The ‘Weakness Factor': Men and Depression
I’ve found that it’s much easier for women to say, “I’m depressed,” than it is for men. This has more to do with what I call the “weakness factor,” in which men struggle to admit something’s wrong with them or acknowledge something they perceive as a sign of weakness.
Men get depressed just as women do. The biggest difference between the sexes is that men typically won’t admit to themselves, or anyone else, that they’re feeling down.
Asking for help? As Anthony Soprano would say, “forget about it.”
Because most men struggle to accept the label of depression, when working with them I’ll describe depression symptoms and causes before I ever use the “d-word.” When men can see the cause and effect that results in depression, they’re much more willing to make the connection of depression to themselves.
The No. 1 sign of depression in the majority of men is anger. A typical stereotype of a depressed person is someone who withdraws, like the person who can’t get out of bed. For many men, depression looks just the opposite — they don’t withdraw, they attack. As a result, an angry man often is a depressed man.
Here are some symptoms of depression in men as reported to me by their partners:
- He gets mad really easily.
- He isolates himself.
- He used to work out every day, but doesn’t at all anymore.
- All he does is work.
- He’s drinking every day.
- He has always been into sports, but now won’t play anything.
- He won’t talk about how he’s doing.
- If he’s not sleeping, he’s watching sports, movies or is on the computer.
- He’s given up looking for a job.
- He won’t get out of his pajamas.
- He wears the same clothes for days.
- He’ll go days without showering.
- He’s unwilling to get any help or admit he needs it.
More than six million American men will have an episode of major depression this year, which is seven percent of the male population. So depression in men really isn’t that rare — it’s just most often ignored and untreated.
Because most men don’t talk about how they feel, men are more likely to describe physical symptoms, such as feeling tired, rather than feelings, such as sadness, worthlessness or guilt.
While depression can have genetic origins in some people, the triggers for it can’t be the same for everyone. Helping men see that depression is a normal response to challenging life events lets many men accept that it’s really happening to them.
Here are a few examples of events that triggered a depressive episode in men I’ve treated. Note that none of these circumstances are that unusual, but nonetheless are no doubt traumatic:
- My wife served me with divorce papers.
- I got laid off the Friday before Christmas.
- My girlfriend and I are splitting up.
- My son’s mother said she won’t let me see him.
- I’ve lost three family members in the past 15 months.
The symptoms described by men’s partners earlier in this article are not just what depression in men looks like, but also the way men cope with it. All of us struggle with choosing healthy means of coping. Sadly, with depression in men the most common way guys deal with it is unhealthy and ineffective. A better approach would start with a few of these steps for beating depression.
The unfortunate reality of men and depression is that it’s a secret killer — of their happiness, relationships, and lives. Men in the U.S. are about four times more likely than women to commit suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An unbelievable 75 to 80 percent of all people who commit suicide in the U.S. are men. While more women attempt suicide, more men are successful at ending their lives.
There’s a positive side to all of this, though: Eighty percent of people with depression get better with appropriate treatment, including counseling. So when men will admit how they’re feeling and seek help, they can not only improve their mood but also learn valuable skills they’ll use for the rest of their lives.
Depression can hit any of us. It’s just that those of us who learn healthy coping skills are the ones who can manage and even prevent it.
Depression statistics (2012). Retrieved July 6, 2014 from: http://www.webmd.com/depression/depression-men
Smith, K. (2014). The ‘Weakness Factor': Men and Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 5, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/07/31/the-weakness-factor-men-and-depression/