Men Get Depression
The manifestation of depression is personal—each man needs to tailor their own solution
We know that many men are affected by depression and men are increasingly getting that message. It is important to keep putting the message out there in as many communication channels as possible. It is a simple message and I suspect that men can easily tune it out, just like they used to tune out about smoking and heart attack. It’s time for different messages; more varied and subtle information needs to get through to men as well, in the contexts where they are living and working.
I have suffered clinical depression and have successfully managed it and rebuilt my mental health. I know that when I was deeply overcome by clinical depression I felt incredibly alone despite the support of friends and family. I also realized that some of the ideas and resources offered to me were not helpful while others were incredibly powerful. From extensive reading I also know that what helped me may not be right for other men.
An increasing number of men have written about their own personal experiences of managing depression which has produced an outstanding range of tips and techniques that really work. What stands out for me as I read these anecdotes and stories of men’s lives is the personal nature of the experience of depression and the unique creative approaches that men have used to better manage their mental health. Matt Haig in his 2015 book Reasons to Stay Alive (Cannongate Books Ltd: Edinburgh, Great Britain) says:
Minds are unique. They go wrong in unique ways. My mind went wrong in a slightly different way to how other minds go wrong. Our experience overlaps with other people’s, but it is never exactly the same experience.
It seems there are variations of type of depression, triggers can be unknown and if they are known, can vary from person to person. We also seem to have personal preferences for how we manage our depression and that we tailor our management techniques to our own needs and circumstances. This valuing of our own experience, intuition and good ideas, gives men control of their own mental health and that is ultimately reassuring and empowering. It also engages with men’s strong need for self control in their life. In saying this I still think men need to engage with the people they trust and talk about how it is for them, what is getting on top of them, what is working and what specifically they might need some help with.
I now have very good immunization against depression; I have healthy daily routines, I am building a small business idea that engages my skills, passions and preferences. I know the early warning signs of depression and I have good tactics I put in place that seem to be working for me right now. Life is still a challenge—I have good days, bad days, very bad days and excellent days. I am also wary that I might still wake up one day and find myself in the depths of a depressive trench that seems overwhelming and impossible to climb out of. Matt Haig succinctly describes that sinking down aspect associated with his first depression:
“I can remember the day the old me died.
It started with a thought. Something was going wrong. That was the start. Before I realized what it was. And then, a second or so later, there was a strange sensation inside my head. Some biological activity in the rear of my skull, not far above my neck. The cerebellum. A pulsing or intense flickering, as though a butterfly was trapped inside, combined with a tingling sensation. I did not yet know of the strange physical effects depression and anxiety would create. I just thought that I was about to die. And then my heart started to go. And then I started to go. I sank, fast, falling into a new claustrophobic and suffocating reality. And it would be way over a year before I would feel anything like even half normal again.
There is much research in progress around men and depression. I assume that it will be some time before we see a change in the published statistics indicating that the incidence of depression in men is decreasing or that increasing numbers of men are seeking help and learning to manage their depression successfully. The excellent Australian organisation Beyond Blue www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts still says:
Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide….In any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression and over 2 million have anxiety.. Depression is very common, with 1 in 8 men experiencing it at some stage of their life..”
However, anecdotally men seem to be increasingly noticing, understanding and managing their depression or building lifestyles that prevent its occurrence in the first place. This puts us in a more powerful and healthy position than previous male generations who apparently tended to not talk about it to avoid humiliation; they misunderstood it and suffered alone. Many of us now know that depression can take many of us down and once experienced, it can come back.
I have had two bouts of clinical depression, the first when I was 35, I also experienced a two and-a-half year bout of acute PTSD with associated depression and anxiety that lifted in August 2012. I am now in my early 60s and there are definitely things I recognize that exacerbate, decrease or counteract my depression and anxiety. Anxiety and depression always came together for me, which was initially disturbing and confusing.
I want to briefly talk about a few methods that have been specifically helpful for me to manage my depression. I think that some of these techniques and ideas could be helpful for some people and possibly not at all helpful for others. There are many other men’s voices out there, Matt Haig being one of my recent, helpful discoveries—it’s a smorgasbord, so take what you like and see what works for you.
