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Men Don’t Cry! Exploring Male Depression

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 4.02.00 PMThanks to far reaching social media campaigns for organisations such as BeyondBlue and Man Therapy,  depression in men is capturing more attention in Australia.

On average, 1 in 8 men will have depression at some stage of their lives, however many will not get the assistance they need.

This compares to 1 in 5 women who will experience depression during their lifetime.

Many men have been subjected to lifelong stereotyping both within their inner circle and by the media. Consequently they often believe they have to be strong and in control of their emotions; being depressed is seen as a sign of weakness.

Media stereotypes can impact dramatically on a man’s psyche, helping to shape men’s own views about how they should act and how successful they should be as men.

Manly traits that are lauded include bravery, adventurousness, rational thought, initiative, independence, being strong and effective.

Discouraged (yet positive) traits in men that are perceived as unmanly include the ability to feel and express a range of emotions such as fear, hurt, confusion or despair. Even talking about these feelings is considered taboo.

Men are also not encouraged to learn to work co-operatively without the need for control, to love in a non-sexual way, to have friendships or to solve conflicts without domination.

These standards can lead to discrimination against those men who naturally deviate from them. But they can also prevent men themselves from living up to their full potential as human beings. This of course can lead to depression.

Unrealistic expectations placed on men is dramatically impacting their mental health in increasing and frightening numbers.

In times of feeling hopeless, helpless, overwhelmed or despair, many men have a tendency to deny these feelings and/ or conceal emotions by drinking too much, behaving recklessly, or exploding with anger.

There is no single cause of depression in men and in most cases it is a combination of biological, psychological and social factors.

Stressful life events or circumstances that makes a man feel useless, helpless, alone, profoundly sad, or overwhelmed by stress can also trigger depression in men.

Additionally lifestyle choices, relationships and the mans own coping mechanisms can also factor in.

 

Triggers and Risk Factors 

  • Overwhelming stress at work, school, or home
  • Marital or relationship problems
  • Significant change in living arrangements (e.g. separation or divorce, leaving home for the first time)
  • Pregnancy and birth of a baby
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Not reaching important goals in life, work
  • Losing or changing a job
  • Constant financial issues
  • Social isolation
  • Health problems such as chronic illness, injury, disability
  • Recently quitting smoking
  • Death of a loved one
  • Family responsibilities such as caring for children, spouse, or aging parents
  • Retirement; loss of independence
  • Genetics – men with a family history of depression may be more likely to develop it than those whose family members do not have the illness.

 

Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Men

Often times it can be difficult to identify depression in ourselves and it may require an objective and loving observation from those close to us.

Here is a list of possible signs and symptoms of depression in men.

Behaviour

  • Not going out anymore
  • Not completing tasks at work/school
  • Escapist behavior, such as spending a lot of time at work or gambling
  • Risky behavior, such as reckless driving, unsafe sex
  • Controlling, violent or abusive behaviour
  • Withdrawing from close family and friends
  • Relying on alcohol, sedatives or other substances
  • Not doing usual enjoyable activities
  • Unable to concentrate

Feelings

  • Overwhelmed
  • Guilt
  • Inappropriate anger
  • Irritable
  • Frustrated
  • Lacking in confidence
  • Unhappy
  • Indecisive
  • Disappointed
  • Miserable
  • Sad

Thoughts

  • ‘I’m a failure.’
  • ‘It’s my fault.’
  • ‘Nothing good ever happens to me.’
  • ‘I’m worthless.’
  • ‘Life’s not worth living.’
  • ‘People would be better off without me.’

Physical

  • Tired all the time
  • Sick and run down
  • Headaches and muscle pains
  • Churning gut
  • Sleep problems
  • Loss or change of appetite
  • Significant weight loss or gain

 

Muscle Dysmorphia

A contemporary cause of depression and anxiety in men is a condition called muscle dysmorphia.

Muscle dysmorphia is a disorder that is characterised by a fear of being too small and/ or perceiving oneself as small and weak even when a man could be large and muscular.

It originates with a desire to feel more confident and a view that society rewards people who look good/ attractive.

As opposed to women with anorexia nervosa, men with muscle dysmorphia are not trying to be skinny: their ideal physique is lean, cut, with big muscles, so the type of dieting and exercise they do is obviously different to people with anorexia nervosa although just as aggressive in approach.

While the media and societal pressure on women regarding their bodys’ is one of subtracting for men it’s about adding. Fat shaming is (unfortunately) indeed alive and well for both genders.

In a reflection of modern society, facing stigma over one’s weight actually increases stress and is detrimental to mental health. Young and old alike, this pressure is affecting men in alarming ways.

In an increasing number of cases the introduction of steroids is used to achieve the perfect body.

Of particular concern is the period of time when someone with muscle dysmorphia is coming off a steroid cycle.

Many men experience mood swings and emotional instability, including an increased risk of suicide.

For a man whose body image, self esteem and emotional stability rests heavily on his appearance, the realisation that he is going to experience a very rapid drop in muscularity over just a couple of days can be quite traumatic.

