Men and Depression: Seven Things You Need to Know…Now
Nov 23, 2011 - 1:28:14 PM
(HealthNewsDigest.com) - Foxboro, MA — There’s a prevailing opinion in our society that depression—not feeling a bit down in the dumps, but clinical depression—isn’t something that should happen to men. “Real” men, the thinking goes, should be able to power through discouragement. Tough guys don’t let their emotions “get the better” of them. And even if a man is having a bad day, he’s certainly not supposed to cry and complain about it. If he’s strong, he’ll eventually snap out of whatever funk he’s in.
If that’s how you tend to think about depression, you’re making a dangerous mistake.
“The truth is, over six million men are affected by depression each year in the U.S. alone, but many don’t seek treatment because they don’t want to be seen as weak or defective,” says Todd Patkin, author of the new book Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-9658261-9-8, $18.00, www.toddpatkin.com). “Men need to understand that being diagnosed with depression isn’t a cause for stigma, and that ignoring it can have devastating consequences for them, their spouses, their kids, their careers, and more.”
Patkin isn’t just a talking head—he speaks from painful personal experience. After dealing with feelings of anxiety and stress throughout his life—despite achieving outward success, wealth, and respect—he suffered a devastating breakdown at the age of thirty-six. Finding Happiness chronicles Patkin’s difficult life experiences, as well as his eventual recovery and the lessons he has learned about the true nature of both depression and happiness.
“My breakdown was the most devastating experience of my life,” Patkin recalls. “I couldn’t work, exercise, laugh, or even reason. I didn’t think I’d ever be normal again—and I didn’t see any of it coming. Luckily, that breakdown was my breakthrough. I realized that I had been pushing myself too hard and looking for fulfillment in the wrong places. I got the medical help I now realized I had needed for quite some time, and I revised my outlook on my life in general and on my mental health in particular.”
Patkin is adamant that it’s vitally important for men to educate themselves about depression so that they can recognize its symptoms and be prepared to seek help if necessary. And licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Howard J. Rankin, who wrote the Expert View sections in Finding Happiness, agrees.
“Depression is influenced by your brain biochemistry, and that’s not something you naturally have control over,” Dr. Rankin stresses. “Depression is a medical illness that you can’t just ‘get over’ on your own, so the public perception of depression as a shameful cause for stigma must change. It may come as a surprise to hear, but depression isn’t technically sadness—it’s a loss of energy. And when energy is low, you are less able to cope and less likely to do other things that are necessary for a healthy physical and emotional life.
“Most people don’t realize it, but you can gain some control of your brain’s biochemistry if it becomes dysfunctional, which can have a huge impact on your mood and behavior,” he adds. “That control comes mainly through medications, but lifestyle also plays a big role, too.”
Read on for seven things Patkin and Dr. Rankin think all men should know about depression now:
Depression is more prevalent than ever. America is becoming a nation of overworked, overstressed, and (often) unhappy people. More than that, though, increasing numbers of Americans are being diagnosed with depression—and that includes men. Studies show that each generation is more likely to become depressed than the one that came before it—and more likely to become so at an earlier age, too. Not surprisingly, antidepressant use in our country continues to grow.
“I’ve learned that you can be prone to depression because of your genetics, but also due to life circumstances,” shares Patkin. “I’ve thought for years that the way we live and work in America is unhealthy. And I know that the recent economic downturn and the fact that it caused a lot of people to lose their savings and jobs hasn’t helped our outlooks and mental health.”
Men experience different symptoms from women. If you were asked to picture depression, you’d probably think of someone who is quiet, sad, apathetic, and lethargic. Those symptoms are characteristic of depression, but they’re more commonly seen in women. Because most people don’t realize that depression manifests differently between the sexes, many men fail to even suspect the true nature of what is bothering them.
“Women are likely to internalize their negative feelings and blame themselves for their problems, while men more commonly act out on their emotions,” Dr. Rankin explains. “Depression manifests itself differently in men because their emotional circuits and brains are designed differently. So instead of getting tearful, a man who is depressed might become irritable, hostile, and fatigued. Like Todd, he might dive into his work or a hobby until he literally can’t carry on. He’s also likely to blame other people or other circumstances for his problems, rather than admit that he is experiencing troubling symptoms.”
There’s a connection between depression and stress. None of us like stress—that’s a no-brainer. On the flip side, though, stress is so prevalent that we tend to ignore it and write it off as normal, despite the fact that we’ve all heard the statistics about how chronic stress can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, and other health problems. But did you know that long-term stress can also increase your risk of becoming depressed?
“While depression can be related to genetics, it can also be caused by long-term stress—especially if you’re not handling it well,” Dr. Rankin asserts. “When you’re constantly worn down, anxious, and unhappy, you’re essentially training your brain to be that way—and eventually, your brain’s biochemistry becomes locked into this pattern.