Counselling—I initially relied on counselors and psychologists to provide me with activities, safe environments, supported dialogue and techniques to get through the initial overwhelming acute stages of depression and PTSD. Over the years since my first depression in 1988 I have worked with five counsellors; all of them helped me in some way. Sometimes I would work with someone for say five sessions, go away for a while and then go back again. Other times it would be three sessions and never return. Sydney Johnson, a psychologist based in North Carlton in Melbourne is a master working with men who need help and I saw him over a period of twelve months in 2014. He helped me get to a very good, grounded place. Working with Elisabeth Corey < http://beatingtrauma.com > at the end of 2016 gave me insight into my complex trauma and the skills to recognize and manage my “Inner Parts” that was a significant key to my living a better, more satisfying life. I imagine that I will require counseling support at various times in my future too.
Faith in my body intuitions—this was extremely important and helpful. I was taught as a child to deny my feelings and emotions; to lock them away. I had cut myself off from those feelings in my childhood as a way of escaping terror. I started to take more notice of my intuitions around the time my first child was born in 1985. I noticed that what felt like vague body sensations were actually vitally important messages from my body that I needed to notice and act on. Noticing and acknowledging the importance of my emotions changed my life significantly and gave me more control in the outside world to the betterment of my health.
For example based on my intuitive, body felt sensations I very rarely now read a newspaper or watch the news on TV—these forms of media create too much negative emotion that trigger early warning signs that anxiety and depression are approaching. However I have not become a disengaged hermit. I have now developed a routine of following information and writings by certain good, trustworthy people and organizations on the internet. I control what and who I see and hear. I use their recommendations and posts to keep me up to date with important news, great ideas, current issues and in-depth analysis of what is happening in our world. It is more constructive and I feel like I can then contribute and influence society in ways that are more suited to me. I can also control how much and when, I expose myself to the constant messages from the media.
It was tapping in to this part of my sensing system that convinced me that habitually drinking a lot of alcohol was counterproductive to my attempts to improve my mental health. It was worth going dry for eighteen months and now I have the occasional drink of alcohol for special occasions.
Listen to and be yourself—I had to do this in so many ways. For example learning to say no is a common tactic that many people with depression find helpful. My experience of that was nerve wracking. I felt so bad and guilty like I was letting people down or that in their eyes I had become a selfish monster or someone awful they didn’t know. After a while though I got used to my new self— clearly communicating my needs and wants, being comfortable with not knowing and just sitting with that, acting on impulses in the moment and standing up for myself— and though it was hard initially, it has paid off for me in the new, rewarding lifestyle I enjoy.
Other helpful stuff
I just love and adore it. You can hear some good jazz at any time at
I found that I got a lot of benefit from dabbling in the bizarre and the humorous particularly black humour, both my own, friends or people such as professional comedians and cartoonists. The following links are some of my favourites:
Allie Brosh cartoons
Francesca Martinez, wobbly comedian
Matt Haig’s lists from “Reasons to keep living.”
These are great—a lot you will have read before but there is Matt’s particular sense of humour plus they are simple and helpful:
- Things people say to depressives that they don’t say in other life-threatening situations
- Warning signs
- Things you think during your first panic attack
- Things you think during your 100th panic attack
- Reasons to stay alive
- How to be there for someone with depression or anxiety
- and much more
15 Things Only People with ‘Smiling Depression’ Understand
The Black Dog image
I first saw this image when I was in the depths of a very long depression. I would think I was getting suicidal. I saw this image and it was very, very helpful. I really can’t say why. All I know is that I find cats and dogs very reassuring and that a black dog immersed in a black background somehow explains what depression is like for me plus it is so full of unconditional love there in the darkness. So I get two gifts for the price of one—reassurance and understanding.
[Note: I have been unable to find the source so if anyone knows let me know so I can get permission to use it.]
It is beautiful and it works for me. I live in the inner city of Melbourne and I am still able to immerse myself in nature everyday. I also get out into the countryside on a regular basis.