When the COO of a large multinational jumped to his death in Gurgaon a few weeks back, many people were understandably shocked. “He was a strong man.” He seemed fine.” “We never knew he was depressed.”
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated occurrence. Men in the new India are suffering from increasing stress and depression.
The popular belief is that women are more susceptible to depression than men; given that women certainly are diagnosed with depression, twice as often as men are. However, consider the rates of suicide—men commit suicide twice as often as women. Then, add to that the high rates of substance abuse, anger, and violent crimes in men, and the inevitable conclusion is that depression is probably under-diagnosed in men.
One central factor is the way society has trained men not to be in touch with their vulnerable side. From the time you were a boy, you have heard people tell you, “Boys don’t cry.” “Be strong.” “Be better than the rest.”The boy’s emotional side is subtly diminished and smothered by society and he grows up to be a man unaware of his own feelings; especially when these feelings remind him of fragility and vulnerability, like feelings of sadness, fear, anxiety and stress.
And so when a man is depressed, he may not express it, and may not even know it.
But in order to better understand depression in men, we need to understand what is known as clinical depression.
So, What Is Clinical Depression?
Depression, or Major Depressive Disorder, is not the same as sadness, although a person often suffers from sadness in this condition.
Clinical depression, as defined by psychiatrists, is a condition where a person feels a low mood or decreased interest and pleasure in doing activities, for the most part of the day—nearly every day—for at least two weeks. And this feeling causes significant problems in daily life.
Other symptoms may include changes in appetite and sleep—either too much or too little—irritability, decreased memory and concentration, lowered self-esteem, decreased motivation and energy, and thoughts about death and dying. In more severe cases, a person can suffer from extreme hopelessness, wracked by emotional pain and because of this, may even commit suicide.
These symptoms occur because of changes in brain functioning, and this alteration in brain function, subsequently, often occurs when a genetically vulnerable person goes through emotional stress.
It is thought that more than 50% of Indians have the genetics for depression–that is, after significant emotional stress, at least 50% of our country could suffer from clinical depression. Clearly then, each person in our country must learn to deal with stress, disappointment and dissatisfaction.
Two Key Areas That Cause Stress Are Career And Relationships
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For many men, problems in relationship, especially heartbreak and unrequited love, can cause so much emotional pain that it results in clinical depression.
Since clinical depression itself can decrease self-esteem and sexual functioning, many of you feel even more hopeless, and sadly, this vicious cycle of heartbreak, depression, stress, loneliness and worsening depression has hurt many men.
Yes, women are more attuned to their own emotional state and are often more emotionally resilient – they tend to talk more about their feelings with their friends and are not afraid to ask for support. Men, however, often channel their sadness and despair externally—into their work, into their anxious hyperactivity, anger. And in some extreme cases, they resort to the use of substances to numb their feelings.
Men—as well as women—who are unaware of their emotional state may feel physical pain and fatigue. In some cases, back pain, abdominal pain, headaches and neck pain are common, as well. But, in the world that we live in, a man can no longer afford to be estranged from his own true emotions.
As a modern Indian man, you need to be well attuned to your emotional state of being. You need to know that there is nothing emasculating about seeking help, or speaking to someone about how you have been feeling.
The first step to recovery is is when you acknowledge your own feelings—to know if you are feeling sad or fearful, or to be aware of the hurt and fear that underlies the anger. Speaking with a qualified counselor is a great way to begin the process of healing from depression.
As our society changes, hopefully men will become even more emotionally attuned, retaining their strong masculine identity; but combined with gentle self-acceptance and empathy.
Written for MensXP June 2016