Depression is estimated to become the second most common cause of disability, after heart disease by year 2020, according to a recent British Medical Journal publication. While depression affects men, women and children, depression in men has historically been surrounded by a certain degree of shame. Depression is a ‘women’s disease’ seems to be the message. This misconception is naturally not particularly helpful to the 3-4% of British men who will experience moderate to severe depression at any given point in their lives.
Why is depression generally believed to be a ‘women’s disease?’
Reasons for this stereotypical view of depression are most likely a result of a number of factors. While there is a higher prevalence rate among women (with 7-8% of the female population expected to battle with moderate to severe depression during the course of a lifetime), the view that it is unmanly to suffer with depression may stem from our cultural notion of a stoic man being a ‘real’ man.
In British culture men are generally discouraged from a very young age from expressing emotion. The expectation for men to be in control of all aspects of their lives, and if not, then certainly not cry about it, sadly does not fit well with the realities of depression.
The danger of untreated depression
Depression can be measured on a continuum from mild to severe and from transient to chronic. And while depression is expressed differently in men, women and children, untreated depression is potentially life threatening. One of the most obvious concerns of depression is suicide, and although more women than men attempt suicide, men more often complete suicide.
One of the most important factors in suicidal ideation is a strong sense of hopelessness. And contrary to what one might think, most depressed people do not wish to die, - they merely want the pain to stop, - but have lost faith in the fact that it ever will. Depression might not result in suicide, but might instead drive addictive behaviours that will require treatment to overcome.
Interestingly fewer British men than women are diagnosed with depression, although a greater number of male sufferers commit suicide. Dismissing these facts as coincidence would be irresponsible, as this may reveal something central about one of the maintaining factors of depression in men. Namely, the lack of open forum, be it the workplace, friends, or family, in which to express openly the feelings that might drive the depression.
An important message to take away is the fact that things can change, and that seeking professional treatment, in whatever form that may take, is the vital first step towards a brighter future.