Carl sat in his therapist’s office, a softball-sized wad of tissues in his hand, tears streaming down his cheeks. After telling his therapist that his week since his last visit had “been good,” he began to cry. He said that he was worried that he didn’t really have depression, but that how he felt was just part of who he was, and that his life would never get better.
He also said that he has an “anger management problem,” despite never getting in trouble at work or with the law for his behavior. He apologized for taking up the therapist’s time, saying that his therapist probably sees people “who have real problems,” minimizing his own very obvious distress.
Carl is a man struggling with depression.
While the DSM-IV-TR, the “bible” of psychiatric diagnoses, does not delineate between how depression shows up in men versus women, there can be differences that get overlooked or attributed to other factors in men.
Men often believe that they should be “strong” and not let emotions dictate how they feel and behave. However, depression doesn’t discriminate in its effects, and men are just as likely to be affected as women. Depression is also not a sign of failure in masculinity or emotional weakness. But convincing some men of that can be challenging, even for trained professionals.
Men tend to deny that they are having sad feelings, but they might admit to having other signs of depression that are “more acceptable,” which include physical pain, angry feelings, and engaging in reckless behavior. Given that, men with depression tend to:
- Feel angry or irritable
- Create conflicts
- Feel suspicious or guarded
- Feel restless or agitated
- Feel the need to be “in control” at all times
- Believe it is “weak” to admit to having a problem
- Use alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, television, sports, or other addictive behavior(s) to self-medicate
What to do if you believe your male partner is depressed
If often takes a loved one to recognize that a man is depressed, especially since men often deny that they are feeling bad or blame it on something else. Here are some steps to take when talking to your partner about his depression:
- Educate yourself about male depression.
- Avoid using the word “depression” when talking to your partner. Words like “stressed,” “overworked,” “irritable,” or other terms that describe his behavior might be better received at first.
- Point out how his behavior has changed, but in a gentle, caring way. Some examples might be, “You have really been struggling with stomachaches lately…” or “You never want to go play basketball with the guys anymore.”
- Suggest that he see his primary care physician for a check-up. This serves a few functions: 1) it is less threatening than going to see a mental health professional, 2) The doctor will likely rule out physical causes of the symptoms, and 3) The doctor can make a referral for a mental health assessment.
- Offer to accompany your partner to his first appointment, and make plans to do something fun together afterwards. Try to remove any roadblocks that might get in the way of him following through with the visit.