I have to admit to you all that I knew little about male depression until the last ten years when I started reading more and more writers who were openly talking about it. People like Henri Nouwen, Parker Palmer and Archibald Hart to name but just a few. The more and more I read, the more my eyes were opened to how many men suffer from depression. I did a 4-part series on the topic of depression back in January/February: here, here, here, and here.
But why did it take me so long to begin to more readily see its presence in the lives of people that I worked with in ministry, counseling, as well as some of the male friends that I personally knew?
One, it’s hard to get a man to admit that he is depressed. Sometimes they will admit to feeling down, or blue, or just “out of sorts.” But depressed. A man saying he is depressed is loaded with all kinds of connotations that he is often not ready to admit to.
Two, male depression is often disguised as something else in men. It often looks like anger, or is masked through the use of alcohol, drugs, sex, violence, sports, money, workaholism. So it’s hard to get to. These “masks” often make it hard for men to even recognize, or deal with the depression itself. This is understandable as depression lies below the icey surface in our lives and it takes considerable work to break through it. Palmer puts it this way:
“Though I recommend it to no one–and I do not need to, for it arrives unbidden is too many lives–depression compelled me to find the river of life hidden beneath the ice.” (Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, Parker Palmer, pp. 57-58)
Three, often the people in a man’s life become inhibitors to him getting the help he needs. They may communicate negative messages about his “manliness’ because of his inability to deal with his issues. People in a man’s life (wife, partner, child, friends, co-workers) may also not be ready and willing to be supportive to a man getting the help he needs (i.e. it may require too much of their own energy, or changes in the family system they don’t want changed), so they conspire with him to keep things as they are. This is all usually very subtle, but nonetheless, happens all the time in families and is a testament to the power of family’s desire to maintain equilibrium, even at the cost of one or more of its members being unhealthy.
I’ve mentioned this book before in previous posts, but it’s worth repeating. Terence Real’s book, I Don’t Want To Talk About It: Overcoming The Secret Legacy of male Depression, is a powerful book and worth a read. If you are a man, father, son, spouse, friend….you will find it enlightening I believe. Let me leave you with a lengthy quote from the book:
“One of the ironies about men’s depression is that the very forces that help create it keep us from seeing it. Men are not supposed to be vulnerable. Pain is something we are to rise above. He who has been brought down by it will most likely see himself as shameful, and so, too, may his family and friends, even the mental health profession. Yet I believe it is this secret pain that lies at the heart of many of the difficulties in men’s lives. Hidden depression drives several of the problems we think of as typically male: physical illness, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence failures in intimacy, sef-sabotage in careers.
We tend not to recognize depression in men because the disorder itself is seen as unmanly. Depression carries, to many, a double stain–the stigma of mental illness and also the stigma of ‘feminine’ emotionality. Those in a relationship with a depressed man are themselves often faced with a painful dilemma. They can either confront his condition–which may further shame him–or else collude with him in minimizing it, a course that offers no hope for relief. Depression in men–a condition experienced as both shame-filled and shameful–goes largely unacknowledged and unrecognized both by the men who suffer and by those who surround them. And yet, the impact of this hidden condition is enormous.” (I Don’t Want To Talk About It: Overcoming The Secret Legacy of Male Depression, Terrence Real, pp. 22)