Depression is one of the commonest mental health diseases that we encounter. It affects more than 300 million people around the world and contributes significantly to the burden of disease worldwide.
We often hear people say that they are depressed when something unfortunate happens, e.g. they missed the train- they are depressed. It is often important to distinguish between normal mood swings, or daily lows which affect everybody, from actual depression. Whereas we can be sad about something specific, like missing the train, depression is about everything. The sadness affects everything, might be triggered by anything or nothing, and may be persistent. A depressed person can be described as feeling sad, hopeless, unimportant and unable to live in a normal way.
Men Experience depression differently
Men experience depression differently from women. In a sense, since depression is a feeling disease, women may be perceived to be affected more as they are more in touch with their feelings. Women can communicate better about their internal experience while for men this ability is somehow diminished.
Depression attacks a man’s manhood. Men are defined (to some extent) by their passions, what they are good at or what they excel at. Sports, sales, careers, outdoor recreational activities, etc. These things energize and motivate and keep the man going. To put it another way, men were made to hunt and thrive in the thrill of the hunt. This thrill of the hunt is what depression attacks, making the man lose his drive, his energy and his motivation.
Manhood at risk
If we were to look inside a man there are 4 key chemical players in depression. The first is serotonin. This is the chemical that helps us control our emotions. Then there is adrenaline that primes our bodies for action. Then there is dopamine, which is the reward hormone. Ultimately there is testosterone, the male hormone. In a “normal” man, when they are engaged in a meaningful activity, serotonin levels are normal, the body produces adequate amounts of adrenaline to keep the muscles functioning and at the successful completion of the activity, dopamine is released. This whole cycle leads to an increase in testosterone, which makes the man more likely to repeat the activity in future.
In depression, the man is feeling sad. This leads to an imbalance of serotonin. The more the imbalance, the greater the feeling of sadness. This leads to the low motivation to do anything-inertia. Not doing anything leads to the low production of adrenaline – fatigue, uselessness. Not doing anything also means that dopamine is not produced as a reward – hopelessness, feeling empty. End result testosterone in reduced – worthlessness not man enough. This leads to further feelings of sadness, and less motivation to do anything, slowly spiraling out of control.
Depression affects the man’s ability to enjoy life. It slowly over time erodes his ability to enjoy the things that gave him joy, or anything at all. And since he is not enjoying doing anything, he slowly withdraws from all meaningful activities. If he is not engaged in any meaningful activities, if he’s not engaging his muscles in action, then his testosterone levels decrease. That which defines him as a man is slowly depleted, diminished.
One other thing to consider. When we look at the scans of the brain of a depressed person, the areas that light up are those associated with chronic pain. So depression is internalized pain, which hurts so badly but only without external manifestation. How does one then describe that pain?
The closest is saying that they feel bad physically, but cannot pinpoint exactly where. They feel bad mentally, they cannot concentrate, they cannot make decisions, work is affected. They feel bad inside and since no one seems to understand, they withdraw from people, spend more and more time alone negatively affecting the relationships around them. They feel bad that they don’t seem to be able to do anything about their situation, they don’t understand what is happening to them, and this further makes them feel worse.
Effects of depression socially
A depressed man may then start engaging in escapist behavior, spending long hours at work, but not being productive, he may go to the bar, to be alone. He may start abusing alcohol or other recreational drugs. He may react by being overly suspicious, controlling and have other abusive behaviors. He may be irritable always, quick to anger. He may start to engage in risky behaviors such as reckless driving, risky sex, etc.
Unfortunately the story does not end there. For the married man, his wife will see him wilting away and not know how to help the husband. She will be left confused and in pain about this man who has stopped being a man and just sits there doing nothing. For the children who need connection, structure and encouragement, their father’s off handedness, will lead to a more “difficult” temperament, poorer social skills, less self-esteem, more self-blame, negativity and probably open rebellion.
How can men start handling depression
How can we change this? First and foremost, GO TO THE GYM! Having an exercise regimen has been shown to have tremendous benefits, not only dealing with depression and a lot of other mental illnesses, but also in improving the general health of men and reducing the chances of having other non-communicable and lifestyle diseases. Every man should have an exercise routine in which they are engaged in often, not only in the gym but also outdoor. Having hobbies and other past times that are physically engaging is also important.
Secondly, spend time outdoors. It has been shown over and over again that the more sun one gets the less likely they are to develop depression. So all men should endeavor to have a lot of activities outside.
Thirdly, eat right, sleep right. A lot has been written about food. Food can cure a lot of the diseases that afflict us, including depression. As a rule, people with depression should avoid food with high sugars and artificial sweeteners. They should avoid fatty foods and all types of junk foods. They should take complex carbohydrates, and a lot of vegetables. As a side note, all men over age 35 should consider omega 3 and 6 supplementation, as this may save their lives and their manhood. Getting enough sleep is critical, 7 hrs is a good indicator. Also avoid electronic gadgets and computers just before sleeping and always try and sleep in total darkness.
Fourthly, family and friends. Reach out to people who are close to you. Connect with people and even if you don’t feel like, spend time around people. Laugh share jokes, volunteer to do things for family and friends. Being able to spend time and resources has been shown to increase happiness in the individuals that do so.
Lastly there is always professional help. Talk to a doctor psychologist or a counselor who will provide the needed support and information needed to help.
Depression is manageable. No one needs to live with it. No matter how bad things look, there is always help available.