Men, masculine pride and how to cope with depression

Silent suffering? The Thinker by Albino Flea, CC BY-NC

Masculinity plays an important role in dealing with problems such as depression. Men often don’t feel able to reach out for assistance because both the symptoms of depression and the act of seeking help goes against a stereotypical view of how us blokes should or shouldn’t behave.

Of course, traditional masculine characteristics are not necessarily “good” or “bad”. Stereotypical male traits such as self-reliance and independence can be very valuable in life (for both men and women). But when demonstrated through unhealthy and over-used psychological practises, they can spell trouble for well-being and mark seeking help as off-limits.

For example, adherence to “strait-jacket” masculinity, might not only prevent getting treatment but also intensifies tactics such as hiding depressed mood and increasing risk-taking behaviours such as substance use.

Different strategy needed off the pitch. el_gallo, CC BY-NC-SA

So being competitive with your mates on the football pitch, rugby field or golf course, for example, is great in order to secure the win and bragging rights, but “not giving in” to a serious dose of depression by coping in secret is not, and can do more harm in the long run.

So, if the prospect of seeking help makes you twitchy, what can you do about it?

Get out of the strait-jacket

Research has shown that some men re-interpret and expand what it means to be a man in order to subtly un-hook themselves from the strait-jacket variety of masculinity. It may seem subtle to those on the outside but it’s a big personal step. Rather than seeing seeking help as an unacceptable behaviour, some see it as demonstrating an ability to be responsible, proactive, and practical. So rather than a sign of dependence on others, it can be seen as a responsible way of maintaining psychological health and responsibilities, by being an engaged partner, for example.

And in fact, breaking out of the strait-jacket could be seen as more masculine than falling into line with traditional expectations of not seeking help. Some men even see themselves as a “hero” that is “in battle” with depression as a way to preserve a sense of their masculinity while getting help. And when you’re experiencing severe symptoms, such as suicidal thoughts or being unable to work or even get out of bed, it can feel like a fight.

Focus on things you still do

Re-framing the masculine narrative can be supported through men’s relationships with others. The role of caregiver or provider is valued by many men. Seeking help can be seen as part of being able to do this rather than undermining it.

Simply being a good dad. Bike fix by Shutterstock

Men with depression can help themselves to retain a sense of self-worth by focusing on valued roles they can still perform – and those supporting them can help them confirm this.

Small steps are still rewarding

Taking on responsibility for tasks previously given up due to depressed mood (usually in a gradual way) is a common approach to treating depression and is another way in which men can re-establish lost self-worth.

When you’re depressed, it’s important not to underestimate the boost you can get from small victories and accomplishments.

Dust off those running shoes. Ed Yourdon, CC BY-NC-SA

Trying to achieve several of these each day, such as going for a 15-minute jog or even cleaning one shelf of a bookcase, can help you fight depression in an effective way. The feeling of achievement and personal control that comes from activities such as physical exercise is believed to be one possible way in which exercise combats depression.

Professionals can help

Professional help should always be sought when depressed mood persists for more than a couple of weeks, is accompanied by significant levels of distress and/or impairment in your ability to carry out day-to-day tasks such as going to work or having a shower. Thoughts of self-harm or suicide are especially important warning signs that require immediate professional attention.

Worth a try? Therapy by Shutterstock

People often say that “talking treatments” are not for them, but when you’re really struggling it is worth a try. And not all help and treatment is the same; there are a variety of therapeutic techniques that approach depression in different ways.

One approach called Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) emphasises, among other things, developing practical skills. This is one reason why CBT might be particularly suited to men. However, there are other approaches that focus more on other issues, such as understanding the role played by early life experiences. And, of course, medication can be a good option for people in certain circumstances. But whatever course of action is taken, it’s vital men do not suffer in silence.