This is a story from one of our followers that wished to remain anonymous.
The words “mental health” immediately sends up a red flag to a lot of dads. We’re men. We’ve been told all our lives–either directly or indirectly–to “tough it out,” or “keep a stiff upper lip.” Depression is just a word the weak use to describe feeling sad, right?
Depression is a serious issue. Mayo Clinic defines depression as “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.” It is not known exactly what causes depression, but several factors could be involved including brain chemistry, hormones, and a genetic predisposition to the condition. And it’s more common in men–therefore dads–than you think.
A reader, Eric (not his real name) sent in his story recently. He is a stepdad to a teenage son, and he’s struggled with anxiety and depression his entire adult life. A full nine percent of American men report feelings of depression daily, so he is not alone.
The struggle that a lot of men feel in depression is recognizing that it’s ok to be depressed. Mayo Clinic says downplaying of signs and symptoms is one of the leading causes of undiagnosed or untreated depression in men. Here is where we have to strike a balance and learn to be completely honest with ourselves. Here’s Eric, when asked about “sucking it up” and dealing with things:
“Sucking it up is great, to a certain extent. Being strong in difficult situations is very important in life.. but, taking a step back and realizing that it isn’t just everyday things you are dealing with is also important. Ignoring signs of depression can be deadly. You have to differentiate “regular” symptoms of living life vs. symptoms of depression and/or anxiety.”
He’s not exaggerating when he says “deadly.” According to a 2015 study, the suicide rate among men is about four times higher than among women.
Another key is learning how you best cope with things. Eric said his first bout with depression came in the fall, so every year, autumn is a time he really struggles. But, when the season changes to winter, the snow and holiday excitement help him come out of it. Also, being productive and accomplishing projects around the house.
He mentions finding motivation when all you want to do is stay in bed and shut out the world. This is another area where balance is key. Eric has found a healthy system of finding projects to do to keep him motivated, but one of the other signs of depression in men is throwing ourselves into work or hobbies, so much so that we lose touch with what’s important: Family, friends, loved ones.
If we find ourselves in that spot, treatment is a virtual necessity. And that means therapy. That word has a big ol’ stigma to a lot of dudes, but let’s say once and for all, right now, lose it. There is nothing wrong with going to therapy, working on you, and making yourself a better dad, husband and man. Eric credits counseling as one of the key aspects in helping him manage his depression.
The bottom line (the tl;dr of this) is don’t hold things back. Be open and honest with yourself, your wife, your friends, whoever your support system is.
If you need some help, ask.
If you don’t feel right, tell somebody.
Being a dad is a hard job. There’s no need to go it alone.