As a man in our culture you are expected to strive to be successful, to keep your emotions in check and to maintain your composure and control. These social norms are among the reasons that each year, though more than 6 million men suffer from depression, it goes largely unnoticed or untreated. The Bible gives comfort to those who are depressed, reminding us that God is always with us:
The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8
“Do not be discouraged” is not just a motivational verse in Scripture, it is a command to recognize and deal with discouragement and depression in your life.
The most typical depression symptom of persistent sadness sometimes isn’t shown publicly by men. Depressed men tend to keep feelings hidden. Instead he may be more irritable, even aggressive. He may avoid talking about his feelings with his wife or family. Or he may pursue comfort through drinking or recreational drugs, or even adventurous or risky behavior. How do you recognize depression, and how to do begin to treat it in order to regain a sense of enthusiasm and expectation in your life and work?
Recognizing the signs. Persistent sadness is the most common symptom of depression. In addition to irritability, depression often results in feeling extremely tired, having difficulty sleeping or sleeping excessively, or not getting pleasure from your favorite activities. Escapist behavior can be a sign—like spending a lot of time at work or on sports. Headaches, digestive problems, long term pain and feeling isolated are also symptoms. Cognitively a depressed person may have trouble thinking, or may talk more slowly. At the extreme end of the spectrum are controlling, violent or abusive behavior, or inappropriate anger. Any of these can be signs you are suffering from depression.
Depression can lead to suicide, and is the leading cause of suicide attempts in men. If you feel suicidal for any reason, you should immediately call 911, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. Never dismiss persistent thoughts about killing yourself.
See a professional. Depression is a medical and mental disorder. If you resonate with any of the symptoms above you should see your doctor. In men, there is often a reluctance to discuss depression with anyone, or avoid diagnosis or treatment. But the sooner you seek help, the faster you will be able to manage depression versus letting it manage you.
Medicines and counseling are often used to treat depression. But there are other coping skills that can improve your health. Setting realistic goals, writing and prioritizing tasks, getting emotional support from your spouse or a friend, learning to manage your stress, taking in enjoyable activities, or improving your health with better diet and exercise—all of these are effective treatments for depression.
Finding the cause. With depression, it’s often best to recognize signs and seek a doctor to diagnose and begin treating it before you fully recognize the cause. There are many possible causes. Some of these are medical, such as a chemical imbalance in the brain, genetic vulnerability or reaction to medications. Then there are the issues like stressful life events, a big life change or tragedy—like moving to a new job or city, getting a divorce, or having a relative die. Past life experiences can play a role, like abuse as a child, or difficulties in school or growing up. In other words, depression may be about something going on in your life, something in the past, or it may be medical in nature. Only testing and a comprehensive treatment plan will reveal the cause.
You were not meant to be depressed. John 10:10 reminds us that Jesus came to give us an abundant life. Obviously not a life completely free of stress and anxiety, but most certainly one in which we are not ruled by persistent discouragement and depression. Persistent depression can begin to affect other areas of your life and your health. Arthritis, asthma, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and eating disorders can all be worsened by depression. Yet most depressed individuals begin to feel better after just a few weeks of proper treatment.
As a man, the most difficult aspects of depression can be admitting it might be a health issue, and doing something about it. Persistent sadness men often equate to weakness. An innate characteristic of men is to act strong and hold emotions in check. And men often don’t want to admit to anyone—especially a spouse, or a boss—that they may be depressed. But recognize that depression isn’t have a down moment in life. Persistent symptoms represent a serious medical condition that must be treated.
The famous writer Earnest Hemingway. Comedian Robin Williams. Legendary “Soul Train” host Don Cornelius. Actress Marilyn Monroe. Actor Heath Ledger. Musician Kurt Cobain. All of these people were famous and wealthy, but battled depression to the point of ending their own lives—some on purpose and some by accident.
One famous artist who battled depression was Vincent Van Gogh. In his often surreal art you can see moments of depression and sadness that he struggled with constantly. He once said, “The heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides and in its depths it has its pearls too.” Sadly his life too was cut short by depression. One wonders what works he could have created if he had taken time to deal with discouragement and depression in his life with a greater tool than merely the stroke of his paintbrush.