Men and Depression
As a man, I can tell you that talking about the topic of depression with other guys makes you about as popular as a porcupine in a balloon factory.
But here’s the thing – nearly 10% of men in the United States struggle with this mental health issue (CDC, 2015). And it’s safe to say those numbers are likely much higher.
The reason? Most guys would rather admit to anything other than what they feel. For many of us, it’s just not part of our DNA.
I’m not saying this is true for all males. But in my experience as a counselor specializing in men’s issues, this trait applies to many men.
What follows are 10 things men do that make their depression worse. It goes without saying that many of these actions apply to all genders. I’m listing the biggies, however, for the guys.
Read them all in order to absorb their deeper meaning. Avoid the temptation of judging yourself as part of this exercise.
Check it out.
When you pretend depression isn’t part of your reality, you engage in a cognitive distortion called denial. This one is often manifested through the self-narrative: I can handle this on my own.
Here’s the full-on truth guys: most of us can’t.
Men who struggle with self-esteem or body image issues need to be particularly mindful of this point.
2. Drinking Alcohol
Pounding down a few may offer a temporary escape from your feelings but in the final analysis, alcohol can actually worsen your mood.
Over the course of time, reliance upon alcohol to lift your spirits can cause a dependency. Some folks call this addiction.
3. Relying on Weed
Recreational use of marijuana happens. We all have our vices. But if you are regularly using weed to boost your depressed mood, know that the benefits are temporary.
Here’s the truth: If you smoke too much pot, it can paradoxically exacerbate depression during withdrawal. For a lot of guys, this triggers a never-ending cycle of firing up when coming down.
4. Thinking “Strong Men” Don’t Get Depressed
If I had a dime for every time I was told by a male client, “Strong men don’t get depressed,” I’d be rich.
Here’s the thing – we do.
Moreover, we’re masters at hiding it! That said, depression isn’t confined to gender. It also has zero to do with strength. Just because you get depressed doesn’t make you less masculine.
5. Thinking meds alone are enough
A lot of guys think that just taking an anti-depressant is all they need for treatment. While medications certainly help, they often aren’t enough.
The most effective approach includes a combination of talk therapy (with a CBT slant), physical activity, and yes – the meds.
6. Thought Stopping
Some men think that depression is caused purely by depressive thoughts. As such, they fall victim to thought stopping. That’s a $10 term from yesteryear whereby a person tries to purge disturbing thoughts from the mind.
I’m here to tell you – it doesn’t work. In fact, it can make you feel worse.
The healthier approach is to simply acknowledge the presence of intrusive thoughts and let them pass. The more energy you put into trying to block them, the stronger they become.
I’m not knocking this kind of therapy. There can be benefits derived from exploring the past. Assessing childhood hurts can be cathartic.
That said, the scientific literature strongly points to cognitive behavior therapy [CBT] as the optimum form of counseling. Personally, I am a fan of ACT; a “third wave” CBT therapy.
8. Subscribing to Learned Helplessness
If there’s a part of you that believes there’s nothing you can do about your depression because “that’s just the way it is,” you are engaging in learned helplessness.
People with this mindset believe they are victims of their circumstances. In turn, they use it as a permission slip for inaction. Ask yourself: Am I a victim?
9. Isolating and Shutting Down
One of the major ways men cope with their depression is by isolating. The thinking goes like this: If nobody sees me, they won’t know how miserable I feel.
Let me assure you that the worst thing you can do is isolate. I know it’s super hard to be around people when you are down. Obviously, you shouldn’t force it. That said, if you isolate too much, you run the risk of sinking into a very dark place.
This is how depression wins and why some guys never recover.
A major way men make their depression worse is by blaming others. Examples include lashing out at a spouse or child as the reason for feeling blue. As a result, important support systems erode.
With depression, you need to know nobody is to blame. This includes you.
While there can be situational causes for a disparate mood, most clinical cases contain organic and/or hereditary origins.
Bonus: Distorting Reality
Anytime you minimize, distort, or pretend that your feelings aren’t as intense as they seem, you are engaging in magical thinking. And you know what else? It can make you feel worse.
When you have time, I encourage you to review the different types of cognitive distortions and how they can adversely impact your mood.
Summing Things Up
Depression doesn’t work like a lightswitch that can be turned on and off at will. If only it were true!
What is possible is to rethink the relationship with your feelings and create a realistic strategy for wellness. With time, self-compassion, and patience, you can do a lot to ameliorate your symptoms and feel better.
To my mind, real men face their depression head on. That includes you.
If you want to learn more about depression, please consider reading this article (link). If you are concerned that you may hurt yourself, please call 800-273-TALK, or one of these numbers here for international readers (choose your country from the drop-down list).
CDC. (2015). Racial and Ethnic Disparities in. Washington, DC: United States Department of Health and Human Services .
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