Suffering from depression but not aware of it

 

THAT'S MEN:Men might be hiding condition from themselves

IT HAS become commonplace to say that men hide their depression from those around them – but could it be that men also hide depression from themselves?

According to US psychologist Suzanne Phillips, symptoms of depression are often missed, not only by those close to them but also by the very men who are depressed.

Women tend to experience depression in ways that are recognisable in our culture: through sadness, sleeplessness, lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy, for instance.

In men, however, depression may present itself in the form of headaches, stomach problems or pain, “something missed by men as well as the people around them”, Phillips in the Healing Together for Couples blog.

The ways in which we experience mental distress are strongly influenced by our culture. For instance, during the last century the incidence of depression in the West is said by some researchers to have increased. That’s puzzling if you consider the advances in terms of health and income during the century.

But depression also became more acceptable as the century went on and this, it seems to me, may have had something to do with the rise in the number of cases.

According to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health in the US, the differences in how men and women experience depression are striking.

Women are more likely to put on weight and men to lose it. Women’s energy may fall while men become agitated or irritable. And men are more likely than women to drink too much or to take illegal drugs when depressed.

And where women seek help, “men have a tendency to self-medicate or avoid the anguish, sadness, guilt or self-doubt associated with depression with sexual acting out, alcohol or substance abuse, risky behaviours like reckless driving, escapist behaviours such as internet addiction, porn or being overly involved in work or sports,” writes Phillips.

These behaviours escalate the level of emotional pain the man is feeling. The result can be suicide, a car crash, heart attack, stroke or a range of other outcomes. And it may never be known that depression was behind what happened to the man.

Stress is a common source of depression in both men and women. In women, this stress is more likely to be associated with family issues and in men with work issues.

As I said earlier, the woman may be quicker than the man to recognise that she is depressed because she can see in herself the classical symptoms such as sadness and so on.

The man, however, may go on seeing himself as stressed, perhaps suffering headaches or other pain, and as drinking too much and flying off the handle too easily. He may never define himself as depressed and therefore may never seek help for depression.

This may help to explain some of the – to family and friends – unexpected and baffling suicides we hear about. Hidden depression may be the culprit.

Do you see yourself as highly stressed in your job? Has the stress made you a bit short-tempered? Are you drinking a bit too much? Do you suffer from headaches or other pains you haven’t told the doctor about?

If so, consider the possibility that you just might be suffering from depression and discuss it with someone close to you whom you trust.

Your general practitioner is usually a good port of call in these circumstances. If you prefer you can find an accredited counsellor at iacp.ie, the website of the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

As Dr Phillips writes, “Men often suffer alone. If they stop to consider that their physical symptoms and behaviours might hide depression they may be able to step out of danger.”

Read Phillips’ blog post, “Men and the danger of hidden depression”, at http://bit.ly/mendepress


Padraig O’Morain (pomorain@ireland.com) is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book, Light Mind - Mindfulness for Daily Living, is published by Veritas. His mindfulness newsletter is free by e-mail.