I had one of those odd conversations recently with a stranger, a young man on the other end of my call for help on an internet query. While waiting for a response on his end, he said he was “quite a reader.” His proof of that was that he had just finished reading Women are from Venus Men are from Mars by John Gray. For the third time. That set me back on my mental heels since I can’t imagine anyone finding that book particularly informative after a once-over. But that's me.
That thought reminded me that men in our society can be pretty clueless about emotional “gunk” and may look for help anywhere they can. We have, in spite of an enlightened view of sex roles, specific ideas of how men should behave. In contrast to women, they should be in control of their worlds. They should be logical. They should be active. They should not be “undone” by problems in their relationships. They should not seem helpless.
Then how is it that more than six million men in the United States have been diagnosed with at least one episode of major depression each year? Isn’t depression a feminine problem? And how many men go undiagnosed simply because of our social expectations of them?
Unfortunately the answer to the last question is, many. Because of the cultural norms we expect, men do not talk about their emotions, they do not often cry. Instead, men deny they feel “bad” and instead focus on common physical symptoms of depression. SYMPTOMS
It is acceptable in America to complain of being tired, not sleeping well, having no appetite (or an outrageous one), lack of interest in sex, or not having problems with co-workers, employers, staff, family. Furthermore, it is not unusual for men (active, take-charge, logical as we expect) to express their depression differently than women, with irritability, hostility, and aggression. Men also rely more heavily than women on alcohol or drugs to “handle” their problems.
Depression is not a thing to be trifled with. The great danger in undiagnosed depression is that untreated, it becomes worse. When men feel they have no help with their complaints, no escape from the pain, they are more likely than women to commit suicide.
We understand a great deal about the causes of depression today, but what we don’t know still fills volumes. A convergence of painful circumstances, poor health habits, and genetics can disrupt our neurotransmitters, reducing the efficacy of serotonin and is not within our personal control anymore than is epilepsy. Serotonin helps our brain cells “talk” to one another and when it does not function well, many of those cells related to mood, sleep, memory, appetite and sexual desire are affected.
Women may indeed be from Venus and men from Mars, but we are not so dissimilar that only Venusians need to have their depression acknowledged and treated.
Marilyn Miller, MS, LPC ~ Psychotherapist
...Delighting every day in helping people find peace in their lives, relieving anxiety, depression, and promoting self-care.