or physically abusive of loved ones, or more controlling in relationships.
Physical symptoms: Low back pain, sexual dysfunction, stomach, and digestive problems. Such physical symptoms may continue despite applying conventional medical treatments.
Isolation: avoiding family or social situations
Recklessness: Indulging in escapist or risky behaviors such as unprotected sex, sex with strangers, or reckless driving.
Possibly due to socialization, men may be more willing to own up or be aware of these particular symptoms and emotional red flags than of feeling sad. Ignoring any of the symptoms of depression is a risky proposition, as it can affect your quality of life as well as your family and broader social circle. It is important to seek the help of a licensed mental health professional to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.
Treatment for Depression in Men
If you are diagnosed with depression, there are various strategies for treatment and coping with it. If you are diagnosed with mild depression, some coping strategies to manage it include:
- Have structure: Creating and sticking to a daily routine may help to make each day feel a little easier. With a structure in place, you don’t have to make many decisions to get on with your day.
- Simplify and break down your tasks: When huge tasks feel unwieldy and hard to manage, breaking them down into smaller tasks can help with dealing effectively with your work or other tasks.
- Delay important decisions until you feel better. Discuss your decisions with people who know you well and who you trust. This takes off a load of pressure from your shoulders.
- Exercise or meditation: Practicing mindfulness, meditating, and participating in calming exercises like walking or yoga may reduce stress and support your overall well-being.
- Eat and sleep well: Maintaining good nutrition and getting good sleep also help in progressing toward good overall health.
- Seek social support from friends and family: Sharing your feelings with others may make them feel less overwhelming. While not a substitute for people, caring for a pet is also a way to look outside of yourself and to feel less isolated.
- Avoid alcohol: Reducing alcohol intake may improve your mood and allow you to deal head-on and truthfully with your circumstances.
These coping mechanisms are not a substitute, but a supplement to the help of a licensed medical professional who can offer a proper diagnosis and create a treatment plan for you.
The therapist may recommend medication or talk therapy. Severe or major depressive episodes usually require both. Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, takes many forms, but the main idea behind it is to talk through the situation with a trained and licensed mental health professional.
Psychotherapy can help people with depression to accomplish various goals, including learning to cope with a crisis; identify and replace negative beliefs with more positive thought patterns and beliefs; explore their relationships and experiences to build positive connections; find adaptive and creative ways to solve problems; learn to recognize the issues that contribute to depression; create, set and maintain realistic goals; as well as develop the capacity and ability to tolerate stress and distress.
A therapist may recommend medication such as antidepressants to help cope with depression and get the body and mind back where they need to be. There may be side-effects from the medication, and the doctor will adjust the dosage and medications to meet the patient’s needs. After a few weeks, the medication may begin to have a positive effect on one’s mood or overall disposition.
It is important at this stage to keep up with the medication even when things start improving. Giving up the regimen prematurely because some of the symptoms of depression are lifting can set progress back and potentially trigger a relapse. One should always consult with their doctor before they stop taking medication.
To be the best servant-leaders they can be to their families, men must be healthy, and that health encompasses more than just the body. Depression is a common mood disorder that can have serious consequences if left untreated. Often, men don’t attend to their emotional and mental health due to their socialization.
Instead of heeding the warning bells of the symptoms of depression, it feels more natural to mask the underlying problem or ignore it altogether. As God has made us all in His image, that includes the totality of our being.
Having and showing one’s emotions is not a sign of weakness, despite what our culture seems intent on communicating to us. Owning up to what we feel and seeking help is the best thing we can do for our health and by extension the health of our families and community.
“Man in Dark Room”, Courtesy of Yanal Tayyem, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Regrets”, Courtesy of Jonathan Rados, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Quiet Reflection”, Courtesy of Warren Wong, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Overwhelmed”, Courtesy of Nik Shuliahin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License