May 2017

All posts from May 2017

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Men and depression

Recently, we’ve been seeing quite a few stories in the news about men and depression, how depression affects men,  and what causes depression in men. 

There are certain aspects of our emotional make-up which are influenced by hormones.  It’s important to understand that both men and women have emotions.  They simply experience emotions differently.  In many ways, culture influences how emotions are experienced by men and women.  From a very early age, girls get taken care of if they cry.  Boys are told that big boys don’t cry.  Women are rarely told that they need to just suck it up.  Men, on the other hand, are constantly told in one way or another to suck it up, man up, and get on with it.  Women are expected to be emotional.  Men are expected to be steady, strong and silent.  Even in our modern days of new thought, these standards still seem to be in the background.

Testosterone is a powerful hormone.  It is one factor that affects aggressive behaviour.  The level of testosterone present in the body, especially during the teens and early twenties, can directly impact on such behaviours as violence, aggression, anger, and competitiveness.  Testosterone causes men to be drawn to action films and video games.  In turn, watching action films and playing action-based video games increases levels of testosterone, which in turn can result in increased levels of aggression and anger.  High testosterone levels result in more powerful muscular build, and lower testosterone levels make muscles softer.  Early on, studies had shown that men begin to lose muscle tone and hair as their levels of testosterone begin to reduce after having peaked around the age of 18.  What is perhaps even more interesting is that people have long known that after a man marries, he tends to go a bit “soft”.  He loses muscle tone a bit, gets a bit of a soft tummy.  I’ve heard people over the years attribute this to getting home cooking, being spoiled by his wife, etc.  In fact, when men are in a positive relationship with a woman, the testosterone level reduces almost immediately.  When men become fathers, their testosterone level reduces.  These things allow them to have more mellow and generous behaviours toward wife and children.  They no longer need to compete for a woman’s attention, and the brain takes the cue, reducing the levels.

So, how does depression affect men?  When men are in positive relationships, with a strong family, successful work environment, etc., their testosterone levels are calm.  However, when they’re in a negative place, the testosterone level rises, and with it, the feelings of anger, aggression and competitiveness.  They will experience irritability and lack of control over their temper.  They can be verbally aggressive, and sometimes violent.  They tend to be tired, and are no longer interested in things that they used to enjoy, similar to women when they’re depressed.  However, because of the different way that men experience depression, many around them won’t even recognise that they are depressed.  Most crucially, the men themselves won’t recognise that they’re depressed.  Because men are discouraged from talking about their feelings, they’re less likely to admit that they need help or to get help.  In terms of suicide, women will attempt it.  Men will succeed in doing it, making men and depression a fatal mix.

There are many questions around what causes depression in men. Men are more likely to become depressed after losing a job than women are.  Men who have lost a long-term partner are more susceptible to depression.  Men can become depressed if they don’t feel that they’ve been as successful in life as they wanted to be due to the competitive spirit of testosterone.  If you’re a man experiencing these things, talk to someone.  Don’t ignore it.  It does not go away until you get help, and there’s no shame in that.

Being depressed doesn’t mean that you’re weak.  In fact, it takes more courage and strength to face depression and do something about it than it does to let your depression end in your death.  Stand up to it and get your life back.

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What causes depression in women?

There are many different things that can cause depression in women. Physical illness can cause depression, especially if it’s long-term.
The imbalances of hormones that are associated with the menstrual cycle can cause depression as well as physical pain. However, women have many external reasons for depression, too. For instance, women tend to be taken less seriously by their GP, and are frequently laughed at for being silly, imagining the illness or depression, etc. They are actually still often told that they just need to take a nap, go to a spa, or buy themselves something nice, as if they couldn’t possibly have any serious reason for being depressed. People can say things that are neither true nor kind, such as accusing her of just being “hormonal”. This points to another major cause of depression in women….the almost constant ridicule that comes at them in one form or another just for being a woman. Women get the message in a million different ways through the course of a day that they are less valuable as people than men are, in spite of the strides being made in crashing through that glass ceiling.

