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Men & Depression

Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Men & Depression

Tom Elenbaas

The other day, I was having a conversation with a gentleman I know about male depression, and it reminded me of an article I read years ago by Archibald Hart on Unmasking Male Depression. This was a really helpful article for me to read because it helped me to see that I and other men often deal with depression, but just don't recognize it for what it is. He's also written a book by the same title. Depression is a much larger problem than we often admit, and I'm proud of men who can face it and admit it. I was really proud of a friend of mine who recently had the courage to share about his own anxiety issues in a sermon. I appreciate that kind of honesty and transparency about humanity in messages within the church.

In any case, if you haven't thought about the difference between male and female depression, it's worth a look. Hart argues that the typical symptoms - like those mentioned in the DSM-iv - are indicative of a more female response and exhibition of depression. Women tend to explore their feelings and exhibit sadness, sleepiness (or contrarily insomnia), disinterest, fatigue, and feelings of worthlessness. In fact, those are the major diagnostic criteria for a major depressive episode.

Men, though, according to Hart, exhibit differently by a type of "masking" through particular behaviors. Note this list:

  • Anger, rage, and pent-up resentment
  • Withdrawal
  • Workaholism
  • Avoidance of intimacy
  • Sexual compulsions
That sounds like a lot of men I know, and honestly it's true of me sometimes, too. Trista and I have talked about it occasionally, and I can often now recognize when I might be dealing with some depression or depressive tendencies. Self-awareness and self-diagnosis are important - as are honesty and humility and the recognition that we are truly human, with all the human frailties. None of us are superman. Not being willing to admit our frailties and our needs isn't fair to our wives, children or friends - particularly when they are too often the objects and recipients of these very hurtful behaviors, even if our intention isn't to be hurtful.

One of the quotes from the article that hit me powerful when I first read it was this one:

Depressed men also frustrate and alienate those they love most. It's almost as if they have a need to blame someone for their depression, and the one who loves them the most is the easiest to target.
That's just not fair, and it doesn't help our marriages. Unmasking the depression we sometimes - or regularly - face can help us move forward on the road to dealing with our anger and frustration, create greater intimacy, help us be more balanced, and keep us from making sinful mistakes out of self-medicating compulsion.

If you're a guy reading this and it rings true even a little bit, pay attention. Try to get some help by just talking to someone about it. Talk honestly with your spouse instead of taking your anger and frustration out on her or running away to work more or self-medicating with alcohol, other drugs, or even a sexual compulsion. It's ok to be human. I mean it. It is. Jesus knows what it feels like to be human, and he can help you become more fully yourself when you honestly face the difficult personal demons that you try to hide with the masks you sometimes wear. If you're a woman, and your husband is exhibiting some of these behaviors, you're in a tough place because we men can be stubborn and its hard to admit that we're not as strong and together as we would like to be. The only advice I can offer are the following:

  1. Hart suggests this: "What is the most important thing that a woman can do for the depressed male in her life? Without a doubt it is to communicate love and acceptance with all the power she can muster. It may take a supernatural intervention, so help her to rely on God for the grace and patience that will be needed."
  2. If there is anyway to spend time with other couples in a way that might lead to more honestly about your relationship, go for it. Small groups are a great place to expose what's really happening and provide a safe place for change.
  3. If your husband has a friend who can understand this and possibly communicate to him in a way that is less threatening (or exposing) than for you to do it (no man likes to look weak for his wife), have him read this post and Hart's article and ask him what he thinks. Maybe he can help you communicate with your husband and encourage him to get some help.
Some people are saying that depression is a growing epidemic in America today. I'm not sure about that. Maybe we're just becoming more aware of it and getting more comfortable with finding help. Regardless, our marriages and relationships with our kids matter more than keeping up appearances and presenting ourselves as someone we're not. You're not superman, and it's ok. Neither am I.

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