WHY DO MEN SUFFER DEPRESSION IN SILENCE

Males suffering from depression have an increased vulnerability to committing suicide. Clinical psychologist Smriti Sawhney advices it is important to seek professional help and lists out tips to alleviate depression.

Boys are not supposed to cry.
And, if you cry you are weak.
And, being emotional is so ‘girly’.

Most boys tend to hear these and other similar statements during their growing up years. Internalising such statements can make it difficult later on for men to express or share their pain or low phases they may be experiencing.

These stereotypical notions about men, along with stigma associated with having a mental illness, can make it very difficult for males suffering from depression to be :

  1. Identified
  2. Seek help.
Suicide rates higher in men

Males suffering from depression have an increased vulnerability to committing suicide – they are almost four times more likely to commit suicide than women, so it’s extremely important to seek help with depression, before feelings of despair become feelings of suicide.

It took almost a month of convincing and various personal assessments for Mr R to believe that he was suffering from depression. He was experiencing a lot of aches and pains, irritability and fatigue. He was also sleeping lesser than usual. He explained the whole experience as ‘normal reactions to life stressors that would pass within a few days.’ But when the symptoms persisted, he still did not choose to seek help from a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. Instead, he chose a text based coaching platform that offered him anonymity. Why didn’t he visit a psychiatrist? Because he would have felt let down if he had gone to a psychotherapist after he had described himself as ‘I am a strong man…I don’t need psychotherapy...just some coaching would help’.

Depression in men

On an average, one in eight men will experience depression and one in five men will experience anxiety at some stage of their lives.

Here are some risk factors that make a man more vulnerable, such as:

  • Loneliness and lack of social support
  • Financial dependence or crisis
  • Poor coping skills
  • History of alcohol or drug abuse
  • Early childhood trauma or abuse

The symptoms for depression may present differently in men and women. Men who are depressed may appear to be angry or aggressive instead of sad or irritable. And even their own family members, colleagues or friends may not always attribute their increased irritability, lack of focus or being less interested in socialising to depression. Here are some symptoms that can be red flag signs to watch out for to help identify if a male friend, relative or colleague maybe experiencing depression:

  • Reduced or increased need to sleep
  • Reduced or increased appetite
  • Problems with sexual desire and performance
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness
  • Feeling anxious, restless or ‘on the edge’
  • Loss of interest in work, family or once-pleasurable activities.
  • Not being able to concentrate or remember details.
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
  • Crying spells/self-harm
  • Physical aches or pains,
  • A need for alcohol or drugs
  • Withdrawing from family and friends or becoming isolated

This list is not conclusive in itself and it’s not necessary that all men experience all of these symptoms. It is important to thus seek help if someone has been experiencing one or more of these symptoms for more than 2 weeks.

How you can help someone with depression

If you know someone who has these symptoms, you can support him by helping him find a doctor or mental health professional. It’s important to remember that a person with depression cannot simply ‘get out of it’. If not for mood related symptoms, men with depression may acknowledge having troubles with aches and pains and may agree to seek treatment for their physical symptoms, such as feeling tired or run down. They may be willing to talk with their regular health professional about a new difficulty they are having at work or losing interest in doing things they usually enjoy so an appointment with a GP to begin may help too.

Let him know that you are going to be there to listen to him and also never take any statements reflecting suicidal intentions lightly and make sure this person gets help right away.

For Men experiencing depressive signs

You do not have to brave these signs as it may make things only more difficult to cope with. It would take more courage to seek help than to let it all bottle inside and keep fighting the battle alone. Here are some things you could do to help yourself if you feel you are experiencing depression:

  1. Look at it as an illness and not your fault or weakness - Give yourself the broken leg analogy- if you had a leg injury, would you be harsh on yourself and not seek help and not do things to make it better. Depression affects our mood as well as some cognitive functions which are managed by our brain. Brain is an organ and a part of our body. So we need to look at it just as any other illness.
  2. Seek professional help - one cannot just get over it or ‘Chuck it’ however much one may want to.
  3. Having a routine is therapeutic - often the first things that get hit because of depression is your personal care and work routine. Due to lack of sleep or oversleeping and feeling low on energy, you may find yourself struggling to get out of bed even to brush your teeth. So even if it’s happening an hour later than your usual time, make sure it happens. Slow is ok too. Similarly, for other activities too like meals, etc. Try and aim for 6-8 hours of sleep and expose yourself to sunlight if possible.
  4. Exercise – Exercise, walk or swim or do anything that makes you feel good, even if it is for 15-20 min a day. Exercise is a natural way to boost your happy hormones and add to confidence and up your energy levels
  5. Remember our thoughts are not facts. Often it’s how we perceive the world and others around us. Also perceptions about how other perceive us that can make us feel good or bad about ourselves and our life. These perceptions are based on our past experiences or stories of other people and sometimes even fuelled by rules and beliefs that govern our life. And some of these can be very unhelpful. Thoughts that make you feel bad or low or hopeless need to be identified and examined and challenged before believed and acted on. Often it’s these thoughts that primarily govern how we would feel or respond to a situation or a person etc. if you are unable to do this yourself, a cognitive behaviour therapist or a psychologist could help you with it.
  6. Seek Social support - This does not mean getting together and drinking or sharing jokes, but having a network of people with whom you are able to share what you are going through without feeling judged.
  7. Undertake a pleasurable activity - Do one pleasurable activity or something that gives you a sense of achievement everyday - it could be helping someone or playing with your pet or painting, absolutely anything but done just because it’s something that would make you feel happy and good about yourself
  8. Relax - Practice a daily relaxation or mindfulness based exercise that will help you stay calm, focussed and grounded. A simple exercise could be to just to just deep breathe and focus on the experience of breathing, how the breath goes in slowly and deeply inflating your abdomen (you could keep your hand on your abdomen to experience this) and how the abdomen deflates as you breathe out slowly.

Remember depression is just like a semi colon and not a full stop; It is a pause maybe but not a dead end.

Words by,

Smriti Sawhney 

Wysa's lead psychologist that 

which first appeared in Patient Engage 

on 22nd November 2018

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