Women are under a great deal of pressure from society and the fashion industry to be a “perfect 10”. It’s long been established that the fashion industry has much to answer for in terms of the extreme body images that it promotes, using women who are dangerously thin. Malnutrition causes vital vitamins and nutrients to be missing from the body, which can result in depression. The pressure to live up to that impossible ideal leads to women being left feeling like fat, ugly failures. For women, depression can lead to comfort eating, excessive sleeping, and weight gain, which in turn leads further into reduced self-esteem. Women do cry more, mostly because they’re expected to. Women are under pressure to be the perfect partner, perfect mother, perfect lover, perfect 10, successful at work but still able to have a perfect home and cook the perfect meal. Since one would have to be at least four perfect people to reach that ideal, failure is guaranteed. Women already dealing with hormones that do more up-and-down swinging every month than a rollercoaster ride and the pressure to fit into that size 0 dress are dealt a further blow by a global, cultural idea that women only have enough braincells to figure out how to put on mascara, and that their main functions in life are sexually focused. Women are under a great deal of stress at work from bosses who look down on them and say/do inappropriate things, colleagues who do the same, and a culture that requires them to look amazing for 10 hours a day standing on high heels. They have stresses at home, where most of the domestic chores still fall to them, and where, if children are involved, they still take on most of the parenting, including time off for appointments and parent/teacher meetings. They also take on the bulk of any work involved in caring for elderly parents, including the in-laws. All of these demands leave them with little or no time to give to their own mental and physical well-being.

Women may physically have thinner skin than men do, but they have to be pretty thick-skinned to get through daily life as a woman. In spite of all of the many news articles, blogs, books and videos about how women are treated around the world, not much progress has been made in terms of the “subtle” kinds of disrespect and abuse that women have to put up with. One of the things that cause depression in women is actually the fact that they realise that on a global scale, they’re often viewed as little more than property. Violence against women and children is shocking in its global scale. Women still have far fewer rights than men do in many countries around the world, and due to the modern age of technology, women see more things in the news or on the internet that promote the attitudes behind that violence. The idea that no one in the world cares about you is part of deep depression. When that idea seems supported as fact by everything that a woman sees in her life and in the world around her, it becomes more so. Women who demand their rights are seen as pushy. Women who try to do things that they can do but which are usually considered a man’s thing are bullied and ridiculed, and if they stand up for themselves and stick it out, they get labelled as troublemakers. They aren’t expected to demand things for themselves the way men are expected to; but more to the point, they aren’t allowed to demand things for themselves the way that men are. This can reinforce a feeling of powerlessness that causes depression. Hopelessness, powerlessness, lack of a sense of value or worth, and a sense of being undesirable are some very significant causes of depression in women.

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How do I know if my friend is depressed?  

Most people who are depressed have difficulty talking about it.  People can be very good at hiding depression, but there are little changes that you can be aware of. 

A person who usually has a bubbly personality can still present as bubbly when depressed, but if he begins to turn down social invitations that he ordinarily would have accepted, starts only engaging only in “small talk” where he used to be more involved in conversation, doesn’t listen to music much anymore, or any other small changes in behaviour are present, and you notice these changes have been present almost daily for at least two weeks, then your friend could be depressed.

Talking to a friend who is depressed can be difficult.  There are some helpful and unhelpful things to be aware of before you attempt it.  It’s helpful if you tell your friend how important they are to you, and that you’ll be there for them if they ever need you.  It’s not helpful to tell them that others have it harder or that that’s life.  Make yourself available for them in ways that make them feel safe and comfortable talking to you.  Don’t tell them to stop feeling sorry for themselves and get on with it.  Telling them that they’re not alone, depression is quite common, is one thing; telling them lots of people are depressed, just get over it, is quite another.  Telling them to try not to be depressed isn’t helpful.  It actually implies that it’s their fault that they’re depressed.  Don’t turn the conversation to yourself by talking about how you’ve been depressed before, or have known someone else who was depressed, and describing those experiences in detail.  The friend will need you to listen, not hit him with tales from the dark side.  Don’t tell them to stop crying and get back into the fun life, because that will make it all better…..it won’t.

