Concerned that your man might be depressed? Wondering what you can do to help? Psychotherapist Professor Damien Ridge has advice on how to spot male depression, and what can be done about it.
Depression is common. About one in six of us will experience major depression in our lifetime, but many more of us will experience milder – yet still distressing – versions of the condition.
While it is thought that women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression, some experts think that men suffer equally – it’s just that they are less likely to seek professional help, get a diagnosis and treatment.
Depression underpins a good deal of male suicide in the UK and it is thought that the lack of recognition of depression in men helps to explain why they are three times as likely as women to commit suicide.
When severe, people describe depression as like ‘being in the depths of hell’. They may have thoughts of harming themselves, and feel that others would be better off without them.
How do you tell if your man is depressed? Sometimes we don’t notice depression creeping up on us, let alone our partners. And considering that depression is about how someone feels ‘inside’, then it can be hard to know.
Some men are more prone to depression than others, and this can sometimes be triggered by a range of problems, particularly when they accumulate. Redundancy and unemployment, work stresses, relationship difficulties, money and debt problems, as well as mid-life crises, are some issues that particularly worry men.
Experiences of depression vary, but here’s a few examples of what your man might be experiencing that you could look out for:
- Feelings: Low confidence, feeling worthless, hopeless, guilty, more irritable and angry than usual, showing an inability to enjoy things
- Changed behaviour: There may be less interest in sex as well as usual household and social activities. Drugs and alcohol are often used as a way of dealing with feelings and escaping the condition.
- Anxiety: Constant anxiety, even to the point of terror.
- Thoughts: Onslaught of negative thoughts, like a runaway train that can’t be overcome, and churning over the same thoughts over and over again.
- Energy: Low levels of energy, finding it hard to do anything, often to the point where it feels impossible to get out of bed.
- Body: Depression can actually be experienced as aches and pains in the body.
- Sleep: Too little or too much sleep.
- Inside a Perspex bubble: He may feel he can’t reach out, and others can’t reach in. He might know he loves you, but he can’t feel it.
Many experts think that men are prone to ‘externalising’ their depression, including numbing their emotions and trying to appear as if everything is okay, engaging in risk taking behaviour, and trying to escape from their problems by using substances such as alcohol and drugs.
In terms of anger, he may allow his rage to build up to the point that he ‘snaps’ and takes it out on himself or others. Men suffering with depression may sometimes get into excessively blaming others and deny their need for help.
How to approach the subject with your partner
If you are worried that your partner might be depressed, being open about it might be a good way to show your man support. However, such a sensitive and difficult subject might be hard to approach in a normal conversation. Here are a few things to keep in mind in broaching the topic and dealing with it:
- He might be feeling a failure or weak, how he feels can be a threat to his masculinity, so remember it takes courage for him to talk about it
- His feelings just are, they can never be right or wrong, so helping him to express how he feels without criticism is helpful
- If he won’t talk about how he feels, can he write about how he feels, either to himself or you?
- He might not want to talk about it, and you are not to blame if he won’t talk about it
- Encourage him to get GP or counsellor help, many times men will get help because of their partners, and you might need to go along with him
- Encourage him to do things he likes (e.g. walking, gym), even though it is difficult for him now
- If you suspect he might be thinking about suicide, ask him about it (see below)
- Remember, you can’t make him better, he will have to do a lot of the work himself
- Offer him hope: Tell him that while it’s hard to believe it now, he will get better, and that men often come out of depression stronger than before.
Where can men go for help?
There is so much help available out there. Men are not alone in coping with depression, even though they probably feel like they are.
- You can help – People who listen without trying to give solutions, who help people to clarify what they are thinking and feeling, who are just there, and might even help with practical things, can be a great support.
- The GP is often the first port of call and may refer him for suitable (usually free) treatment such as cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling, mindfulness meditation or exercise programmes. They might also suggest prescribing antidepressants. As a partner you can encourage your man to visit their doctor, as some men do not realise the doctor could help.
- Internet – support groups like the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), and Depression Alliance are available to offer support, and help people find out what others with depression have been through and how they dealt with everything. Sharing these links with your man can be a good starting point for them to get some help and support.
- Blue Pages – find out what works and does not work for depression
- Talking therapists – People often say that talking about depression to a professional was the most helpful thing they did. Please note that private counselling services cost money, although counsellors often hold a few discounted places for clients on a lower income. There’s a comprehensive list of professional services on the Counselling Directory or The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) websites. You can also search through a database of agencies on the CALM site, or call the CALM helpline to find out what services are available to your partner.
- CBT – : Therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) look at shifting thought patterns towards a more helpful style, and are often available through GP practices, although there is usually a waiting list. Find out more about CBT
Does medication work?
It does for some people, especially those with severe depression, but not everyone’s experiences with medication are the same.
There are lots of myths about medication, but it can be a life raft. Some people feel more like ‘themselves’ on medication, others less so. There are side-effects associated with the use of anti-depressants and coming off medication may need to be gradual and can take a long time. It’s not as simple as being an ‘easy fix’, and it is certainly not the only option, regardless of what your GP may offer. So it’s always worth checking out all the options available. Discussing this openly with your partner and establishing clear communication at the early stages of any potential therapy is usually the best way to ensure your man has all the support he needs and feels comfortable in talking about this.
What about recovery?
Recovery is all about building a meaningful and satisfying life, as defined by the person with depression. People with depression usually recover, but it may take time, so being patient with your partner helps. Depression is a treatable chronic condition and, although it may not feel like it for the person at the time, there are always treatments and therapies available. The most important things to remember are that help is out there, recovery is likely, and there is always hope.
Don’t forget about yourself
Although you’re not the one suffering from depression, you have to look after yourself too – partners supporting people with depression can be under a lot of strain. It can be hard if he is not pulling his weight at home, and you might struggle to deal with his vulnerabilities and behaviour such as the lack of interest in sex and inability to take your feelings into account. So you will need your own support system, and may want to talk to your GP, a counsellor or Carers UK. Most of all, remember that his depression is not about you, and you are not to blame for this.
I’m worried he might kill himself…
If you are worried that your man is at risk of killing himself, then you need to take immediate action and there is support available. The best thing to do is call the CALM helpline and also visit this link for a list of other supports.
Professor Appleby, from the Department of Health, advises that you ask him if you are worried: ‘While asking about suicide can be uncomfortable, it may save a life. And asking about suicide will never put the idea into a person’s head – they may well be relieved that someone realises how bad they feel.’
Professor Damien Ridge is a psychotherapist and Professor of Health Studies at the University of Westminster.
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