Firstly, have a think about these questions:
- If you were told you had diabetes would you seek help for it?
- If you were told you had epilepsy would you seek help for it?
If you answered 'yes' to the above questions, hopefully the following information will allow you to recognize the signs of depression and understand that it, too, is an illness which needs to be treated.
Depression is more severe than normal sadness. It is a medical condition involving a persistent low mood which lasts longer than two weeks, and interferes with other parts of your life, such as work, school or relationships.
According to the better health website, 1 in 6 men will suffer depression at some time in their lives. (www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au)
What causes depression or a depressed mood?
Sometimes depression or a depressed mood may have no apparent cause and sometimes it may be caused by a number of factors (by themselves or in combination), such as:
- genetics, or a history of depression within your family
- biochemical factors. Depression is related to low levels of serotonin, an important chemical involved in transmitting signals between nerve cells in the brain.
- a stressful event or chain of events such as a family break-up, ongoing bullying or abuse, trauma, a death, or a relationship break up
- personality style. Certain personality types are more at risk of depression than others. This includes people who tend to be anxious, have low self-esteem, are perfectionists or are shy.
- other mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.
Symptoms of depression or a depressed mood
People experience depression or a depressed mood in different ways, depending on the type of depression and individual differences. Common symptoms include:
- feeling sad, moody or irritable
- feeling hopeless or helpless
- feeling numb or empty
- feeling guilty and blaming yourself
- unable to feel good or enjoy things that you do normally.
- being overly self-critical
- believing you can't cope and that things are out of your control
- difficulty making decisions and thinking clearly
- poor concentration and memory
- thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
- lack of motivation and energy
- crying a lot
- losing interest in activities you usually enjoy
- withdrawing from your friends and family or being more dependent on them
- increased use of alcohol or other drugs
- losing your temper more than usual.
- loss of appetite or over-eating
- changes in sleep patterns - difficulty getting to sleep, waking up in the middle of the night or sleeping for longer
- headaches or stomach aches
- feeling physically sick
- lack of interest in sex.
Everyone experiences some of these feelings or behaviours from time to time. However, for people experiencing depression the feelings are severe and they do not go away over time.
Men and Depression
There are several myths about depression that can make men reluctant to talk about or seek help for their depression. These myths include the idea that:
- depression is a sign of personal weakness
- 'real men' are in control of their emotions and don't let things get to them
- feeling sad or down is not manly
- anyone with enough willpower ought to be able to 'snap out of it'
- men should not ask for help; they should be able to cope on their own.
Because of these ideas, men often focus on the physical rather than the emotional symptoms of depression, and often talk about feeling angry or irritable rather than sad. They also tend not to seek help until the depression is very severe, if at all. This can place these men at an increased risk of suicide, as the greatest risk factor for suicide is depression.
Fortunately, more and more prominent men, including high profile sportsmen and politicians, are now beginning to 'go public' about their depression. This is helping to reduce the stigma associated with this illness and allowing other men to talk about and seek help for their depression.
Depression and relationships
Depression can have a very negative impact on one's relationships. Depressed people frequently experience an extreme lack of energy and motivation which can severely hinder their ability to function in a relationship. They may withdraw from others, become irritable and 'closed', or fall into a state of apathy in which they are unable to act decisively or even get out of bed in the morning. Their withdrawal from others can be confusing and hurtful to those close to them, especially if the depression is not diagnosed or understood. Some people may respond unhelpfully by telling the depressed person to "pull themselves together", not realizing that their comments only make the sufferer feel worse. Many depression sufferers also lose interest in sex, creating further problems in intimate relationships.
Understanding that a depressed person's behaviour is the result of an illness may not make things easy, but knowing what is going on, and that the condition is treatable, can give a sense of hope.
Depression can be treated. The most effective treatment is a combination of anti-depressant medication and psychotherapy aimed at changing negative thinking.
If you are concerned that you may be experiencing depression, see your local doctor or a psychologist. They should be able to make a diagnosis and discuss treatment options with you.