Male depression: symptoms and solutions
According to an equation dreamed up by a scientist employed by a company trying to sell something, 21 January is the most depressing day of the year.
It is, apparently, a perfect storm of misery, combining poor weather, limited daylight, post-Christmas financial difficulties and the distance till the next holiday, to create a day that has to be endured and not enjoyed, and forgotten as quickly as possible.
The equation is a bit bogus, but the idea that these are dark days for too many men, in more ways than one, isn’t.
Winter weather and the post-Christmas blues can exacerbate feelings of misery and - occasionally - despair in thousands of men who suffer from anxiety and depression.
Here’s why so many young men suffer truly debilitating bouts of depression, and what you can do if dark and despairing thoughts start to invade your own waking hours.
Men and depression: the facts
We’ve probably all said that we feel 'a bit depressed' at one time or other. But depression isn’t just having the blues for a day or two.
According to charity Depression Alliance, depression is, “an illness which means that intense feelings of persistent sadness, helplessness and hopelessness are accompanied by physical effects such as sleeplessness, a loss of energy, or physical aches and pains.”
And to put it in the starkest terms, depression is a killer, particularly of men. Suicide is in fact the biggest killer of young men in England and Wales. Though an equal number of young men and women think about suicide, far more men than women actually carry it out.
Of the 1,100 suicide deaths in 2010 of people under 34, nearly 80% were men.
“Our research shows that thinking about suicide is more common than we realise, and that men and women are almost equally liable to feel suicidal. What is significant is that more men actually go on to take their lives,” says Jane Powell, chief executive of the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) a charity specifically set up to help tackle depression and suicide in young men.
Not all depressed men contemplate suicide, of course, but many will, especially if they either can’t find help or choose not to seek it.
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Fatigue and sleep disturbance can be symptoms of depression
Male depression may get worse
It’s still the case that, although more men than women commit suicide, more women are likely to suffer from depression in their lifetime. But experts now say that the picture is changing.
Dr Boadie Dunlop, a psychiatrist from Emory University School of Medicine, believes more men are becoming depressed as traditional male roles in society die out.
“Western men will face a difficult road in the 21st century, particularly those with low levels of education,” says Dr Dunlop. “We believe economic and societal changes will have significant implications for men's mental health.”
That scenario is being accelerated by the economic downturn, reckons the Men’s Health Forum, a male health promotion group. Peter Baker, a former chief executive of the Forum, believes that unemployment has a much bigger impact on men than women, because men’s identities are so bound up with being workers and breadwinners.
Emer O’Neill, chief executive of the Depression Alliance, agrees. “We have evidence which shows that the number of people coming forward and contacting GPs about depression has risen enormously in the last four or five years,” she says.
“Part of that might be down to a greater awareness of depression. But financial difficulties, unemployment, the inability to get on the work ladder at all - they all play a part. At Depression Alliance we’ve seen a significant increase in young men coming to us.”
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Depression can lead to relationship and libido problems
Who gets depression?
Social change, economic strife and unemployment might exacerbate other factors that can quickly lead men into what O’Neill describes as a “spiral of loneliness and isolation”. Relationship problems and stress can both have a significant bearing on the likelihood of young adults having suicidal thoughts.
There are also genetic components to depression. You may be more likely to suffer from it if your parents or grandparents had it.
And significant life events can also mean that you have more chance of becoming depressed. Losing a parent when you are young, for instance, is a well-known potential depression trigger.
But experts agree that no one personality type is more likely to suffer from depression. If you think depression only affects 'the weak', note that Winston Churchill, our indomitable wartime leader, was a self-confessed sufferer.
In fact, one in five of the population is likely to suffer at least one episode of depression over a lifetime.
So depression is common. Unfortunately, and sometimes tragically, it’s still not something many men feel they can own up to.
Connecting with others can help combat depression
Why is depression so serious in men?
Depression is serious, and can be seriously debilitating, for anyone, but male reactions to depression can make the problem worse. While women are more likely to seek help, many men try to sweep dark days and sleepless nights under the carpet.
Why do men suffer in silence? Pete Cashmore, a journalist and depression sufferer, thinks it’s because being depressed just doesn’t seem very manly.
“I think part of the problem for male sufferers of depression is that it is a very emasculating condition. It saps you of traditional male attributes like bonhomie, physical energy, get-up-and-go and outgoing exuberance.”
These aren’t things men like to admit to. “Men are less likely to identify that they have depression,” says O’Neill. “And they’re less likely to ask for help.”
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Exercise is one of many treatment options
Things can get better
The good news is that things are getting better, albeit slowly. More men are admitting to depression, thanks in part to the lead taken by celebrities like Stan Collymore.
There is also more being done to help sufferers. “One big step forward is the money government has invested in things like CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy),” says O’Neill. “Seven or eight years ago these were only available through the private sector.”
GPs are getting better at identifying the physical symptoms of depression, like disturbed sleep, a loss of energy, reduced libido and physical aches and pains. On the other side of the coin, men are becoming more willing to admit to emotional and psychological symptoms, like persistent sadness, a loss of self-confidence or feelings of guilt, worthlessness or hopelessness.
The greater awareness and better understanding of depression means that men are more likely to be given the treatment - or combination of treatments - that works. Anything from anti-depressants and exercise to talking therapies and connecting with others can be part of the treatment process.
“We can’t underestimate how serious depression is but the strong message is that recovery happens,” says O’Neill. “Young men need to take the next step and get help. There’s a range of treatments now and nobody need be frightened.”
If you do feel depressed or suicidal or just want more information on depression, see the links below.
If you need to talk to someone right now, ring the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90
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