Chances are you hire an auto mechanic to fix your transmission when it’s acting up, and you call your cable company when your Internet goes down. But when you’re going through a really tough time and are feeling low, do you consider consulting with a mental health professional about depression? Unfortunately, so many men whose lives can benefit from such help don’t.
Our culture tells us that to “be a man” is to be in control, to withstand pain without complaint and to act rather than to feel. That’s part of why many men have difficulty expressing, describing or even recognizing emotion altogether. And if they do, they may consider something like reaching out to a counselor to be an admission of defeat or a sign of weakness—something men just don’t do.
While it’s true that women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression (and anxiety disorders) than men, this may simply be because many men experience “non-traditional” symptoms of the condition, which often go unrecognized. When researchers take anger, aggression, risky behavior and other such examples into account, men are actually just as likely to be diagnosed with depression as women—a fact that shatters the belief that men are immune to emotional challenges such as this.
Think about your situation: Perhaps you’re going through a divorce, are struggling with an abusive boss or are facing financial troubles. You may catch yourself in a bad mood more often than you’d like, or find yourself getting angry at the smallest things. You might pick fights with loved ones, or find yourself drinking unhealthy amounts of alcohol to cope. Maybe you have even let your favorite hobbies slide. Though this may not be the picture of depression you have in your mind, your emotional state may very well be the source of these changes.
It may be hard for you to recognize or even accept this. But breaking past that can free you in ways you haven’t yet experienced and help you reach a better place. Getting the help you need can also improve your physical health; men with mental health concerns are more likely to experience issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease and frequent respiratory illnesses than women with mental health concerns.
More: Shades of Depression
If you’re ready to confront depression, the best approach is one that integrates mind, body and spirit. There are many paths that can be helpful. Exercise reduces stress, improves mood and boosts self-esteem, while a healthy diet also nourishes and protects your brain. When you’re experiencing unbearable stress, though, it can be awfully hard to muster the motivation to cope with stress in healthy ways. If you find yourself in an emotional rut, or acting in ways that you know are hurting yourself and others, even just a few sessions with a mental health professional may get you going in a healthier direction.
You’ll need to find a therapist with whom you click. Because many men are less likely to recognize and talk about their own feelings, a therapist who starts to ask you how you feel right away may not work for you. Know that there are many kinds of therapy, and you may be more comfortable with some approaches than others. For example, some therapists may ask you to tell them your story or examine your attitudes rather than describe how you feel.
Your general practitioner may be able to recommend a psychologist, psychiatrist or clinical social worker, or you can ask a few trusted friends or loved ones for recommendations (you might be surprised at how many men you know have turned to a therapist at some point).
It’s important to realize that seeking help for mental health issues isn’t a sign of weakness—quite the opposite, really. It’s actually an incredible demonstration of inner strength, and a truly empowering first step to better wellness. Just a few sessions with the right professional may help you develop a plan for coping with stress in healthier ways.