The Secret Legacy of Male Depression

Whenever an accomplished man comes forward acknowledging serious issues with depression, it comes as a shock to all who saw him as a success. Men who are deemed to be accomplished in life are seen as having it all. There is little room left for that man to have feelings that don’t fit the outward picture. Far too many men are suppressing feelings and needs that are simply human. It is easy for a man to feel as though he exists primarily to care for others and to deny as long as possible that he himself is in trouble emotionally.

Research on socialization of emotions, much of it done at Emory University, shows that little boys are generally steered to one feeling, the feeling of anger. When they tell a story to their parents, the parents often interpret the story of being upset to mean that the boy was angry. Meanwhile little girls are steered away from anger and towards sadness. No wonder the rates of depression are higher in women and the rates of addiction and outbursts are higher in men. This happens in educated well-meaning families without their awareness of directing their children by gender to interpret feelings in a certain way.

Traditionally men are socialized to deny negative feelings in the presence of other men, where the typical interaction is one of teasing, humor and superficial talk about business or sports.This means that a man must have a supportive partner who is interested in his feelings and is willing to work to try to draw him out. Men who do not have partners tend to have higher rates of depression as well, since they have little outlet to share their emotions. And many times men become depressed and don’t really know what is wrong…..just that they are having trouble sleeping, are drinking too much or are escaping into television.

On the positive side, I see that younger men ( in Gen X and Y) do seem to have more access to their inner worlds and are more open than men brought up in the 50’s and 60’s. Younger men seem to be more accepting of treatment and seek out therapy on their own, not brought in by a female partner or a relationship loss as is more common with older more traditional men. Just as women now have more permission to direct their lives into either career success or motherhood or both, men need to claim  permission to be authentic instead of feeling that they must measure their lives by how well they provided for others or by the image they projected. Books by Terence Real and David Wexler can help the process along, as can therapy. Being depressed means that something is not working in your life and is not a shameful or unacceptable situation. Seeking treatment is a healthy act of courage, not a sign of weakness.

If you are concerned or questioning the possibility of depression, please feel free to  contact me.