bisexualguysIs it a weakness to feel depressed?  What is depression anyway?  Does it show up differently for men than for women?  Many people talk about depression without really knowing what it is. As a clinician, it is clear to me that depression in men often looks different than it does in women.
Surprised? Read on:
Let’s talk about Men and the Big “D”. Forgive me for focusing on men, but it seems – from all clinical reports – that women handle depression better than men. For all too many of us men, depression is melancholy on steroids.
Unlike women, we often choose such brilliant coping strategies as driving too fast, heavy drinking and recreational drug use.  We’re trying to self-medicate, you see. These unwise and dangerous behaviors are considered “symptoms” of depression: warning signs.  But many of us ignore the signs, and what happens then?Writer Melissa Healy (in the Los Angeles Times) estimated that, every year, about 25,000 depressed American men kill themselves
For many depressed men, there is no cry for help or even much sadness, just a quiet, tragic ending of a life.According to Healy, in the United States, a depressed man is four times more likely than a woman to commit suicide, yet he is only half as likely to be diagnosed with depression. It’s the Big “D”: Don’t ask for help, Don’t tell anyone how lousy you feel, and Don’t get better.

From my work as a psychotherapist, depression in my male clients often looks different than the sadness, guilt and withdrawal that many of us think of when we imagine a depressed person. Depressed people are stereotypically seen as women, not men.

How ironic.

In my humble observation, that women usually cope better with depression than men.Some depressed men suffer symptoms of depression – such as impotence and loss of sexual interest, but others may become wildly promiscuous, complain of sleep troubles, fatigue, headaches or stomach problems – without ever considering that there may be a psychological source to all or some of their symptoms.Statistically, depressed men are more likely than women to engage in unsafe sex, self-medicate with alcohol and/or drugs and/or seek out emotional confrontation.  All those feelings of depression have to go somewhere; so we turn our unhappiness on ourselves and have internal symptoms or we aim it at other people and sabotage our relationships.

What causes depression?  No one knows for sure.  For all the research that shows that there are genetic markers that run in families, there is equal research that shows it is more environmentally-based.  In my experience, it’s a combination of the two.

The success of anti-depressants acknowledges that there is a biological component of depression, yet anti-depressants don’t make you “happy”, they just keep you from feeling really bad.  They can take away that totally hopeless feeling that makes you feel like crawling into bed and never coming out…but once you crawl out of bed, then what?  This is where pills don’t help much.

Facing the CAUSE of our depression usually means walking through fire.  Ironically, this is something that men are good at, but – unfortunately – we’re told we should do it ON OUR OWN.  Is this why we’re so bad at asking for help?

For many guys, the first step in healing our depression is to hear, “I think you’re depressed” from someone close to us.

If you suspect depression in your friend or partner, don’t downplay the changes you see or criticize his behavior.  Instead, tell him that you’re worried about his mood or behavior.

Educate him: let him know him that depression is common in men and doesn’t always feel like sadness.  Let him know that that  “talk therapy” – with or without anti-depressants – brings relief to four out of five men (according to research).  Above all, don’t be afraid to talk about the Big “D”.

If you wonder if you’re depressed,  ask for help, tell someone you trust how lousy you feel and know that you can get better.  We’re all in this together…isn’t this what brotherhood is really about?