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Getting a man to talk about depression is tricky. Guys are as emotional as women. Really, they are. Being human means emotions are the same for all genders. It’s social and cultural conditioning that separates the guys from the gals. Manhood is image. It’s about swagger, toughness, and invulnerability. There’s a lot of time and effort dedicated to achieving a certain masculinity, a polished look of invincibility and male prowess. Depression is a chip in the polish, a character flaw, something that makes him broken goods.
Getting a man to talk about depression
Men suck at talking about depression. They’re even worse at asking for help. Suicide is the number one cause of death for men under 50. According to GQ, only 25 per cent of men in the UK seek help for depression but the number of depressed men is about 50 per cent. Suicide is sometimes seen as the only way out if the guy believes he’s failing to be a man in a bad situation.
- Getting a man to talk. A man needs a person he can really connect with, face-to-face. It’s about finding a person he can trust when it comes to talking openly and honestly about his pain. Instead of using the word depressed, it’s easier for him to talk about “being stressed” or being “overly tired.” Code words for depression. Talking about the stress or what’s making him tired can help him open up. Don’t rush it. He’s taking a big step by telling you how he feels. For some men, this is as far as asking for help goes. You can point out that you’ve noticed his behaviour has changed. Don’t be critical. Just mention it factually, like “You always seem to get stomach pains before work,” or “You haven’t gone to the gym for months.” You don’t need to ask if anything’s wrong.
- Listen. Listening is a skill. You need to listen to and understand what he’s saying. Don’t add in your thoughts or insecurities to his message. Don’t assume he’s “really talking about something else” when he’s really talking about feeling listless. Men will complain more about physical pain than emotional anguish with depression. He may not even realize he’s depressed, just that his body aches and he doesn’t feel like doing anything. Everyone who is depressed lies. It’s not just a male thing. A smile doesn’t mean the guy is happy. Sounding energetic doesn’t mean he has energy. Listen carefully. There are undercurrents, signals that slip past and let you know he’s asking for help. If you’re not certain you’re reading them right, ask questions. Don’t be afraid.
- Don’t go into fix it mode. Guys will mask depression with unhelpful or destructive behaviour and attitude. Guys turn to food, sex, drugs, alcohol or work because it makes them happy. They can become obsessed and addicted to the high that comes with that happiness. Some guys turn to the gym and become fitness addicts. Be understanding of the behaviour but know when to hold him accountable. Don’t try to fix his behaviour by telling him to see a counsellor. He’ll only withdraw, blaming you as the reason for his behaviour.
- Don’t shame the guy. Depression has lots of stigma. Even though there’s more talk about depression and what it is and means to be depressed, most people hear the word and they think “crazy”, or worse. A man doesn’t want his boss or co-workers to know he’s depressed. It takes away from his status, affects the work load he’s given, and makes him look like broken goods in front of the world. A man might not even want his friends to know he’s depressed. Don’t belittle what he’s told you or shame him for sharing his feelings. Don’t take away all of his responsibilities and make him feel useless. He’ll know how much he can or can’t do. Offering to help him is okay.
- Don’t ignore anything said about suicide. Death, dying, ending it – these words might pop up in a conversation. You need to acknowledge that you heard the words by repeating them to him. Ask if he has a plan for suicide, or what he’d consider doing to kill himself. Men tend to choose lethal and quick methods for suicide. If the man is working in an environment with access to highly lethal means, he’ll choose that as a way to end his life. Assess if he’s at immediate risk. If he’s not, make sure there’s a commitment by him to check in with you. But don’t just leave it at that. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Depression is one of those illnesses that doesn’t discriminate. Like cancer, it can get anyone. Depression’s brutality, victimization and abuse hit men and women equally hard. But guys have this image of what a man should be like, and how he should behave and feel. To get a man to talk about depression means you have to wait for him to open up about it.
Twitter: @tereziafarkas #MensHealth #selfcare #suicideprevention
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