Depression: The struggle for awareness in men

By Sarah Whalley

Depression has long been stigmatised. Some did not see it as a medical condition at all. It has become more accepted, but acceptance is one thing – awareness is another.

Even those closest to someone suffering often do not understand the scope of the problem and cannot come to terms with the fact that depression can be more debilitating than some physical conditions.

No one will ever know how shattering depression is until they live it themselves, but understanding is a start.

One in four women in Britain will require treatment for depression, compared to 1 in 10 men.

And yet, men are three times more likely to take their own life than women. Suicide remains the most common cause of death in men under the age of 35.

So how can awareness help prevent the suffering of thousands of people each year?

Supporters should not be affected by frustration at others naivety and lack of help when their priority is saving someone who does not want to live.

Depression shows itself in many ways, and is caused by different factors so it is not always easy to spot.

Beth Murphy, the information manager at mental health charity Mind said: “Many of us will feel down from time to time, and it’s a fact of life that we can’t always be cheerful and positive when we want to be. 

“However, as a rule of thumb, if you have been feeling down for a couple of weeks or more without much change in your mood, or the feelings keep coming back over and over again, it could be that you have depression.

“There is no one cause of depression. Although it doesn’t appear to be genetic, some people are more prone to depression than others and this could be because of the way we’re made or because of our family background.

“Traumatic life experiences can also bring on depression, from losing a loved one or being stressed at work, to ending a relationship or having physical health problems.”

Jake had a year-long battle with depression brought on by stress, one that almost killed him. He candidly talks about his fight for better mental health.

“During depression I felt useless. I went from confident to genuinely having a feeling of worthlessness. Most mornings there was a real disappointment that I had woken up.  I thought that no matter what I next did I was certain to fail and would amount to nothing.

“I became pathetically reliant on other people and their words of support – that in reality didn’t help me.

“I hit the point of despair, I had lost a lot of things that were important to me both as an individual and in my personal life. In my eyes I had two choices – I either had to get busy living or get busy dying. My depression told me I wanted the latter, but my human nature, or at the time, I felt it was cowardice, that thankfully kept me alive.”

Jake knew what he was going through, but it was easy to hide behind a smile and deny it to others. “For someone like me, I didn’t want to admit my problems,” he said.

Seeking help is difficult, because the very nature of depression means Jake had to want help, and he did not want to listen to what doctors had to say.

“I couldn’t accept that just because someone had read a few more books and studied something within these books that they truly understood how I felt. They hadn’t been through it, so what did they really know?”  

The Department of Health claims that mental health is as important as physical health. The mental health strategy ‘No health without mental health’ explains that for the first time the Government is giving equal weight to both mental and physical health.

A spokesman said: “We know that almost half of all adults will experience at least one episode of depression during their lifetime. This is why the Government is investing around £400 million over four years to ensure that adults with depression and anxiety in all parts of England have access to a choice of psychological therapies.

“The mental health strategy makes it clear there is an expectation of parity of esteem between mental and physical health services. Improved mental health and wellbeing is associated with, amongst others, improved physical health.”

But there appears to have been a time lag in educating and promoting this. Simon Lawton Smith is the head of policy at research charity the Mental Health Foundation. He said: “In some places there are long waiting lists for psychological therapies and we want the NHS to improve on this.”

It is often only those close to them that can look past the false smiles and see the pain in someone’s eyes. But for those naive to depression, with little understanding of it and how serious it is, they can overlook it the sadness as something that will just blow over. Without their assistance it is difficult for the sufferer to get the help they need.

Jake said: “My family and friends couldn’t understand it. They still felt that I had everything going for me. I hated the line ‘everything will be okay’. My mother had no idea how to deal with it, and found it easier to not challenge it, but let me wither. Her support was negligible.”

Some believe that depression does not even exist, and these people are surely those who have never experienced it or known someone who has. Others hide away from it, as comprehending it bares too many difficult truths.

It is not easy seeing someone you care about in torment, knowing that little you say will make a difference.

Ms Murphy explained: “Sadly there is still a great problem with stigma around mental health problems that can have a hugely negative effect on people’s lives.

“Research by Time to Change, the anti-stigma campaign run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, found that 90% of people with a mental health problem had experienced stigma or discrimination, while 6 in 10 said that the stigma was worse than the actual symptoms of the mental health problem.”

She added that this stigma may affect men more than women because although rates of depression occurs more in women than men, studies have indicated that depression occurs just as frequently in men but they are far less likely than women to report a problem or seek treatment.

Men are seen as strong, proud and less emotional than women, and depression can reveal itself in different ways. It may not show itself as sadness, but as anger or silence and it is important that people notice these changes before it is too late.

Mr Smith said: “Depression can make people feel hopeless and turn down offers of help. It’s important that any suggestions of help are offered non-judgementally.

“You also need to stay engaged with the person, however unresponsive they seem. If they get isolated, their depression could get even worse.”

Jake explained that people need to be aware of the true debilitating nature of depression, he said: “In my eyes a person’s mentality is what controls their levels of success, far more than their physical condition. There are fantastic achievements by physically disabled people.

“Being mentally ill can destroy all confidence and willingness to exist, making your physical being completely redundant.  

“I also believe that people need to recognise that the mainstream treatments and the generic nature of them do not suit everyone. They definitely did not suit me.

“Everyone should be treated and analysed as an individual. In my opinion we have allowed depression to become too quickly diagnosed. Anti-depressants are too easily passed out, and then swiftly relied upon.”  

To encourage men to talk about their problems there needs to be more awareness that depression can affect anyone, and people need the support from their friends and family, in order to get them through.

Jake was able to get through it by finally listening to the few people who understood. For those with depression, looking forward to the next day is an achievement and that hope can come from believing that someone knows you are hurting.

“In truth, the feeling that I was at the lowest point in existence allowed me to take risks that I would never have previously taken. The lows of depression had created the ultimate humility and genuine appreciation of life to allow me to make efforts towards being a success.”

“People need to relate to those that have suffered and gone on to greater state of mind. I needed an inspiration to get better myself, at a time I was reliant on others to make it happen.

“People who have been through depression and come through the other side need to talk more openly about it. Winning that battle is a success in itself,” Jake said.

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