Why ‘Real’ Men with Struggle to Reach Out For Help

According to Mental Health America, an estimated 6 million men suffer from depression. Though this figure may already seem huge to you, it is just the tip of the iceberg.

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Boys Don’t Cry: Why ‘Real’ Men with Depression Struggle to Reach Out For Help

According to Mental Health America, an estimated 6 million men suffer from depression. Though this figure may already seem huge to you, it is just the tip of the iceberg.

Although the stats show that 1 out of 4 or 5 women suffer from depression as compared to 1 out of 8 or 10 men, most psychotherapists accept that these figures are intrinsically wrong. These refer only to those people who have been diagnosed with depression — but most men with depression remain undiagnosed.

The Vicious Cycle of Depression in Men Often Leads to Suicide

The consequences of undiagnosed, untreated depression can be fatal — and they often are. Although more women attempt suicide, 3.5 times more men than women complete it, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. That’s because men are prone to act more impulsively on suicidal thoughts and use more violent methods for taking their lives than women, including the use of guns.

Another thing to note is that men give fewer warning signs than women, like talking about suicide, which could give their well-wishers an inkling that not all is right in their world and seek help for them.

These alarming stats belie the widespread assumption that depression is a “women’s disease” and also indicates the serious gap in mental health awareness related to men.

Toxic Masculinity Is the #1 Reason for Depression in Men

Mental health researchers have found out that although factors like the high cost of mental health treatment and racial discrimination prevent men from reaching out for help, there is another bigger factor that impacts men of all races and socio-economic backgrounds: toxic masculinity.

Toxic masculinity refers to the negative cultural stereotypes associated with men, including discouragement of expressing emotions or behaviors that are socially considered “weak” or “unmasculine,” including sadness, asking for help and support, fear, dejection, and hopelessness. The one negative emotion that is excluded from it is anger, which is considered a sign of "male dominance."

Even as children, boys are compared to girls in a negative context when they display emotion. We have all heard and often been guilty ourselves of telling boys things like “boys don’t cry,” “don’t be a girl,” “you are such a crybaby,” “are you on your period?” and “be a man” if they show any sign of emotional weakness.

When a man’s emotions are dismissed and his identity is called into question, he begins to fear stigma, bottles up his feelings, and over time may become desensitized to other people’s feelings as well. This can create serious mental disorders like apathy and depression.

Men with typical masculine traits, like asserting dominance over women, may be more adversely impacted because they are reluctant to show they are suffering, particularly to their female loved ones, and will not seek help in order to maintain their stoic and manly persona.

Why Depression In Men Goes Undiagnosed

Many men would rather die than talk about their insecurities. In fact, depressed men often see death as an easier recourse.

Unlike women who typically blame themselves and do often seek help, depressed men react with anger and turn towards substance abuse. Since anger is recognized as a “male” emotion, when a man acts out, not many people recognize that he may be suffering from depression

Additionally, men themselves are not adept at recognizing symptoms of depression. As Sigmund Freud said, people repress what they think are shameful thoughts from their conscious mind. That’s why men either downplay their symptoms or believe that if they ignore them for a while, they will go away on their own.

Therapists say that the three most overlooked signs of depression in men include:

Anger: This could be anything from excessive irritability, intolerance of social activities, sensitivity to criticism, road rage, verbal abuse, and even physical violence.

Physical Discomfort: Depressed men may also have various physical symptoms like frequent headaches, indigestion, back and shoulder pains, disturbed sleep, lack of appetite, and sexual dysfunction that won’t improve with regular treatment.

Risky Behavior: Depressed men may also become reckless and may pursue dangerous activities like extreme physical dares, risky sports, reckless driving, impulsive gambling, alcohol or drug abuse, or engaging in casual unsafe sex.

What You Can Do To Help Men Struggling With Depression

It is very important that we understand that men and women experience the same emotions and that depression is not gender-related. Trauma leads to depression and lack of sympathy can further exacerbate the situation.

The silver lining is that depression is very treatable and most diagnosed people get the help they need. The issue is that many men don’t want to talk about depression and think that seeking help for such issues is shameful. Here are some ways you can help them cope.

Don’t dismiss depression in men: Trivializing depression in men can be the worst thing you can do. Instead of saying things like “don’t be a wuss” or “pull yourself together”, you can tell them it is OK to feel this way, that you care about them, and you are here to talk to them. Talking to a depressed person can be awkward and scary, but listening without judgment or criticism can be the best thing that you can do for someone who is facing depression.

Take mentions of suicide seriously: The popular belief that people who talk about suicide don’t actually commit it, is a lie. A person who is depressed may see death as an easy way out of his problems. If a person mentions suicide, try to gently talk him out of it. Do not agree with negative views as they are a sign of depression. If you don’t think you are qualified enough for it, get professional suicide prevention help immediately.

Seek social support: When you are depressed, it is easy to get cloistered in your shell. However, it is not a myth that positive face-to-face social contact can help alleviate negative feelings. If someone you love is depressed, you should encourage them to talk to people they feel most comfortable with, someone who can listen to their problem without judgment, and not tell them how to feel. However, don’t ever force them to interact with someone or take on too many activities as that can make them feel overwhelmed.

Practice mindfulness: Men whose depression spring from deep-seated unresolved trauma or obsessive thoughts should practice mindfulness and meditation. Averting your attention from the stream of negative thoughts and becoming intensely aware of what you are doing currently, can do wonders to stave off your negative emotions. If you pull the plug on these depressants, you will start to feel your mood lightening over time.

Change your expectations: Above all, our society as a whole needs to change its expectations of men that prevent them from showing their true emotions. We should encourage men to share their feeling, without them fearing ridicule or criticism. Behaviors like crying, showing affection, or asking for help should not be gendered. We should tell boys that it is alright for them to cry or want a shoulder to lean on. Teaching boys from an early age to express their emotions is the key to helping them becoming more sympathetic, kind, loving, and helpful people.

Depression is a chronic mental illness, and even if you have been feeling well for a long time, relapse can often happen. If you feel like you are suffering from a mental health crisis, know that you are not alone. One step at a time is the key to fighting depression.

Seeking therapy can help you stay well and help you cope so that you can live a fulfilling life. Call us at 248-692-4013 to find psychotherapy help near you. All calls and consultations are confidential.