While wanting to be your best you is commendable ensure that this desire comes from a healthy aspirational place. Feelings of self-loathing or celebrity envy are not examples of these.

 

Male Depression versus Depression in Females

  • Women are more likely to dwell on issues when feeling depressed.
  • Men with depression are more likely to abuse alcohol and other substances.
  • Women may be more likely to become depressed in response to a stressful event.
  • Men’s symptoms of depression may be harder for others to recognise.
  • Women are more likely than men to have depression and a co-existing eating disorder.
  • Men are more likely to complete a suicide attempt.
  • Women may have a stronger genetic predisposition to developing depression.
  • Compared to men, women are much more subjected to fluctuating hormone levels. This is especially the case around the time of childbirth and at menopause, both of which are associated with an increased risk of developing depression.

 

Male Depression and Suicide

Depression is a high risk factor for suicide and in Australia, there are approximately 2,200 suicides each year. 80 per cent are by men – with an average of 5 men taking their lives every single day.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 44. This figure significantly exceeds the national road toll.
Although women attempt suicide more often than men do, men are more likely to complete suicide.
That’s because men:
  • Use methods that are more likely to be lethal, such as guns.
  • Act more quickly on suicidal thoughts.
  • Show fewer warning signs, such as talking about suicide when compared to women.

 

Treatment

In cases of male depression, the person as a whole needs to be acknowledged including their behaviour, feelings, thoughts and physical symptoms.  When depression occurs in men, it may be masked by unhealthy coping behaviours as noted above.

For a number of reasons, male depression often goes undiagnosed and can have devastating consequences if it goes untreated. Male depression can get better with wholistic treatment.

Key in managing depression is setting healthy, all encompassing coping skills.

These may include:

  • Goals. Set realistic and achievable goals and prioritise tasks.
  • Support. Seek out emotional support from a partner or family or friends.
  • Activities. Engage in enjoyable activities, such as ball games, fishing, hobbies, bush walking, gardening.
  • Decisions. Delay making important decisions, such as changing jobs, investments and relationships until depression symptoms improve.
  • Health. Live a healthy lifestyle, including eating healthy and exercising regularly, to help promote better mental and physical health.

 

rec-fit-middle-age-manExercise as an Anti-depressant for Men

Studies indicate that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as orthodox antidepressant medication.

Remember:

  • Exercise regularly and often. A 10-minute walk can improve mood for two hours. The key to sustaining mood is to exercise regularly. That may mean exercising vigorously for 30 minutes once a day as well as taking one or two short walks to keep your mood elevated throughout the whole day.
  • Find moderately intense activities.  While aerobic exercise has mental health benefits, even a few minutes of gentle activity is better than none at all.
  • Choose exercises that are continuous and rhythmic. Walking, swimming, running, biking, rowing, and yoga are all options.
  • Add a mind-body element to increase relaxation. Concentrate on the breath, feeling the feet touch the ground, the wind in the face for example.
  • Become social such as joining a class or exercising in a group. This assists with motivation and reduces the feeling of isolation

 

Permit Social Support 

Strong social networks reduce isolation, which can trigger or intensify bouts of depression.

  • Let your family and friends help you. Accepting help and support is not a sign of weakness or burden. Family and real friends want to see a depressed male become well. Allow trust and it will strengthen bonds. Close relationships are vital to helping someone get through depression.
  • Participate in social activities, even if the motivation is not there. When a man is depressed, it naturally feels more comfortable to retreat into a shell. Being around other people does lessen the impact of depression.

 

Further Reading 

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Comments

  • Brian Godfrey says:

    I am a person who has had severe depression to an extent that suicide seemed to be the only answer. It was in the 1970’s that I was having group psychotherapy and patients had been going to the group for four years and kept coming up with the same symptoms on each session. I realised that I was not one of these people, and that there was a another agenda that was causing my problem.
    I scoured the libraries for information (no internet in those days) and found a book “Not all in the mind” by Dr. Mackarness who was bringing the idea of food intolerance to the UK from his discussions with doctors in the USA.
    He had a patient who was violent and self harming and no amount of medication could resolve the problem. It was suggested that brain surgery was the only option. Dr.Mackarness decided to test the food intolerance idea.He put this patient on an elimination diet and found that amongst other foods, she was sensitive to pork. When she stopped eating pork, her symptoms went away. She was discharged with a list of forbidden foods, and maintained a normal life.
    I put myself on the elimination diet and found that, initially, I was sensitive to wheat and dairy products. After three weeks, I woke one morning and all the symptoms had gone. I felt normal! during the following months, I found that I was also sensitive to rye, oats, barley, all alcohol made from the grain, eggs and chocolate. By eliminating these items from my diet, I could maintain a depression-free life.
    Now, in 2015,there is a vast range of “free from” foods available.
    I have recently emigrated to Australia from the UK where all the above occurred.
    I am now 80yo,with my own teeth, and not on any medication, and would state that, in my opinion, not eating bread and cow’s milk has not affected my health.
    The area of food intolerance and mental health has been sadly neglected by the medical profession. However, I found a wonderful website, here, addressing this condition. http://www.fedup.com.au Take a look!

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