Depression and men: Let’s not be strong, silent types

First posted by Time To Change

There are three things everyone should know about depression:

1)   Depression is not the same as feeling depressed. Feeling depressed – like feeling sad or grumpy – is a mood. Depression is an illness.

2)   Depression is not a choice, any more than other illnesses or diseases are. Nobody would decide to have depression.

3)   Anyone can experience depression. You can’t look round and spot the kind of person who ‘gets’ it.

A friend once said to me – when I told her I was taking antidepressants – “oh Paul, but you’re not the type”.

So what ‘type’ is meant to have depression? Is it a lifestyle choice for a particular breed of moping miseryguts?

No, of course it isn’t. The whole notion of ‘choosing’ to have depression is preposterous. But that idea is – incredibly – still widely held, and kept alive by phrases like ‘What have they got to be depressed about?’, ‘Everyone’s sad sometimes – get over it’, and ‘Man up’. People who say these things have no idea what they are talking about.

One in four people will suffer from a mental health problem – depression being one of the most common – in any one year. Unless you know a remarkably small number of people, this means that several people you know either have, or have had, a problem with their mental health. Think you can spot them?

Men are not always great at talking about how they feel. When I was first diagnosed with depression, I didn’t want to talk about it either. I kept it hidden and obviously managed to do so very effectively. A family who ran a local sandwich shop called me ‘Smiler’ because I was ‘always smiling’. They only saw me for five minutes a day, when I was buying something for lunch, at my best time of day. They weren’t to know I would be walking back to my desk wishing I didn’t exist.

I thought that if I told people about my illness they would draw certain conclusions about me – that I couldn’t do my job as well as I used to, for example. I didn’t want them to know I had to take tablets because I was too stressed to cope with everything life was throwing at me. They might think I was weak.

Actually, I’d been coping incredibly well for months and years, balancing a busy job with a hectic and demanding family life, as a father of two young children getting a pitiful amount of sleep. It gradually caught up with me.

Dr Tim Cantopher, in his brilliant book Depressive Illness: The Curse of the Strong, describes stress-related depression as a blown fuse. You overload your body and brain until something inside goes bang. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time and treatment to repair that damage.

The ignorance and stigma surrounding mental illness persist. Some comments, like my friend’s, are not meant maliciously. It’s just a case of people not understanding depression because they haven’t been through it themselves. Others delight in their ignorance and enjoy belittling those who are courageous enough to talk openly about their experiences.

This playground bully mentality festers among the male population – that desire to show how tough you are, how strong you are, how brave you are. You want to see those qualities? Look at someone who’s gone through depression – that’s what they need to get through each day.

You could be young or old, black or white, gay or straight, big or small; a boxer, footballer, actor, rock star, plumber, joiner, journalist, manager, truck driver, artist, fisherman, builder, pub landlord – whatever. Depression isn’t picky.

Let’s not be ‘strong, silent types’. Let’s show our strength and courage by standing up to this crippling illness and fighting the stigma.


8 Comments on “Depression and men: Let’s not be strong, silent types”

  1. I love every word of this and as a middle aged man who has spent 23 years in a military environment I can honestly say that even the toughest get hit by this dreadful disease. My problem is that while suffering I am not tough, I am not strong, I am not brave – I am not who I was and the new me may well be like this forever…

    • paulbrook76 says:

      Thanks very much – glad you liked it.

      It’s hard feeling like that, I know, but try not to compare what you’re like when you’re ill with what you were like before. That person is still you. Eventually, I hope you’ll come out the other side of it and, like me, find there are things you’ve learned that will help you to get more out of your life, and savour the good times more than you ever did before.

      Take care

  2. natpops says:

    A brilliant post Paul. It’s short, concise and brings important points to the forefront. I can relate to all of the points you have raised. But I would like to add that I find I too say to myself inappropriate things like: I need to ‘snap out of it’, ‘just get on with life’, ‘there are people worse off than me’ – I wondered whether it’s just me that thinks like this or whether others with mental illness also have this detrimental way of thinking of one’s self? Your thoughts are much appreciated….


    • paulbrook76 says:

      Thanks Natalie.
      Yes, I catch myself saying things like that sometimes, but stop myself when I realise. I have to say to myself ‘You’d never say that to anyone else, so why say it to yourself?’
      Maybe there are other people worse off than ourselves, but we can only deal with our own problems, and even doing that is too much sometimes.
      Does that make sense?

      • natpops says:

        Yes, it makes perfect sense. I struggle with being nice to myself, and although I would never say those things to someone else, I can’t help but project those feelings on to myself. It’s sort of a bit like ‘do as I say, not as I do’. I’m working on it but I do struggle.


      • paulbrook76 says:

        I know that feeling very well! Took me two rounds of counselling to start believing it…
        Take care

  3. […] Depression and men: Let's not be strong, silent types | Dippyman […]

  4. […] 9. It’s not weak to ask for help. Talking to someone about how you’re feeling can change – or even save – your life. Don’t try and keep it in through some misguided sense that you are tough, strong and can handle anything and everything. That’s not tough or strong – it’s daft. […]

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