Depression is an Illness, Not a Weakness

APR. 21, 2017

By Joshua Beharry and Dr. John Ogrodniczuk


While growing up, boys learn what it means to “be a man.” Unfortunately, some of these “manly” teachings can be downright harmful like “big boys don’t cry,” “suck it up,” “tough it out,” and more.  Most boys are taught to ignore or dismiss their feelings—internalizing vulnerability and asking for help as weakness. Boys then grow into men, without ever being in touch with their emotions or knowing how to identify or describe what’s bothering them.

For these reasons, many men find depression a difficult topic to discuss. They feel ashamed that they need help and are too embarrassed to ask for it. “For a long time, I’d been pushing things away, hiding my emotions and pretending that everything was okay, but it was getting to the point where I was afraid that I’d drifted too far and I wasn’t going to come back,” says Joel Robison, concept photographer and mental health advocate.

Starting the conversation is the first step towards recovery. For many men who have overcome depression, the turning point came when they reached out to a friend or family member for support. It’s usually something they wished they had done sooner rather than later. Here are specific things any guy can do to start a conversation about mental health:

Talking to a Friend or Family Member

If you don’t normally talk about your mental health or feelings, it can be hard to know which person in your life is best to talk to. And you may be worried about the reaction you’ll get if you reach out. Just keep in mind that the conversation doesn’t have to be perfect, and you should only share what you’re comfortable with. Try easing in:

  • “I’ve been getting pretty stressed lately.”
  • “I’m going through a tough time right now, and I think something might be wrong.”
  • “I think I may be depressed, have you noticed me seeming more down lately?”

Be prepared for different responses—in particular, don’t be deterred if you don’t find the support you were hoping for right away. But if things go well, you can talk more and ask for more specific support, like working out together or helping you keep up with chores. Most people are happy to be given a chance to lend a hand in a time of need. When you’re doing better, you can return the favor.

Talking to a Professional

Depression is a serious illness. It can make your life miserable if it’s not treated properly. When you break your arm, you go to the doctor. If you have ongoing serious pain, you go to the doctor. If you think you may have depression, you go to the doctor. That’s how simple it should be. When you talk to a doctor, you’re talking to someone who knows about depression, and whose job it is to help you. That’s why it’s essential to get their input.

If you’re hesitant to see a doctor because you think they’ll just throw medication at you, know that medication isn’t the only treatment for depression. Your doctor can give you advice about certain lifestyle changes and different treatment options that may or may not include medications.

Once you’re at your appointment, it may feel a little awkward getting started. Be as honest and as specific as possible about how you’re feeling and the impact it’s having on your life. Here are some examples:

  • “I can’t sleep at all.”
  • “I’m too tired to go to work, but I keep going out drinking.”
  • “I don’t want to see my friends anymore; I’m sick of everyone.”
  • “Sex isn’t interesting me like it used to and it’s getting harder to perform.”
  • “I’ve been gaining (or losing) a lot of weight recently.”

Depression is one of the leading risk factors for suicide. It’s a real and serious condition that affects millions every year. Talking about depression is never easy, but men everywhere need to start talking about their mental health. There are effective treatments and there’s no shame in seeking support. In fact, reaching out could very well be the smartest and bravest thing you could do. It could save your life.


Joshua R Beharry — Since recovering from experiences with depression and a suicide attempt in 2010, Joshua R. Beharry has become a passionate advocate for mental health. Josh is currently the project coordinator for HeadsUpGuys.

Dr. John Ogrodniczuk — Dr. Ogrodniczuk is a Professor and Director of the Psychotherapy Program in the Department of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia. His research has been supported by various provincial and national funding bodies, and has led to more than 150 scientific publications. John is also a co-founder of HeadsUpGuys.


AUG, 28, 2018 02:07:15 PM
In response to Terri saying it isn't an illness...
The pushing down of feelings and emotions IS a symptom of the disease (illness)
Depression is a recognized medical illness. If someone had cancer you don't tell them the symptoms they are having is the actual cause if the disease.

AUG, 23, 2018 08:29:16 AM
It's not an illness, it's a symptom of something else that's wrong. In relation to your post, it's caused by the pushing down of emotions and not talking about the issues.

JUL, 07, 2017 10:22:41 PM
Lauren Hope
I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder when I was 16, I am now 33. I have been on a round of meds, but I've finally found one that works called Viibryd. Living with depression is a challenge, but everyday I am trying. I am now a public speaker and I speak about living with depression and surviving suicide. It is possible... and you can live with your condition.

