Melissa Buchanan, a licensed Mental Health counselor, looks at why depression is different in men—and what they can do about it.
Some might describe Depression as a thief in the night, stealing one’s joy, hope, and dreams. In my line of work as a mental health professional, when a person finally makes the decision to get some help, they are already ravished by their Dis-ease. More often than not when a person enters my office they are admitting thoughts of suicide. Depression gone untreated is a silent killer.
You see depression can be quite cunning; picture it now, a mastermind criminal, first kicking down the door of your mind, I mean, of course, this is where all the fine jewels are stored, thoughts are precious commodities. Next, it sneaks onto the body, knowing that without any physical energy left, you can’t run … you can’t hide; and all the while, as with any criminal holding you captive, your mouth has long since been duct taped shut by stigma.
It goes something like this “I can’t tell anyone. What will they, my, father, (men must be manly right)? … mother, wife, family, etc., think of me?” We are as sick as our secrets.
Depression has many faces, and I think I have seen them all, typically the male population that I have worked with will deny feeling sad, or afraid. I often hear – “I’m just tired of being angry all the time.” Of course, you’re tired of being angry! Anger is a secondary emotion, a 500-pound suit of armor usually is.
So if you’re tired and angry, what’s underneath that anger Mr. Logical? Men usually try not to get the “feels,” they like to solve a problem with logic. Ironically, the problem is not logical, well not when you’re dealing with the feelings. The responses and underlying issues I have seen range from parents divorcing, a death in the family, or a marriage in trouble or ending. These “traumas” provoke feelings, and if those feelings are not felt with and dealt with, the emotional center of the brain becomes vulnerable to Dis-ease. Now that’s good logic!
As a Mental Health Clinician, I have worked with both adults and adolescents exhibiting all of these symptoms. One of my earlier counseling experiences began primarily at an adolescent male and female residential substance abuse treatment facility. It was here that I learned to better understand how depression, more often than not, presents itself a bit differently in the male population.
At first glance these young men were often quite angry and would present with verbal assaults, many having a history of violence and chronic substance abuse. Most of them coming were from the local juvenile detention center. After taking a closer look, it was clear that the oppositional defiant disorder diagnosis they arrived with, was merely a symptom of past traumas, ultimately so much pain, and loss shielded by anger and violence; unhealthy coping strategies in an effort to deal with what was really going on – depression.
Whether adolescent or adult male, once the depression is diagnosed, the treatment provided varies with each individual. As a clinician, it is my job to provide several different individualized, evidenced-based treatment options. From here, the treatment plan is created, and goals and objectives are established. A treatment plan is a collaborative effort between the client and the clinician.
For example, maybe you find yourself short-tempered, and snapping at family members; changing this behavior is one of your goals. Your first objective might be to first notice when you are becoming frustrated, then you can choose to walk away, very often referred to as taking space. If it is determined that there is an underlying low self-esteem issue, building self-worth becomes the goal; self-healing (in whatever capacity this means for you) will now be the plan or objective.
Counseling, treatment goals, and objectives are only half of the equation on your journey to recovery from Depression. I ask clients to commit to their treatment goals and objectives. Change does not occur by simply sitting across from me on a couch once a week. It will be necessary to make behavioral changes and asking yourself “How bad do I want it?”
So how bad do you want to feel better, and how does one begin to deal with and finally begin managing the symptoms associated with this Persistent Depressive Disorder? Here are five daily practices for those who are struggling with this diagnosis:
1. – Stop your stinkin’ thinkin’
Begin to keep track of your negative thoughts by writing them down. Did you know the average person has 300 of them? Now replace those thoughts with positive thinking….something you can believe, you will know if you are trying to fool yourself! We are what we think, change your thoughts change your life. Is it simple, no, but you can do it.
2. – Practice daily affirmations
These are a great way of reminding yourself that you are worthy and courageous. Post affirmations all around the house, on bathroom mirrors, the refrigerator, bedroom, bathroom, cupboard doors, and/or any other area you visit often. A daily meditation can be very helpful, but like any practice, in order to see change, consistency is key.
3. – Exercise daily
Find something, or someone to walk, run, lift, yoga, move with! If time is an issue, I know some folks who exercise at home, find an on-line exercise program; many have coaches and support groups. A regular exercise schedule can produce those natural happy endorphins.
4. – You are what you eat
Keep track of what you’re putting in your mouth! There are easy to use applications, for sale, or better yet for free on that Smartphone of yours. Healthy eating habits can improve mood, too much sugar, and caffeine will spike and plummet blood sugars, this only leads to irritability, and exhaustion.
5. – Self-care is important
Be sure to visit your doctor, rule out any healthcare problems that could be an underlying cause of your depression. Once this is ruled out, your doctor may want to prescribe an anti-depressant and/or will recommend that you seek professional help from a qualified mental health professional. You are not weak for seeking outside help, I repeat; it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help! Nearly all the young men I have worked with admitted that they did not seek help, well because they believed they would be looked upon as being weak. (Some never even knew they needed it until they were sitting in a jail cell). Spending time with friends and family who will love and support you is in my opinion, the best medicine. No isolating alone at home in front of the television is allowed!
Managing or dealing with a Persistent Depressive Disorder, as with many other mental health diagnoses is not an easy path to walk, and one that you should never go on alone. Remember that there is always hope, and it all begins with recognizing negative thought patterns, and a commitment to changing them, one moment, one day, one thought at a time.
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