Depression is a serious but treatable medical condition that can strike anyone regardless of age, ethnic background, social position, or gender. Whether you’re a chief executive officer, a doctor, a construction worker, an artist, a police officer, or a student; whether you are rich or poor; surrounded by loved ones or alone; you are not immune to depression. Some factors, however, such as family history, undue stress, the loss of a loved one, or serious illnesses, can make you more vulnerable.
Currently, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. If left untreated, depression can result in poor work performance, substance abuse, and broken families. Research suggests that men are less likely to seek treatment for depression. Data also shows that South African men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women. Men aged 18 to 24 form the highest suicide group in many countries.
For years’ boys don’t cry was a common opinion, this ‘suck it up’ mentality extending to all areas of men’s health from the mental to the physical. But it is important to consider that men between the ages of 20 and 40 are half as likely to seek medical help as women. Once again, experts point back to the fact that fear and shame often keep men with mental problems from seeking help. With appropriate diagnosis and treatment, however, most people recover.
What is depression?
Depression, also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression, is a common but serious mood disorder that may cause severe symptoms. Depression affects the body, mind, and behaviour – in other words, the ability to feel, think and handle daily activities.
Both men and women get depression, but their symptoms may be very different. Men who are depressed may appear to be irritable, angry, or aggressive instead of sad. Men with depression may feel exhausted and lose interest in work, family, or hobbies. They may be more likely to have difficulty sleeping than women who have depression and may also be more likely to use alcohol and drugs to cope with their depression rather than talking about it. They may use escapist behaviour too, such as throwing themselves into their work.
Sometimes their mental health symptoms appear to be physical issues. For example, a racing heart, tightening chest, ongoing headaches, or digestive issues can be signs of a mental health problem. Many men are more likely to see their doctor about physical symptoms such as feeling tired or run down than emotional symptoms. They may be willing to talk with their regular health professional about a new difficulty they are having at work or losing interest in doing things they usually enjoy.
How can I help myself if I am depressed?
Early intervention is critical at managing mental health issues, so please don’t wait. Talking with your general practitioner may be a good first step toward learning about and treating possible depression. Getting help earlier than later can relieve symptoms quicker and reduce the length of time treatment is needed. Most mental illnesses are best treated by a three-pronged approach that involves medication, therapy, and self-help. The best solution is to find a skilled psychologist and psychiatrist that can work in conjunction to ensure that you are receiving the best possible treatment for your illness.
Other things that may help include:
- Spending time with loved ones and talking with a friend or relative about your feelings.
- Increasing your level of physical activity. Regular exercise can help people with mild to moderate depression and maybe one part of a treatment plan for those with severe depression. Talk with your health care professional about what kind of exercise is right for you.
- Breaking up large tasks into small ones and tackling what you can as you can. Don’t try to do too many things at once.
- Delaying important decisions until you feel better. Discuss decisions with others who know you well.
- Keeping stable daily routines, for example, eating and going to bed at the same time every day.
- Avoiding alcohol.
Where can I go for help?
If you think you or someone you know needs help, visit a mental health practitioner for professional support. Don’t let stigma prevent you from taking action and seeking help.
You can also find resources online on The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) website at www.sadag.org or call one of the following helplines for practical and emotional advice and support:
- National Lifeline: 0861 322 322 or WhatsApp: 065 989 9238
- Cipla SADAG Mental Health Line: 0800 4567 789 or WhatsApp 076 88 22 775
- Adcock Ingram Depression and Anxiety Helpline: 0800 708 090
Depression can affect any man at any age. However, with the proper treatment, most men with depression can get better and gain back their interest in work, family, and hobbies.
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