MAY, 14, 2017 04:54:07 PM
John Caruso
I have had depression going on now for at least 10 years maybe 20 and recently found a med that helped, Viibryd, but that has lost its effectiveness. My spouse does not understand my depression and is not very supportive but overall it is a good place to live. My psychiatrist is going to give me another drug soon. I wish all of you well.

MAY, 09, 2017 10:20:55 PM
Caregivers share in the suffering. while there are more and more efforts and medications for the mentally ill, there is little to no instruction, assistance, or care for the care giver. If you are a care giver and you have the opportunity to attend a NAMI Family to Family course, TAKE IT! If you have a local NAMI group, most of them have separate "Caregivers groups that meet in one room while their loved ones meet in another.
How many caregivers go to their loved ones Psychiatrist, keep track of medication efficacy, and side effects? While doctors have to abide by patient / Dr. confidentiality, They are not bound by this if you need to tell them something. You can not expect a mentally ill person to have a good recollection of their moods and behaviors for a month or more between visits, and your perception is likely very different than theirs. BE AN ADVOCATE!

APR, 29, 2017 08:58:07 AM
Ramada aubrey
It's like a death in the family, he goes away and comes back totally different and ANGERY.. seeing things that are not there to me and hearing voices in his head daily and saying I don't care what he is going through is me and I have depression. For all his physical problems he says he has saying things like my heart has stopped, or my head is growing or it's I'm losing my brains out of my head. There's the blame game every single day. I get so down I can't see the sun. He takes some meds but they don't seem to help and the doctors don't seem to care. I would like to talk to those doctors and ask why don't they start changing my son's meds to help with his sciatic behavior and so angery..always my fault..

APR, 27, 2017 04:34:16 PM
Barbara Topolosky
Unfortunately, man or woman, there is still a huge stigma associated with mental illness.

APR, 27, 2017 12:26:01 PM
Same goes for women. I am female and was taught to hide my emotions, because they only made things worse. They made more powerful adults angrier, and less powerful adults afraid for my safety and theirs. "Be quiet and hide, and take your little sister with you." No wonder emotions feel "wrong" now and why my own depression seems like a taboo subject. And I'm almost 60 yrs old.

APR, 26, 2017 09:11:51 PM
Cindy Cates
What an awesome article! I read it just in time to share it with my good friend Tim as he battles Depression, Anxiety and PTSD. Accepting the fact that these maladies are illnesses and not a matter of choice or weakness is perhaps one of the hardest things he's ever had to do. Thanks to your article, the denial process can begin to fade away.

APR, 26, 2017 08:21:45 PM
Paula Chow
Depression is something you can have for a long time and others may not even
know, but it affects you on the inside a lot. My daughter has psychosis due to
Bipolar illness. It is very difficult to live with and it affects me with more depression.

APR, 26, 2017 07:41:55 PM
Kendra James

APR, 25, 2017 03:55:37 AM
I´m Japanese, and in Japan I see many big boys weep and cry when they are so happy, so moved, or so sad. You find tons of men crying because the soccer team they are supporting won the trophy.
And many men don't hesitate to go to the doctor so much.

And we have national Medicare system here. I have schizoaffective disorder and I go to the doctor ones a month, I pay about $50 a month for seeing the doctor, buying medicine, and receiving counselling altogether.
I hear the doctor's bill is very high in the US. Are there any people who can´t go to the doctor for economic reason?

One American girl gave me this words before, “The Only Normal People Are the Ones you don't know very well.”
I think I treasure this saying for the rest of my life.

I've seen many Japanese men under super stress and pressure at the hospital and they don't seem to take receiving medical support as a shame or not-manly thing.

I hope “woman must act like women” and “Man must act like man.” kind of thing will be terminated.

APR, 22, 2017 03:09:59 PM

APR, 22, 2017 06:14:04 AM
In Japan, we have national Medicare system. All of us can go to doctors for a reasonable price. i guess in the case of US, there are people who can´t receive proper medical support for economic reason. I pay $50 a month for doctor, thrapist, & pills altogether.
Moreover, big boys weep and cry very often here!
People understand “ Not Weak but Sick”
People are rather sympathetic.

APR, 21, 2017 07:33:12 PM
altinea ventura
Fantástico !

APR, 21, 2017 05:51:27 PM

Submit to the NAMI Blog

We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.

Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.