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.