Men’s Depression – Who can deal with Depression?
Sadly when it comes to admitting emotional difficulties some guys can be as progressive as the knuckle head characters in Men Behaving Badly – dismissing a need to seek professional help as weak or unmanly. One distracting response is to just go out and get plastered. But neither drink, drugs nor masturbation are going to make what Winston Churchill once described as his ‘black dog’ days go away.
If you are noticing changes in your mood and attitude, to the point that life is becoming more difficult, then what can you do?
Getting back on track
Dr James Bolton is a Consultant Psychiatrist at South West London & St George’s Mental Health and NHS Trust. He describes what depression really is as opposed to just feeling a bit crappy.
“It’s when low mood becomes an illness and when it goes on for weeks or if low mood begins to affect all aspects of a guy’s life. It may be that they aren’t coping well in relationships, with work, with being a parent.
“They’ll feel that they can’t enjoy the usual things they enjoy such as watching sport on the telly or going out with their mates. They’ll lose interest in seeing other people and often want to shut themselves away. At work it may be a case that they can’t focus or concentrate properly. At its worse, feelings of hopelessness can make them think that they are better off dead.”
Noting physical changes
A frenetic lifestyle can contribute to various bodily reactions. Dr Bolton believes that sudden shifts in sleep patterns are just some of the physical symptoms relating to depression.
“Finding it difficult to get off to sleep or waking up during the night, or too early in the morning are all potential physical signs. Most notably it’s when a guy starts losing his appetite and losing weight, libido and an interest in sex generally.”
So guys, if your sex drive has taken a nose dive for several weeks and nubile, scantily clad girls fail to stimulate the grey matter as they did before – this could be a sign that something is more serious than feeling a bit low on Monday morning.
Depression isn’t just contained to the person suffering from it. It can be notable to other people too, particularly mates.
“One way of understanding how you might be affected by the illness is by the response of people around you,” says Dr Bolton. “Other people such as work colleagues and friends might know when you’re not your normal self and that’s a handy barometer.”
Being more quiet than usual, snapping inexplicably or simply reacting totally out of character is going to be noticed by friends and colleagues. If they have the guts to say something then don’t take it personally or dismiss it as being intrusive. Friends are friends for a reason.
Mood swings and temper
Because depression is an illness that comes over people, it’s a change from the normal. So in terms of personality change some people might be angrier than others or might be more risk taking. These are all things work colleagues and friends will notice.
Dr Bolton makes a distinction between when a guy has a bad morning at work and is genuinely developing emotional problems.
“It’s when these changes are new. In terms of our personality we will all have a fuse of a certain length. So we will all get irritable under certain circumstances. But when someone is suffering from depression they find that their fuse is much shorter. They’ll fly off the handle at people quite close to them that they normally wouldn’t get angry with. Also things that they can normally tolerate and cope with will make them lose control.”
Losing relationships through depression
One good reason to get professional help is to save relationships that could be irretrievably damaged. People with depression find it difficult to recognise what is happening to themselves.
Embarrassment or being reluctant to seek help simply makes things worse and delays dealing with the issue.
“If a guy is becoming more irritable, angry and difficult to live with, that will have an impact on their relationship,” says Dr Bolton. “Particularly if the partner is trying to help them and doesn’t know how. Marriages and partnerships can crumble due to the strain.”
Getting help: first stages
The first thing to recognise is that depression is an illness, it’s not a weakness of character or something to feel embarrassed about. Never assume that people won’t have the time or care about your problems.
Dr Bolton stresses the importance of talking to someone, anyone who will listen. “Often the best people to talk to are our partners and family, just so that they know how you’re feeling. You can then be more open about what you are going through. It’s also surprising how friends can be good listeners and show more understanding than you’d think.”
Your GP is the first port of call to get professional help. Dr Bolton allays any fears about confidentiality issues.
“Any discussion with a GP about mental problems is confidential. Although it may be something that needs to be included in reports, the same as any other illness. But even employers increasingly recognise that a lot of people, one in four in fact, get depression which can be treated.”
One is medication in the form of anti-depressant treatment which is useful for people suffering from levels of depression that may range from moderate to grave and severe.
People with mild depression are often best treated with psychological and ‘talking’ therapies which can prove to be helpful. Most GP practices should have access to psychological therapies for patients with depression. It could even be a matter of mixing a bit of both.
Anti-depressant medication takes about 2-3 weeks before it begins to work and people begin to notice an improvement in their state of mind. But basically people can look to getting back to their former selves within 8-12 weeks.
Help prevent depression
It can be helpful for people to talk about their problems and offload. It isn’t always easy to do but there’s a lot to be said for the ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ proverb.
Dr Bolton explains: “It’s generally about not bottling things up. If work is stressful it’s worth thinking about your pattern and the amount of work you take on. Are you a perfectionist and someone who drives yourself very hard? If that’s the case you may have to look at how you balance your work and a healthy life outside of work so you get quality time with friends and family.”
Take up opportunities to relax and enjoy yourself. Just practical things like eating properly can make a difference. Don’t skip meals, which only leads to lowering sugar levels and causing additional physical problems.
Keep active. Use exercise as both a mental stimulator and also as a way to de-stress and keep fit. Physical exercise has been shown to have an anti-depressant quality particularly as it helps to switch off the stresses of work.
Finally avoid using alcohol or drugs which will just exacerbate negative feelings. Too much alcohol acts to make people more depressed in the long-term.