Real men are sometimes really depressed
Recent events prompt me to write about depression, suicide and men. As a clinical psychologist in this area, I am especially worried about the men in and around Americus.
Most people know that depression and anxiety play key roles in suicide. But beyond depression and anxiety, one of the risk factors for suicide in men seems to be age. Historically, younger men were at greater risk than older ones, but this has changed in recent decades. Now, middle-aged men experience the lowest levels of well-being and significantly higher suicide rates. The highest rate of suicide for all ages and genders is for men after age 69. In just about every country, men commit suicide more frequently than women. Let’s explore why.
When things break down for men, they really break down. Losing a job may make men feel like a “double failure”, since they are unable to meet two central demands of the traditional masculine role: being employed and ‘providing’ for the family. Financial stresses often contribute to marital trouble. While divorce and separation are linked to suicide risk in both sexes, divorced or separated men are at increased risk for suicidal “ideation” (thoughts and planning) and for suicide itself.
Once men are feeling the fallout of financial, professional, or personal problems, why do these problems end in suicide more frequently than women? Too little is known about this, but our society still limits men when shaping their identity. A large part of women’s identity is obtained from deep and meaningful relationships – they are mothers, friends, daughters, coworkers. Yes, men have a variety of roles, too, but a close examination will reveal more superficial friendships, for example, based mostly on an activity, not profound exchanges of personal feelings and information. This leaves men with less social support when the bottom falls out. Men also gain more identity from their occupations - “you are what you do” - and often struggle when either their occupation changes or their bank account dwindles. We need to convince our men that they are more valuable than the digits on their bank statements.
Another problem is a limited emotional repertoire. For the most part we have eased up on the “big boys don’t cry” curse that so many men grew up with, but let’s face it, we are still uncomfortable with crying men. We have hobbled our men emotionally, and this often starts in childhood. It’s a sad commentary that some men have an emotional range that goes only from irritated to enraged. Frankly, it’s easier for some men to get drunk, get in a fight, or do something else that’s counterproductive than admit that they’re afraid, and substance abuse often masks depression or is used to self-medicate. Antidepressants work a whole lot better and you can’t get addicted to them.
So, how can you tell if he’s depressed? Some symptoms: Sleep problems (too much or too little); Physical symptoms (headaches, stomach problems); Restlessness, pessimism or irritability; sadness or hopelessness; anxiety, worry, or guilt; fatigue and loss of interest in things; and withdrawal from social activities.
If someone threatens suicide or expresses a strong wish to die, take it seriously! Some other warning signs of suicide include taking unnecessary risks, giving away prized possessions, preparing for death by writing a will and making final arrangements, suddenly buying a firearm, obtaining other means of killing oneself such as poisons or medications, and showing drastic changes in behavior.
What can you do? If you feel there’s a danger, call 911. If you’re worried but not sure what to do, find a psychotherapist or counselor in your area using the phone book or internet. If you call for an appointment, make sure you use the word “suicide” so that they’ll get you in right away. Finally, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This government hotline connects individuals in suicidal crisis to their nearest suicide prevention and mental health service provider.
Real men are sometimes really depressed
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