Male depression: starting the conversation
Although depression in men is common, many find the condition difficult to speak about. We talk to 2 men who reached out, got help and are on the road to recovery.
Health Agenda magazine
As many as 1 in 6 Australians experiences depression at some point in their lives. It’s a problem for everyone, but men are less likely to seek support. Justin Geange, who’s been living with depression for several years, says it was this difficult step of talking with friends that led him to confront the issue.
“It’s about mates being mates, caring enough to ask the tough questions when they need to be asked,” he says. “My 40s saw the wheels fall off completely,” he says. “I slipped into a deep depression and finally a complete breakdown followed by a suicide attempt in 2013 that took close to all this time to steadily recover from.”
Geange found it difficult to talk to friends and family, which left him feeling alone and isolated. Despite this, it was a conversation with a friend that gave him the push he needed to reach out.
“Initially it was my mate who was constantly asking me how I was going that made me cave in and seek help,” he says.
While Geange feels that at 45 he’s back to his “pre-40s swagger”, dealing with his depression is an ongoing process.
Spotting the signs
While it’s normal to feel a little down sometimes, according to Dean Janover, psychologist from Prahran Psychology Clinic, if those periods of feeling low start to come more often and stay for longer, it could be a more significant problem.
He advises that the signs of diagnosed clinical depression can include feeling any of the following symptoms for longer than 2 weeks at a time:
- feeling sad
- feeling moody
- feeling angry
- being unable to sleep or concentrate.
Another common indicator of depression, especially in men, is losing interest in your regular activities, sport or hobbies.
Unlike the 40% of women with a mental health problem who’ll seek help, only 27% of affected men will look for support, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Causes of male depression
The factors in the onset of male depression are wide-ranging, but can occur at certain points of your life. This includes teenage years, dealing with high school, family, friends and social pressure, and prolonged workplace stress as an adult can also be a factor.
Changes in relationships or the addition of a baby can also contribute, with new fathers at risk of postnatal depression as well as mothers. Depression isn’t just a young man’s condition either, with instances of “late-life depression” diagnosed in men and women over 60.
Talking about depression
Reducing the stigma around mental health can help to address depression in men. Dr Janover says part of this is regularly and genuinely asking our friends how they are.
“Whether it’s in the workplace or football club, it needs to be normal for people to check on each other,” he says. “A real conversation wanting to know how each other is really going.”
Terry Cornick, founder of men’s mental health advice hub Mr Perfect, agrees: “I was incredibly lucky that when I made the decision to talk to friends about it, a large number put their hands up and said they too had suffered or were suffering from depression… No one ran away scared so it made it far easier and we now support each other.”
Start the conversation
It’s possible to find help confidentially too. Dr Janover advises that it’s important to tap into what’s most comfortable for you – and this could start with seeking information anonymously online – before seeing a doctor.
“It’s about acknowledging that there are feelings of anxiety and apprehension before taking the step to speak with a professional,” he says. “You can only deal with the problem once you focus on it.”
The best way to start treatment for depression is to talk to a health professional. A doctor can set you on the path towards recovery and talk to you about seeing specialists, taking medication or making lifestyle changes.
Seeing a professional was a breakthrough for Cornick. “I lived my first 30 years of life aware something was wrong,” he says. “Approaching my 30th year I took the first huge steps. The GP looked me in the eye and asked, ‘How long have you felt like this?’ I paused. ‘For as long as I can remember,’ I replied. His face turned serious. ‘I know a great psychiatrist I would like you to see,’ he said… Once that train was in motion, I was getting professional help and within 6 months there was some real progress.”
For Justin Geange communicating with other men about mental health issues is the most important message he wants to convey: “Men need to know that they aren’t alone – that we all at some stage go through some tough stuff and having a yarn with someone who cares or even someone who may have walked that same path can make all the difference.”
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