Updated: Sep 8, 2020
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After a lifetime of responding to the question, how are you? With the answer "I'm alright." I recently began to notice that some of my friends (men like me who are 50plus) have started to answer that question with a "Not good!" In fact, "I'm in a pretty dark place!"
Now, I know with everything that's going on in the world, it is not surprising that anxiety and stress levels are going up but this felt like something different. Something more deep-seated. Individuals I had never considered vulnerable to mental illness were, in fact, suffering from anxiety and depression. Mental illness whether I wanted to accept it or not was and is a very real issue for men over 50.
What is male depression? As men who are 50plus, we were brought up in a time when men were supposed to be strong and in control of their emotions. Feeling hopeless or overwhelmed by despair when you have been brought up like that can feel wrong and so it's not uncommon for us to deny these feelings or try to cover them up. But depression is real. It's not something to endure, it's not a sign of weakness or a failing of masculinity. It is a serious mental health condition that can on occasion require medical intervention.
Everyone's mood can go up and down it's a normal reaction to loss, setback or disappointment. Male depression is something different. It changes the way we think, feel and function. It can interfere with our productivity at work, impact our relationships, sleep, diet, and enjoyment of life.
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Unfortunately, depression in men especially those over 50, is often overlooked because we find it difficult to talk about our feelings. Instead, we tend to focus on the physical symptoms that often accompany it, back pain, headaches, difficulty sleeping, or sexual problems. This can result in the underlying depression going untreated, which can have serious consequences.
Men suffering from depression are four times more likely to commit suicide than women, so it’s vital for any man to seek help with depression before feelings of despair become overwhelming.
Rachel Boyd Head of Information at Mind said: “While most people can relate to the idea of feeling tense in the lead-up to a stressful event like a job interview or moving house, mental health problems such as anxiety and depression have a much bigger impact on your life."
Why do men over 50 suffer so badly with depression and anxiety? Juggling the multiple responsibilities of midlife can take a toll. Caring for family members, dealing with bereavement or divorce; the pressures of work, the expectations of yourself and others whilst coping with an uncertain job market and financial pressures can create a toxic environment. An environment in which depression can take hold.
"Men between the ages of 49 - 59 are some of the least happy people in the UK with some of the lowest levels of life satisfaction and the highest levels of anxiety."
2016 ONS (Office of National Statistics).
Signs and symptoms of depression in men: Men tend to be less adept at recognising symptoms of depression than women. We often deny our feelings, hiding them from ourselves and those around. While we may experience the classic symptoms of depression such as despondent mood, loss of interest in work, hobbies, and sex; sleep disturbances, fatigue, and concentration problems, we are more likely than women to experience “stealth” depression symptoms such as anger, substance abuse, and agitation.
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The three most commonly overlooked signs of depression in men are:
1. Physical pain: Backache, frequent headaches, sleep problems, sexual dysfunction, or digestive disorders that don’t respond to normal treatment.
2. Anger: This could range from irritability, sensitivity to criticism, or a loss of your sense of humour to road rage, a short temper, or even violence. Some men become abusive or controlling.
3. Reckless behaviour: A man suffering from depression may exhibit escapist or risky behaviour such as pursuing dangerous sports, driving recklessly, or engaging in unsafe sex. He might drink too much, abuse drugs, or gamble compulsively.
How to know if you’re depressed: If you identify with several of the following, you may be suffering from depression.
You feel hopeless and helpless
You’ve lost interest in friends, activities, and things you used to enjoy
You’re much more irritable, short-tempered, or aggressive than usual
You’re consuming more alcohol, engaging in reckless behaviour, or self-medicating
You feel restless, agitated and fatigued
Your sleep and appetite has changed
You can’t concentrate or your productivity at work has declined
You can’t control your negative thoughts.
Let's be clear just because you identify with some of the feelings listed above, it doesn't mean you're suffering from clinical depression, it just means that if these feelings persist you might want to have a talk with your doctor.
Here are 8 strategies that can help you fight depression:
1. Don't suppress your feelings: If you’re having a down day, have it. Let yourself feel the emotions — but just don’t stay there. Think about writing a diary about your experiences both good and bad. Seeing the ebb and flow of depressive symptoms can be instructive for both self-healing and hope.
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2. Remember that today isn’t indicative of tomorrow: Today’s moods, emotions, or thoughts don’t belong to tomorrow. Just because today didn't go as you had hoped, don't project that into tomorrow. Draw a line under today and remember this is your chance for a fresh start.
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3. Do the opposite of what the ‘depression voice’ suggests: The negative internal dialogue that often accompanies depression can be very persuasive, and destructive. Learn to recognise it. Address each thought as it comes and try replacing a negative with a positive. If you believe an event won’t be fun or worth your time, say to yourself, “You might be right, but it’ll be better than just sitting here another night.” You may soon see the negative isn’t always realistic.
4. Set attainable goals: Instead of compiling a long list of tasks which may feel overwhelming and ultimately provide you with a reason not to do something, try giving yourself just one or two things to do. For example:
Don’t clean the house; take out the dustbin instead
Don’t do all the laundry that’s piled up; just sort the piles by colour.
Don’t clear out your entire email inbox; just deal with any time-sensitive messages.
Focus on each of these little victories and use them to propel you forward towards your next task.
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5. Reward your efforts: Recognise and celebrate your successes. When you achieve a goal, do your best to mark it. The memory of success can be a powerful weapon in the fight against the negative voice of depression.
6. Create a routine: Depressive symptoms can disrupt your daily routine, setting a gentle schedule can help you feel in control. Don't try to map out the whole day just focus on creating anchor points in your day when you know you will carry out particular activities. So it might be having a routine around getting up, or having lunch at a particular time etc. This will help you to keep going even when the negative voice of depression says stop.
7. Do something you enjoy: Depression can push you to give in to your fatigue. It may feel more powerful than happy emotions. Try to push back and do something you love — something that’s relaxing, but energising. It could be playing an instrument, painting, hiking, or biking.
These activities can provide subtle lifts in your mood and energy, which may help you overcome your symptoms.
8. Try something new entirely: When you do the same thing day after day, you use the same parts of your brain. You can challenge your neurons and alter your brain chemistry by doing something entirely different.
Severe depression can be intense and unrelenting. If you feel that you (or someone you know) may have anxiety or depression, don't suffer in silence. Talk to someone about how you're feeling. Make an appointment at your GP. Once correctly diagnosed, there is plenty you can do to successfully treat and manage depression and prevent it from coming back.
There is help available.
If you're not sure where to start then check out these websites:
If you or someone you know is experiencing a personal crisis and need someone to talk you can text Shout to 85258 and they will call you back (see the website: www.giveusashout.org.uk for more information) or call the Samaritans on 116 123 for free day or night (their website address is www.samaritans.org )