With two high-profile suicides recently, it has become even more imperative to talk openly about depression and suicide. Too often, however, there is one thing common in those who want to start the conversation or offer to listen: An overwhelming percentage of them are women.
Statistics say women are twice as likely to be depressed as men, so it makes sense that there is a greater number of women who want to talk about it, right? Sure, some scientists believe that there is a genetic component to depression that makes women more susceptible to the illness. However, when you consider the fact that men are less likely to report feeling depressed, that men are more successful at committing suicide, and that suicide has become the 7th leading cause of death among men, there is no excuse for more men to not be involved in the conversation.
Depression is more than just feeling the blues. It’s a serious mental health disorder characterized by a prolonged period of sadness or loneliness; lack of energy; loss of interest in socializing; difficulties in sleeping or eating; and thoughts of suicide. In other words, it affects your entire body and health.
Most people think that depression results from a chemical imbalance in your brain. But recent research suggests there is much more going on than just having too much or too little of certain brain chemicals. Depression is now believed to be a result of a combination of different factors and their interactions with one another, including genetics, family history, medications, gut health, medical problems, stress, environment, personality, neurobiological makeup, and faulty regulation of mood by the brain.
Depression does not discriminate by gender, race, sexuality, age, or wealth status. Having said that, however, it’s important to note that men and women can experience and show symptoms of depression in different ways. Women are inherently more in tune with their emotions than men are, and tend to express depression by crying or being sad. On the other hand, men are more prone to become irritable, angry, or even aggressive. Men are also less likely to seek help and more likely to turn to substance abuse like alcohol or drugs.
The “Tough Guy” Image – A Bias Against Men
Stop anyone on the street and ask how they believe a man should be. They’ll likely answer with the stereotypical characteristics: tough, independent, confident, dominant, and strong. Hollywood has inundated society with the image of the “silent and strong” man who manages to attract and woo many women. Boys are taught from a young age that the most revered and attractive men are those who are rich, powerful, and famous; there is no room for weakness or emotions in macho men. Sadly, these gender stereotypes are accompanied by a social stigma that discourages men from seeking help.
Somehow, somewhere along the way, the definition of a “strong man” became equated to a man who keeps his feelings and emotions to himself. While men will praise male celebrities and athletes for opening up about their depression, they are often unwilling advocates for themselves.
Any man who talks about his feelings is often immediately told (usually by other men) to “man up,” “suck it up and deal with it,” or “grow some balls.” In fact, admission of a mental illness can negatively impact both personal and professional lives of men. Several of the male first responders to the Pulse nightclub massacre reported that they faced lack of empathy and even harassment from their co-workers after they were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the tragedy. One was accused of “faking it” and was told to “get over it and move on.” Others were never cleared to return to their jobs or were reassigned to a different job.
Men also seem more resistant to acknowledging another man’s emotional distress. One British study revealed that men were less likely to recognize symptoms of depression in another man as opposed to those in a woman despite being given the same symptoms. The male participants of the study asserted that the man in the scenario was not suffering from a mental disorder, and that his case was less deserving of sympathy and treatment.
The stigma towards men and mental disorders is deeply entrenched in society. The mental health disparity is even greater among minority communities.
In order to raise awareness of depression in men, there needs to be open discussion and targeted campaigns that promote screening and educate the public about the links between substance abuse and depression, and the societal costs of leaving depression untreated.
In addition to the symptoms of depression in men (anger, irritability, and aggression), the following are risk factors for suicide:
- Using drugs and/or alcohol to cope with stress and emotions
- Feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, and guilt
- Being bullied
- History of physical or sexual abuse
- Relationship breakdowns
What to Do If You’re Suffering from Depression
Over 6 million American men are reported to suffer from depression. It’s possible that the actual number is significantly higher. Depression is a serious mental illness and there’s nothing weak about seeking help and treatment. Treatments for depression have high success rates, but you need to take the first step to getting well, and there has never been a better time than now to open up the discussion.
If you are suffering from depression and are having thoughts of suicide, don’t be afraid to speak up. Do some research to find out if there are any local resources available to you. You can also talk to your family doctor or psychiatrist. They can recommend medications or counseling sessions to help you. If you feel comfortable talking to family members or friends, forming a support group for each other can be a great way to express your feelings and spread awareness at the same time. Exercising and eating healthier can also help you fight depression.
If you want to someone confidentially at any time of the day or night, you can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.