Men, Depression and Anxiety
Updated: Mar 14
It starts early.
"Believe in yourself and it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. You just have to believe in yourself and if you want it bad enough, you can do it." -Rick Rypien
Even though nearly 1 in 10 men experience depression or anxiety, fewer than 1 in 20 receive treatment for it. The dark reality is shown with men losing their lives to suicide at a 4x higher rate than women yearly. This issue of depression and anxiety is rooted in both social and familial norms- and it's taught early.
When we look at our favourite heroes at young ages, we may think of Batman, Spiderman, and Iron Man. These men take a beating from their foes, both emotionally and physically, while also 'bottling things up'. Batman loses his parents, then loses Robin. Iron Man never had a strong relationship with his father. Spiderman saw Uncle Ben die and has to push any friendship away. Whether it's the man or the hero, all of these men fail to express any of their issues.
As men age, we tend to now imagine someone like Rocky, Rambo, or Terminator. Alike the superheroes, these movie legends have strength and power. Yet, once again, they suppress showing any sign of emotional weakness. They kept going as though nothing had happened. At an early age, men are told to "be a man" and fight through any pain. Stigma suggests that men who show emotions are weak and "losers", and that pain is something men are supposed to rise above. Furthermore, a man is taught that their role is to protect. A man is tough, cares for his spouse, and brings home money for dinner. This protector mentality extends through generations of manhood. If you don't think this happened in your dad's generation, just look at any straight-faced Clint Eastwood movie.
The dilemma is that from childhood, men are taught to either push through without showing emotions or risk being considered weak. However, the loss here is that a man has to hold all of his emotions in and is never taught how to express any emotions outside of anger. Due to that upbringing, young boys are taught that crying symbolizes weakness and anger is a sign of strength and dominance.
In simplest terms, depression is hurt, held in words; and anger is hurt trying to get out. Although men and women both experience depression, their symptoms can be very different. Men who are depressed may project it through anger or aggression instead of sadness. Consequently, friends, families, and even doctors may recognize the behavior to simply be anger or aggressiveness. I like to ask my clients to consider anger like an iceberg. We can only see 10% of the iceberg, and 90% is below the surface. In that vein, we see anger as outbursts, but underneath there could be issues of anxiety, depression, low worth, insecurity, embarrassment, and so much more. Anger can disrupt relationships, affect thinking and behavior patterns, and create a variety of physical problems. So why do we do it when we feel low? Because we want to be like Batman! Bruce Wayne holds all of his anger in until he becomes Batman. Rambo takes a beating, then comes back angry to fight his villains. Because men are taught that emotions are for the weak and they ought to be strong, anger is the behavior that shows a level of stress that supposedly isn't feminine. From a young age men are taught that most emotions are feminine except for anger.
Consider covert depression to be covering the usual symptoms of depression. Covert depression is much less familiar, and it makes sense why. Irritation, road rage, aggressiveness, and self-medication all seem normal and healthy in the short term; however, it is likely rooted in shame. Shame is usually a sense of insecurity in one's self. This can happen at home, at work, in society, or even during sex. Imagine if a hockey player has a bad shift or hits the post. He can either learn to ground himself or start throwing his stick around at the bench. In hindsight, most issues aren't that big. When we are outside looking in, we might think that the hockey player needs to cool down because it's not a big deal. However, he might start thinking that he's not enough; not enough for the team, not enough for the fans, his wife, his kids, and so on (The loop of self-hatred can go on endlessly).
Tony Stark as Iron Man is an example of covert depression. He is charismatic, rich, and intelligent. He also deals with a deep depression caused by losing his mother and father. His rich lifestyle, alcoholism, and charisma are generally a mask he puts on to not deal with his actual issues. Furthermore, people like Tony Stark have a high level of grandiosity. Grandiosity refers to a sense of over-asserted self-importance that might lead to the following: boasting about real or exaggerated accomplishments; considering oneself more talented or intelligent than others; and dismissing or trying to one-up the achievements of others. This sense of entitlement is usually caused by a feeling of inferiority from early childhood. Some examples of grandiosity in film can be Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network'', Jack Nicholson in "As Good As It Gets", Rachel McAdams in "Mean Girls", Matt Damon in "The Departed," and Harvey Spector in "Suits".
When one thinks of body image issues, they generally think of it as a women's issue. Because men have more outward behavior, mental health and low self-esteem issues are often the root causes of poor behaviors like anger outbursts, alcoholism, and even abuse. Like women, men are born with a self-fulfilling prophecy of what they should look like. For instance, traditional societal and familial norms suggest that women should be nurturing and feminine. Conversely, men are pressured into a belief that they must be physically strong, emotionally masculine, and definitely not cry. Because media and magazines tend to encourage a man to focus on their appearance, body dissatisfaction can lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and contribute to other underlying mental health conditions. In addition, teen boys who experience bullying due to their appearance may continue to suffer from body dissatisfaction. As a result, a man can get into cognitive dysfunctions and believe that they are simply not enough if they don't look like Dwayne Johnson or Luke Schenn. These unrealistic expectations can then cause body and muscle dysfunctions. Muscle dysfunctions can cause someone who goes to the gym consistently and eats healthy to constantly overwork because in their mind, they are not doing enough. These mental cognitions can be caused by family, societal, or social media pressures.
In these times of great anxiety and distress, many of us are turning to substances to try to change the way that we feel. You might use food to give your mood a boost or alleviate boredom. You might smoke a joint to help you relax, or have a drink or two before going out to settle your nerves and ease any social anxiety. When you use alcohol or drugs in this way to manage symptoms of a mental health issue, it's known as "self-medicating".
While self-medicating may offer some relief in the short-term, over time it only exacerbates your problems. Whether you turn to alcohol, illegal drugs, or prescription medications (or even food or cigarettes), regular self-medication can lead to addiction, a worsening of mood disorders, and increased health problems. It can also damage your relationships at home, work, and school. I like to think of self-medication like taking a Tylenol for a headache. The pill might numb out your headache, but the cause of your headache (dehydration, stress, hunger, etc.) is still there.
According to a recent Men's Health Article, more than 6 million men experience depression on any given day and more than 3 million have anxiety on any given day. While those statistics are not necessarily startling, what follows are:
Male suicide is rising at such an alarming rate that it has been classified as a silent epidemic.
Men are four times more likely than women to commit suicide.
Suicide is now the second most common cause of death among men from age 10 to 39.
A staggering 75% - 80% of all U.S "completed" suicides are men.
Women are more likely to "attempt" suicide, but men are more likely to complete the act and that is largely due to the violent way men choose to end their lives (firearms).
Men are less likely to openly exhibit warning signs or discuss suicidal ideations and thoughts with others, even with those that we know and trust.
One out of every five men will develop an alcohol dependency during his life to cope with depression and anxiety.
More than 90% of those diagnosed with Schizophrenia by age 30 are men.
An estimated 10 million men suffer from eating disorders.
If you or someone you know is going through mental health struggles reach out today. No one should have to suffer in silence.