Are Treatment Myths Keeping Men from Seeking Help for Depression?

John Ogrodniczuk

John Ogrodniczuk, PhD, Professor and Director of the Psychotherapy Program in the Department of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia

Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world, yet men are notoriously reluctant to reach out for help with depression. A number of roadblocks can get in their way, not the least of which are myths or concerns about treatments for depression.

One such concern that men often have is not knowing how to actually start a conversation about depression with a healthcare provider. Taking some time to prepare for your first appointment can help alleviate this concern. HeadsUpGuys, an online resource dedicated to helping men fight depression, provides tips on talking to your doctor and how to prepare for your appointment.

If that appointment is with your primary care physician, ask for additional time when scheduling the appointment—this way neither you nor the physician will feel rushed. It’s OK to have a script— something written down regarding your symptoms and the challenges you are facing and bring it with you. Be prepared ahead of time for questions your physician may ask you, such as the following:

  • How long have you felt this way?
  • Do you usually feel down like this, or is this something new?
  • Does your mood swing back and forth from really down to really high?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, can you rate your mood over the last couple weeks?
  • Do you ever have suicidal thoughts?
  • Do you drink alcohol or use any drugs?

Your physician may refer you to a talk therapist. Psychotherapy (i.e., talk therapy) is an effective approach to care for depression that is supported by decades of research. A referral to psychotherapy for depression is not unlike a referral your physician would give you to treat a physical health condition—it’s part of the standard protocol.

Sometimes guys don’t follow through with their referral to psychotherapy because of myths concerning what psychotherapy seemingly entails, e.g., “the therapist will force me to talk about feelings and want me to cry”, or “therapy is just a lot of complaining.” In my practice, I make a point of explaining that our time together is about work—hard work to understand what’s currently not working in my client’s life, and working together to find solutions and develop skills to get them back on track to healthy living.  And while I will occasionally drop the “F”-bomb – yes, I will bring up discussion of Feelings”—there’s a lot more to good therapy than only talking about feelings. If you don’t want to talk about feelings, a good therapist is certainly not going to force you to and won’t try to make you cry. “Ok, let’s get to work” is a common reaction that men have once the aired is cleared about what therapy actually is.

“No one’s going to force medication on me” is another common reaction that many men have when discussing depression treatment options.  Understandably, some guys are reluctant to take antidepressant medications, but unfounded concerns can result in denying yourself a potentially useful treatment. HeadsUpGuys tackles a number of the more common concerns about antidepressant medications that men often have.  While medications don’t “cure” depression and are not always the best treatment choice for someone with depression, medications can help—and in some cases can be life-saving. It’s best to work with your treatment provider to formulate goals for treatment and discuss whether medications can play a role in helping you achieve those goals.

Another myth that some men buy into is that somehow their doctor or therapist can simply “fix” them and magically their depression will go away. It doesn’t work like that. Sure, your doctor or therapist will play a critical role in your recovery, but it is you that will be doing the work. You steer the ship. And because of this, the importance of self-care should not be downplayed. A major goal I have when working with my clients is to work with them to develop various strategies for recovering and maintaining good health. Physical activity, healthy eating, adequate sleep, positive interpersonal relationships, and enriching social networks all play a part in maintaining wellness. It’s important to keep in mind that for some men, depression can be a chronic condition. This doesn’t mean that you will never be well, but depression may “flare up” at some point in the future. Having a wide variety of self-care practices in place can not only help mitigate this risk, but also put you in a better position to recover from a future depressive episode should you experience one.

Depression can be treated, but it’s pretty hard to do on your own. You need to build a support team to help get you through it, and professional support in the form of a doctor or therapist is vital. Dispelling common myths and concerns around treatment for depression can help clear the path for men to connect with health professionals. In doing so, we may be able to knock depression off the World Health Organization’s #1 slot for causes of disability around the world.  Now that’s a tumble we all ought to look forward to taking.

Your Turn

  • What myths do you believe exist around treatment for men with depression?
  • How do you think we can dispel those myths?

Dr. John Ogrodniczuk is a Professor and Director of the Psychotherapy Program in the Department of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia. In his role as Director, he oversees the operations of one of North America’s largest medically-based psychotherapy training programs. His research has been supported by various provincial and national funding bodies and has led to more than 150 scientific publications. In addition to his research, he teaches medical students and psychiatry residents, serves in various capacities with a number of scientific and clinical organizations, and maintains a life-consulting practice. He is the Founder of HeadsUpGuys, an online resource for men who are fighting depression.

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