Joshua R. Beharry, Project Coordinator, HeadsUpGuys
Depression is a difficult topic for many men to discuss, yet it’s one we need to talk about during this year’s Men’s Health Week (June 12th-18th).
Unfortunately phrases like “be strong,” “don’t cry,” “suck it up,” and “be a man” shape how young men think about their emotions and health, and discourage them from talking to others when things might not be going so well. Sometimes it can get so bad that some young men can fail to develop the language needed to clearly identify and express their emotions. These unrealistic expectations—and the consequences that come with them—then stand in the way of men seeking support when they are most in need of it. When it comes to mental health concerns, trying to tough it out simply doesn’t work.
These myths about what a ‘real man’ is or should do take a heavy toll. A lot of men end up suffering in silence for months or years before reaching out—usually when they hit rock bottom. Others, unfortunately, don’t reach out at all. This is part of the reason why the suicide rate among men is generally 3-4 times higher than it is for women, with depression being a leading risk factor.*
Examples of common myths that too often stand between men and recovery from depression include the following:
- Depression means weakness.
The reality is that depression has nothing to do with personal weakness. Depression is no different than if you develop diabetes or high blood pressure. It can happen to anyone and real strength is shown by tackling the problem head-on, building supports, and working hard towards recovery.
- Men should be able to control their emotions.
Depression is an illness that affects our emotions. It can make you feel down or empty without any clear reason. Thinking that someone can ‘snap out of it’ by willpower alone is like thinking someone with a broken leg should be able to go for a run if they really want to. Emotions are a part of us and to shut down or ignore them only makes things worse.
- Real men don’t need help to solve their problems.
Getting guidance, support, and advice on how to fight depression is essential to recovery. Just like when facing any other significant challenge, fighting depression becomes a lot easier with the help of others. A little help can go a long way.
- Feeling sad or down is not manly
First of all know that sadness is an emotion all humans feel, including men. Second, depression is more than sadness. Depression is an illness that can rob you of your will to live. It can also steal the pleasure from things that used to give you joy, your physical energy and strength, your connections to friends and family, and your ability to handle stress.
- Reaching out to others will only burden them.
Friends and family often wish guys were more forthcoming about what they are going through and would be happy to help if only given the opportunity. Reaching out doesn’t make you a burden, but it can be frustrating to friends and family if you pretend things are okay by ignoring depression and refusing to seek treatment. Allow your friends and family members to help. Depression is the burden, not you.
Fighting depression and the stigma attached to mental health issues is tough on its own, but adding unrealistic expectations about ‘being a man’ or ‘acting tough’ only makes things worse. Depression has nothing to do with how much of a man someone is, but stepping up and tackling the problem directly can help you get back to being the man you want to be.
If you or a man you know may be dealing with depression, HeadsUpGuys is a website specifically designed to help men fight depression. The site features practical tips, information about professional services, and stories of recovery from real men. It also has a self-check that can help determine whether or not depression may be affecting you.
*Data on suicide rates taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Data & Statistics Fatal Injury Report for 2014.
- What myths have kept your or a family member from seeking treatment for a mental health condition?
- What would help men accept treatment?
Since recovering from experiences with depression in 2010, Josh Beharry has become a passionate advocate for mental health. Josh coordinates HeadsUpGuys communications and website. For more information about his recovery see his story video on HeadsUpGuys.org.
- American Psychological Association, By the numbers: Men and depression
- National Institute for Mental Health, Men and Depression
- Mayo Clinic, Male Depression: Understanding the issues
- A. Walther et al., Neuroendocrinology of a Male-Specific Pattern for Depression Linked to Alcohol Use Disorder and Suicidal Behavior
- J. Abhold, SupportMe: A Potential Platform for Mental Health Stigma Reduction in a Fraternity Setting (.pdf download)
- X. Gonda, Commentary: A Neural Basis for the Acquired Capacity for Suicide
- A. Phillips, Male Mental Health and Suicide