Having recently posted about the signs of depression in men, it set me thinking about my own approach to dealing with depression and the approach of other depressed men I know and have known.
In the signs of depression post I write about the fact that many men fail to seek help for their depression for fear of being seen as weak or vulnerable. Although it’s right to say that I was reluctant for a very long time to get help for my depression, I don’t think my own reasons were specifically connected to being perceived as weak – I’d always assumed everybody thought I was weak, in any case.
Instead, as somebody whose self-image was tied up not with strength but more with reason and rationaIity, my fear was not about seeking help, but about being diagnosed as depressed and thus, as I saw it, branded as mentally ill or mentally deficient in some way.
I suppose, If you think about it, in essence these fears have the same root – the idea that something you consider to be central to your persona will be undermined if the problem comes out into the open.
Whilst it is difficult for those of us who deal with this as older men, we do at least tend to have a reservoir of resources to draw on, such as experience of life’s ups and downs and at least some degree of emotional maturity.
But think about how much harder this is for young depressed men; those in their late teens or early twenties.
My recollection of that time is one of endless confusion about who I was and what I was supposed to be. It involved lots of ‘trying to fit in’ with one group or another, lots of doubts about whether I was ‘in’ or ‘out’ and lots of bravado in the face of everything. And I had a relatively stable background and upbringing – many don’t.
So, consider the courage required of a young man in that age group if he is to face up to feelings of depression, admit his problem and come out and seek help for it.
A 1999 study by the Samaritans, a national UK helpline service, on the attitudes of young men starkly highlighted the problem. It found that as a consequence of the need to be seen to be tough, a high proportion of young men are more likely to resort to violence than ask for help, whilst more than one third of those studied stated that they would ‘smash something up’ instead of talk about the way they felt.
So what is the answer to all of this? How can depressed men be made to see the value of dealing with their depression?
Initiatives such as the recent Australian “Soften the fck up” campaign represent one way of trying to get the message out, to young men especially, that a machismo attitude can have disastrous consequences where depression is concerned.
How else can we turn around the damaging attitudes of depressed men towards depression? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Samaritans (1999) Young Men Speak Out.
Song of the Post
I reckon that Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” (the harder they fall) may have something to say to those reluctant males out there. So, I’m nominating it as song of the post.