Everyone feels sad or down from time to time, but this does not necessarily mean you are depressed. Depression is an intense feeling of sadness that lasts for a long time, sometimes weeks, months or years. If you are depressed, it can start to interfere with your day-to-day life, well-being and physical health.
Men may not recognise they have depression. If they do acknowledge it to themselves, they are often reluctant to talk about it or seek help. But depression is treatable, and the sooner you recognise the symptoms, the sooner you can recover.
What causes depression?
Sometimes depression has no apparent cause. Other times it may be caused by different factors:
- A family history of depression may mean you are more likely to develop it.
- A medical condition or a chronic illness can contribute to depression through your stress and worry.
- A stressful event can trigger depression. For example, a family or relationship breakup, job loss and financial pressure, bullying, trauma, and the death of a friend or loved.
- People who tend to worry a lot, are self-critical and have negative thoughts are at risk.
Symptoms of depression
People experience depression in different ways. Common symptoms include:
- feeling sad, moody or irritable
- feeling hopeless or helpless
- feeling numb or empty
- feeling guilty and blaming yourself
- unable to feel good or enjoy things that you normally do.
- being overly self-critical
- believing you can’t cope and that things are out of your control
- difficulty making decisions and thinking clearly
- poor concentration and memory
- thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
- lack of motivation and energy
- crying a lot
- losing interest in activities you usually enjoy
- withdrawing from your friends and family or being more dependent on them
- increased use of alcohol or other drugs
- losing your temper more than usual.
- loss of appetite or over-eating
- changes in sleep patterns – difficulty getting to sleep, waking up in the middle of the night or sleeping for longer
- headaches or stomach aches
- feeling physically sick
- lack of interest in sex.
Everyone experiences some of these feelings or behaviours from time to time. However, for people experiencing depression, the feelings are severe, and they do not go away over time.
Men and depression
There are several myths about depression that can make men reluctant to talk about or seek help for their depression. These myths include the idea that:
- depression is a sign of personal weakness
- ‘real men’ are in control of their emotions and don’t let things get to them
- feeling sad or down is not manly
- anyone with enough willpower ought to be able to ‘snap out of it’
- men should not ask for help; they should be able to cope on their own.
Because of these ideas, men often focus on the physical rather than the emotional symptoms of depression and often talk about feeling angry or irritable rather than sad. They also tend not to seek help until the depression is very severe, if at all. Untreated depression can negatively affect your relationships, your ability to hold down a job, and can lead to drug and alcohol problems.
Fortunately, more and more prominent men, including high profile sportsmen and politicians, are now beginning to talk about their depression. This is helping to reduce the stigma associated with this illness and allowing other men to talk about and seek help for their depression.
Depression and relationships
Depression can have a very negative impact on one’s relationships. Depressed people frequently experience a lack of energy and motivation which can severely hinder their ability to function in a relationship. They may withdraw from others, become irritable and closed off, or fall into a state of apathy in which they are unable to act decisively or even get out of bed in the morning. Their withdrawal from others can be confusing and hurtful to those close to them, especially if the depression is not diagnosed or understood. Some people may respond unhelpfully by telling the depressed person to “pull themselves together”, not realising that their comments only make the sufferer feel worse. Many depression sufferers also lose interest in sex, creating further problems in intimate relationships.
Understanding that a depressed person’s behaviour is the result of an illness may not make things easy, but knowing what is going on, and that the condition is treatable, can give a sense of hope.
Like a physical illness, depression can be treated. There are psychological treatments that can help to reduce negative thinking, create strategies to tackle problems and improve relationships. For some, a combination of medication and psychological treatments may work best. It is important to find an approach that works for your situation.
If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, speak to your GP or a mental health professional such as a MensLine Australia counsellor.
Helping someone who is depressed
If your loved one or friend is depressed, here are some things you can do:
- Help him find a GP or a mental health professional such as MensLine Australia counsellor so he can get support.
- Offer your support and understanding.
- Talk to him and listen to what he has to say.
- Invite him out. He may say no at first, and you don’t want to push him, but let him know that you are there.
- Men with depression may be at risk for suicide. If he is in a crisis, get help quickly. Call Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or call 000.
Road to recovery
If you are on treatment and start to feel better, try doing things that you used to enjoy before you were diagnosed as depressed. Here are some other ideas that may help:
- Take it one day at a time and don’t worry too much about the future
- Break large tasks into small ones and just do what you can, don’t be hard on yourself
- Spend time with family and friends and talk to them about how you are feeling
- Join a social or community group; take up a new hobby
- Get some regular exercise and eat healthily
- Stick to your treatment plan
- Don’t suffer in silence. If you need help, talk to someone.
MensLine Australia is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with professional counsellors providing information and support for all relationship issues. Call us on 1300 78 99 78 or register for online counselling.