Cedric and his black dog is a vignette that describes the experience that a lot of blokes have with depression.
Often guys say that they are followed by a black dog, or they feel like they are at the bottom of a dark bottomless shaft, or that they are an actor trying to play themselves. These descriptions highlight that depression is a very individual, subjective experience. It’s impact or severity and how long the experience might last can vary. Yet, it is pervasive, sometimes debilitating, and its symptoms can affect your thoughts, your emotions, how you act and behave, as well as your relationships. However, with the right knowledge and support, overcoming depression is very possible.
The underlying cause of depression is not completely known. However, what is understood is that it’s not necessarily a single event or experience that causes depression, rather it is the combination of a number of contributing factors that lead to its development. Other contributing personal factors such as biological or genetic vulnerability, chronic stress, medical problems, and medications, social, lifestyle and relationship challenges may also trigger depression.
Research shows that women often experience depression more than men, however, men are less adept at recognizing symptoms. Often men underplay what’s happening to them, resulting in attempts to ignore feelings of sadness, shame, hopelessness or guilt. Typically, men will allow the underlying causes of the problem to develop over a prolonged period of time, until it becomes chronic. Often, men will attempt to mask the problem via masculine behaviors of aggression, anger, and loss of control.
Men also respond to the experience of depression through increased substance use such as drinking or drug use or engaging in high-risk activities such as drink driving. Men also isolate themselves more than women when depressed, and will immerse themselves into their work or interests. Subsequently, their relationships with loved ones, friends and colleagues start to deteriorate. The unfortunate irony with this behavior is that these relationships are often critical in overcoming the problem that they are experiencing.
Over prolonged periods of struggling with depression, men begin to experience physical and neurological symptoms. Depression is associated with cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, heart attack, and stroke. “Many men were not aware that physical problems such as headaches, stomach problems, and chronic pain might actually be symptoms of depression.” Chronically recurring depressive episodes also impact the formation and regulation of emotions and memory due to neuroanatomical abnormalities. This includes the areas of the brain responsible for attention/working memory, executive function, and memory recall. Brain structure actually changes because of depression.
The greatest risk for men in relation to depression is the impact of suicide. Untreated chronic depression can sometimes lead to suicidal ideation and acts of self-harm. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, men die by suicide three and a half times more often than women. A contributing factor to this number is due to the extreme methods in which men choose to take their lives. In the US, firearms account for almost 50% of all suicides. White males accounted for 7 of 10 suicides and the rate of suicide is highest in middle age, white men in particular.
However, due to the greater social awareness surrounding depression and its treatment, men are nowadays more open to the idea of reaching out. They are open to the feedback from friends, loved-ones, and colleagues that they are not alone and that professional help is available. While men’s willingness to help themselves has started changing, more needs to be done. Continuing research into men’s physiology, interpersonal and intrapersonal psychology to identify effective gender specific treatment options is required. Such options will drastically help men cope emotionally and physically with chronic stress or acute adverse experiences.
The potential of decreasing the likelihood of developing depression involves proactively improving the quality of lifestyle factors. These factors include good sleep patterns, healthy eating, and nutrition, as well as regular exercise and self-care habits. Improved relationship connections, such as intimate or romantic, family, social or occupational are the foundation of reducing the likelihood of developing depression. Finally, further social advocacy is needed to facilitate men seeking help and to teach everyone to recognize the signs of depression in men.
If you recognize any of these symptoms, then consider connecting with a trained, licensed mental health care professional and start a conversation.
- A desire to withdraw;
- Losing interest in friends and activities you used to enjoy;
- Difficulty concentrating on things;
- Feeling down or irritated most of the day, nearly every day;
- Significant change in weight or change in appetite;
- Changes in sleep patterns;
- Changes in activity, such as speech, thinking, movement;
- Feeling jumpy or physically agitated;
- Fatigue or loss of energy;
- Negative and unrealistic thoughts about guilt or feeling worthlessness; and
- Having thoughts of death, or suicide or have a plan for suicide.
If you feel like you’d like additional help in this area, set up an appointment to connect with me.
Information and Resources on Men’s depression:
Heads Up Guys: https://headsupguys.org/mens-depression/
Help Guide: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/depression-in-men.htm
Beyond Blue: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/depression/what-causes-depression
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): https://www.nami.org
Anxiety and Depression Association of America: https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/depression