“If you are plagued by pretty constant stress, or if you’ve been diagnosed with depression, I firmly believe that exercise is the best mood manager because it naturally releases endorphins,” he adds. “When I was in training many years ago at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, the consultant running the mood disorders unit (which housed numerous depressed people) had all of the patients exercising morning, noon, and night. This was before the term ‘aerobics’ was coined, and everyone wondered what he was doing. Turns out this man was ahead of the curve in realizing the crucial role of exercise in mood management.”
Depression can damage your physical health. You may consider depression to be a disorder that’s rooted in the brain. But that doesn’t mean it can’t affect your body, too. As Dr. Rankin has pointed out, depression is accompanied by a loss of energy. It can also cause muscle pain, joint pain, digestive problems, headaches, reduced sex drive, and more—and it’s easy to see how those symptoms can disrupt your life.
“If you’re depressed, it’s very possible that you’ll feel exhausted and in pain all of the time,” Dr. Rankin shares. “It’s actually not uncommon for patients to be misdiagnosed at first because they and their doctors think that the unpleasant symptoms have another cause. That’s why it’s very important to understand that depression isn’t just ‘in your head,’ and to be completely open with your doctor.”
Depression can also hurt your family. Don’t make the mistake of believing that depression affects only you. To put it bluntly, if you’re lacking energy or if you’re anxious, irritable, or in pain, your family will notice. And their daily lives—in fact, their basic well-being—will be impacted, too. Your spouse and children might feel that they have to walk on eggshells around you, for example, and might become anxious themselves because they can’t ease your burden. You won’t be able to give them the attention, support, and love that you used to, either.
“In hindsight, one of the worst things about my depression and breakdown was how much I am sure it scared and upset my wife,” Patkin recalls. “Also, I simply couldn’t be the dad and husband I wanted to be. Please, if you’re reluctant to get help for your own sake, do it for the people you love. And remember that if your kids see you moping around every day, they will be much more likely to grow up the same way, thinking that an unhappy life is simply the norm. That’s not something any father wants to leave as a legacy for his children…and then for their children after them as well.”
Depression is not a cause for stigma. Patkin has said it before, and he’s adamant about saying it again: Depression is not something to be ashamed of. While clinical depression is very different from a disease like cancer, they have one major thing in common: No one chooses to suffer from either, and no one can power through these ailments unaided. Untreated, depression can be just as devastating to you and your family as any other major illness.
“I understand why men feel it is their job as the head of the household to ignore their depression and just continue on,” Patkin says. “But doing so can ruin your life and even lead to suicide. I’m very glad to see that our society’s view of depression is finally changing, albeit much too slowly for my liking. Today, scientifically we know more about it, and more and more people are becoming aware of its symptoms. I’m passionate about bringing the reality of depression into the public conversation, and I’m not the only one. Well-known figures including Terry Bradshaw, George Stephanopoulos, and Mike Wallace, to name a few, have also opened up about their own struggles with this illness in order to raise awareness and dispel myths.”
Depression is treatable. Many people suffer from debilitating depression for months or even years, and if you’re one of them, you may believe that a “normal” life is—and always will be—beyond your grasp. Depression is treatable, though—and with a combination of counseling and medication, most people are able to completely regain their quality of life.
“However, it’s also important to understand that psychoactive drugs are not one-size-fits-all,” warns Dr. Rankin. “Antidepressants narrow the range of emotion so that you can’t feel as low. However, some people claim that antidepressants can reduce their ability to feel life’s highs as well. The answer is finding the right medication in the right dose for each person—and this can take time.”
“Once you and your doctor do find the combination of medication and/or counseling that works for you, I promise you’ll be astounded by the results,” assures Patkin. “It’s possible that just one pill a day can make you feel like a whole new man again! When my doctor and I found a medication that restored my brain chemistry, I felt like my old self in just three weeks’ time.”
“If you suspect that you might be suffering from depression—or even heading toward it—I promise you that talking to your doctor is the best thing you can do for your health, your family, and your future,” concludes Patkin.
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About the Authors:
Todd Patkin grew up in Needham, Massachusetts. After graduating from Tufts University, he joined the family business and spent the next eighteen years helping to grow it to new heights. After it was purchased by Advance Auto Parts in 2005, he was free to focus on his main passions: philanthropy and giving back to the community, spending time with family and friends, and helping more people learn how to be happy. Todd lives with his wonderful wife, Yadira, their amazing son, Josh, and two great dogs, Tucker and Hunter.
Dr. Howard J. Rankin is the creator of www.scienceofyou.com and founder of the American Brain Association. He is a licensed clinical psychologist with a private psychotherapy practice, the Rankin Center for Neuroscience and Integrative Health, on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. He has written five books and coauthored two more, including the bestselling Inspired to Lose. His video and workbook The Five Secrets of Lifestyle Change were released in early 2011.
About the Book:
Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-9658261-9-8, $18.00, www.toddpatkin.com) is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and at www.toddpatkin.com.
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