Many men have a difficult time recognizing that they are depressed. Men often interpret the word “depression" as describing a state of helplessness or hopelessness. In many ways our culture conditions men to ignore these states or to experience little awareness of them. Men are taught “boys don't cry, " and are uniformly rewarded with praise and validation when they “act like a man" instead of tearing up or expressing fear in response to a harshly distressing encounter. After years of this kind of persistent reinforcement these boys grow into men with a form of blindness whereby they often do not see or understand the nature of depression. In ignorance they become bound by painfully repetitive behaviors and feelings with no knowledge that they can change.
What men do recognize is the feeling of “stress" and they will commonly describe situations as stressful with no awareness that those situations are only triggers stimulating an internal state of dis-ease that often leads to depression. The following are some of the less recognizable experiences that men commonly describe as stressful and that are symptomatic of depression.
Symptoms of Depression
-high levels of anxiety
-irritability, and/or anger
-low energy and/or fatigue
-loss or lack of confidence
-loss of interest in favorite activities
-weight loss or gain
-loss of sex drive
-inability to relax
-frequent suffering from vague physical ailments.
Triggers of Depression
Many normal and joyous life experiences can trigger depression. A new relationship, a new baby, a new home or job, a large inheritance, or even winning the lottery. Each of these events brings additional and, at times, unfamiliar experiences that can inhibit a man's ability to effectively manage these new experiences. If such a situation continues long enough a man's self worth can diminish and depression can then set in.
Divorce, loss of a job, retirement, a death, constant and unrelenting pressures from others to do things their way-these also can tax a man's sense of competency and self-worth. When having difficulty coping with these painful life experiences many men will present a “stiff upper lip" and try harder and harder. And if, by chance, they continue to have trouble functioning effectively, they will suffer intense anxiety, tension, and fatigue. With no relief they will begin experiencing more of the symptoms listed above.
Physical illness and unrelenting pain can also trigger depression. Pain is the body's red alert system that something is misfiring, and the nervous system is the first responder to engage our defense system to bring relief. When pain is intense enough or it persists long enough it creates unrelieved stress on our natural biological defense systems. Once that happens our immune system and other related defense systems become compromised and can no longer provide necessary relief. One of the common results of this biologically-based depletion is depression. The biological and chemical effects of untreated depression then synergistically trigger an even wider system breakdown that further weakens our body and makes us susceptible to other physical disorders.
The Blind Bind Of Male Depression
Men are conditioned from the time they are little boys to be problem solvers, doers, and thinkers. As such they push themselves to meet time lines, sales quotas, budget schedules, financial, emotional, and professional expectations of family and friends. They are not taught to consider or are not aware of the cost these pressures can impose on their physical well being and emotional peace of mind. They are blinded to the understanding that if the cost gets high enough fatigue, irritability, impatience, and the other symptoms listed above will start to manifest. They do not recognize that in an effort to gain relief from these symptoms they engage in behaviors that potentially exacerbate the problem.
And so, in ignorance, they compulsively and impulsively bind with the distracting excitement or mind numbing experience of a increasing variety of behaviors. Some examples include alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, spending, long periods on the internet, and working harder and longer. Ultimately, instead of bringing relief, these binding behaviors bring an additional set of worries that now includes substance-related depression, financial debt, social isolation, family conflict, a shame-driven perception of self, and a widening rift between the painful state of depression and the support that can bring relief and healing.
Healing from Male Depression
Men did not ask for this blind-bind state of being. And they cannot return to their pasts and change the experiences that conditioned them to overlook, ignore or have little understanding of the symptoms of depression and the interactions that trigger it. However, men can learn to recognize the symptoms and seek help.
Depression is treatable and with the support of a knowledgeable doctor and a skilled psychotherapist who has experience and training working with men in the treatment of depression and anxiety the blind bind of male depression can release. And with that release men can then acquire the tools to alleviate the symptoms of depression, to prevent its debilitating re-occurrence, and to live with a consistent sense of healthy and enjoyable connection with self and others.
Ms Desert is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Baltimore, MD with a holistic private psychotherapy practice. She is a Certified EMDR practitioner, a Certified Psychodramatist, and a Board Certified Clinical Social Worker Supervisor. For the past 20 years she has specialized in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and trauma and is a national and international conference presenter on these and related issues. For more information please visit her web site at http://www.singular-pathways.com