It can be difficult to stop yourself from trying to “fix it” for your friend, but the one thing that you can do which has real value is listen and let them know that you value their friendship.  Tell them why you value their friendship.  Help them to understand that you really do get positive things from having them in your life.  Then, talk to them about getting help, but keep it simple.  The first port of call should be their GP.  Sometimes, depression is the result of physical illness, chemical imbalances, or hormonal changes, so it’s always good to be able to rule out anything medical.  The GP might try a course of anti-depressants, but that isn’t where it stops.  As your friend is taking them, he should also be talking to a therapist.  These days, doctors who are stretched to the limit with heavy caseloads insist on patients doing self-referrals for therapy, which takes time, phone calls, and paperwork, and the waiting lists are miles long.  This can be difficult for anyone, more so if the person is struggling with self-worth.  Private therapists who are willing to work with your budget are available if the waiting time seems to be too long; but again, it takes a little time to find them.  You probably can’t find the solution for your friend, but you can continue to support him while he is going through that process.  The main thing for people who have friends who are depressed to remember is that it doesn’t help if you overwhelm them with advice, healthcare tips, or lots of things you’ve downloaded from the internet on the subject.  Don’t try to educate them on what depression is or how to fix it.  Just be there for them and listen.

It’s also important to remember to take care of yourself.  It’s not often talked about, but a person can get what is known as “compassion fatigue”.  This is a form of burn-out experienced by people who give support to others, whether that’s for mental health, physical illness, or disability.  If the supporting person doesn’t take care of himself, he can become fatigued.  This causes people to start avoiding the person they’ve been supporting if at all possible, to lose patience with the person, and to perhaps sometimes say or do things that they later regret.  Self-care is important for all of us, but if you’re helping to support someone who is depressed, it’s even more so.  Make sure that your friend has the number to mental health support lines so that he has other options for support besides you, and set boundaries for yourself so that you have time to rest.  This will help you both.

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Causes of Depression in Men

Once upon a time, the world was a simple place in which everyone’s role in life was spelled out.

Gender roles were very specific, and there wasn’t any question about what men were expected to do or be like. A man could feel secure in his role because of that. On a global scale, men were and still are expected to be strong, silent, successful and stable. However, these days, there are many questions. Nothing is spelled out, and nothing is concrete. A man can have difficulty figuring it all out and finding his place in the world. As a result, men are often left trying to grapple with the mixed messages that the world sends them, and can feel lost and adrift. They can be left feeling very insecure about themselves, and about what it means to be a man. Everything about them as men is tied into things that no longer have real relevance in this ever-changing world. The ambiguity of their situation can be a root cause of depression in men.

Big boys don’t cry. Man up. Suck it up, buttercup. From an early age, boys are taught that they aren’t allowed to express feelings like girls do. They’re not allowed to be vulnerable, to have emotions, or to be seen as weak. In spite of all of the changes in our world regarding equality between the sexes, there really hasn’t been any concrete change in these areas of a boy’s life growing up, or in a man’s life. Even in modern sitcoms, a man who shows his feelings and allows himself to be vulnerable is called a “girl”, as if he has somehow compromised his masculinity by expressing these things. Women have made great strides in changing the way the world views them, and that’s as it should be. The problem is that somewhere along the way, men got left behind. Their place in the world no longer being clear-cut leaves them somewhat out on a limb, hanging rather precariously over a lake of muddy water.

What causes depression in men is much more easily understood by taking a step back and looking at the whole picture. Many men still tie their sense of self-worth to their job, their ability to be successful at work. This can be very difficult, especially given the instability of the current employment market. Jobs are hard to get and harder to keep. Toxic work environments, low pay and excessive workloads can bring stress levels to the breaking point, and they aren’t allowed to talk about that. They’re expected to suck it up and get on with it. Being a man in these circumstances can be a very lonely and trying experience. When you can’t win no matter what you do, it can be very tempting to just give up.

Many men don’t actually realise that they’re depressed because men experience depression differently from women. Men will suffer more from irritability, sudden anger, loss of control, greater risk-taking behaviours, and aggression. Their behaviour will often be mistaken for anger issues. The pressures that they face are made worse by the feeling that they’re unable to talk to anyone without appearing weak. Far too often, the end result is suicide. For men, depression often is fatal. It’s a huge step for a man to actually admit that he needs to talk to someone. The person that he chooses to talk to will need to be someone who gets what it means to be a man, what depression is for men, and how to help men to regain their sense of self-worth. This is where men’s groups and counselling for men can be a vital resource for them. It might not be very often that a man would find a female therapist that he could talk to, and many men feel that talking to a woman would inhibit their ability to talk openly. They can also feel that a woman just wouldn’t understand what causes depression for men or how men experience depression, and for the most part, they could be right. The main thing, though, is to find someone to talk to that you’re comfortable with, talk, get help, and take action to get out of the grip of depression.

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