Stealth Depression in Men:
Unmasking its 6 Disguises
Depression: It’s not always what you think
When we hear the word “depression,” we often think of crying, sadness, and feelings of low self-esteem. What many people don’t realize is that depression often hides behind behaviors that we generally don’t associate with unhappiness. This can be particularly true in men, who may have been taught from a young age to mask feelings of sadness with other behaviors that society considers more masculine. Without identifying their symptoms as depression, many men go untreated, which over time can have devastating consequences on his mental health, physical well-being, and relationships.
What qualifies as depression?
Depression is not merely defined by sadness – rather, sadness is a symptom of depression. Depression is caused by an underlying belief of not being good enough in some way, which can be applied to a number of areas in a person’s life. Symptoms impact a person’s thoughts, behaviors, and feelings, and are a result of believing that the core of who they are is in some way deficient. Some core beliefs include feeling unlovable, worthless, defective, powerless, hopeless, or incompetent. These underlying beliefs provide fuel to the fire for symptoms of depression. In many cases, these beliefs take the form a constant inner voice that perceives situations in a negative, self-deprecating way.
There are several effective treatments for depression, but all too often, depression in men goes under the radar. Many men experiencing depression don’t show the stereotypical red flags; instead of expressing despair or showing vulnerability, their behaviors may appear destructive or indifferent. Loved ones may view their actions as malicious or cruel, not knowing the underlying pain that is causing them. Learning ways that depression disguises itself in men can help men and their loved ones understand their symptoms and discover ways to take action and overcome them.
The 6 stealthy disguises of depression in men:
1. The Mask of Anger
Society tends to view anger as a much more acceptable display of emotion in men than expressions of sadness. Because of this, some men manage their depression (which they still might not be aware of) by projecting their negative feelings onto the outside world. If you find yourself feeling irritable often or arguing frequently, anger may be a working as a mask to disguise depression.
2. The Ruse of Risk-Taking
While a little risk-taking can add a healthy dose of thrill to anyone’s life, excessive reckless behavior can be a sign of depression. If you find yourself eager to start fights, driving drunk, having unsafe sex, or gambling in excess, these behaviors may be a subconscious effort to give yourself temporary relief from underlying pain.
3. The Slump of Sex Drive
It’s common for people struggling with depression to find decreased enjoyment in activities they once found pleasurable, including fun in the bedroom. It’s normal for a man’s libido to change throughout his life, but if you’ve noticed a significant decrease in sexual desire, less enjoyment from sex, or are having symptoms of erectile dysfunction, it’s possible that depression is rearing its head in your love life.
4. The Camouflage of Pain
Depression can also manifest itself in physical pain. Frequent body aches, stomach and gastrointestinal pains, chronic fatigue, or increased pain sensitivity can be signs of depression. These symptoms can also worsen depression as pains may discourage men from engaging in fun, physical activities that could elevate their mood.
5. The Cover-up of Drinking up
Unaware of healthier ways to cope, many men turn to drugs or alcohol to drown their negative feelings. While many guys can enjoy the occasional drink to “take the edge off,” every time a man drinks to numb his feelings, he is robbing himself of being able to resolve them. Substances allow him to temporarily forget his troubles, but once the high wears off, he is back at square one and often more depressed than before. Using substances to cover up depression is a common recipe toward addiction.
6. The Cloak of Isolation
When a man is depressed, it’s common for him to isolate himself from others. This could include staying at work late or spending lots of time on video games or their cellphone. It can appear to loved ones that he is not interested in spending time with them; in reality, these behaviors are a response to underlying feelings of inadequacy that decrease his motivation and interest in enjoying the company of others.
How can a man battle depression?
If you’re a man experiencing any of depression’s stealthy disguises,
Dr. Christopher Sample, Specialist in Men’s Issues, recommends these tips:
Confront your “stinking thinking”
Whichever “mask” you are experiencing, there are some negative thought patterns directing your mind toward anger, risk-taking, etc. Becoming aware of these thoughts as they arise is an important starting point. When negative ideas come to mind, consider if your thoughts may be stemming from a negative belief about yourself.
Take your thoughts to court
Men with depression have often trained their brains to hone in on the negative perspective, but remember that negative thoughts are not facts. Acknowledge your negative thoughts and come up with evidence against them. Try thinking of healthier, more positive ways to interpret events and situations in your life. Over time, your healthier perspective will lay the foundation for being able to overcome depression and love yourself.
Ditch the devil on your shoulder
Remember the cartoons where the main character had a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other? Much like the devil and the angel, or the Id and the superego, we cannot eliminate the devil, only choose not to listen to him/her. Picture your negative thoughts as the “shoulder” you aren’t going to listen to. Work on empowering a more positive voice by focusing on the evidence you’ve build up against your negative thoughts.
“My wife didn’t cook dinner because she hates me.
“Maybe she didn’t make me dinner because she worked all day and didn’t get much sleep last night.”
Hit the gym
The mind and body are connected, and it’s hard to keep one in optimal health without strengthening the other. One way to aid depression is to treat your body through diet and exercise. Your increased endorphins will combat your fatigue and body aches, giving you energy to pursue other fulfilling activities. It can be hard to prioritize the gym when you have work and other obligations. Eating a high protein diet and hitting the gym after work two to three times a week can be a good start in naturally boosting your mood.
Keep fun on your calendar
Getting caught up in life’s responsibilities can make a man lose sight of the enjoyable side of life. Make sure to set time aside every week for a fun or relaxing activity that you enjoy. Dr. Christopher Sample suggests asking yourself, “If I was the happiest I’ve ever been, what would I do for fun right now? What activity would keep me feeling great?” Allow yourself to engage in these activities on a regular basis. Put the phone down and look up; set specific time that is focused on enjoyment, leisure, and relaxation.
Fake it ‘til you make it
When you are battling depression, you sometimes have to take action first and let the positive feelings come later. You may not feel like going out to eat with your coworkers or waking up early on Sunday for a pick-up soccer game, but show up anyway. Socializing and connecting with loved ones will strengthen your relationships and provide evidence against any negative beliefs that fuel the fire of your depression. Often, these connections can act as a reminder you that you are valued, cared for, and good enough.
Talk to a Specialist
Many men experience depression in a variety forms, but it can be a hard topic to understand or discuss. In a few sessions, a specialist in men’s issues can help you identify what you are going through and guide you through steps to overcoming your challenges.
Dr. Christopher J. Sample, Psy.D. specializes in supporting men through life’s challenges and transitions. Men face a variety of unique obstacles throughout their lives, and Dr. Sample is experienced in helping men cope with issues such as depression, anxiety, anger, marriage, relationship, and dating problems, work stress and career advancement, addiction, veteran’s issues, and trauma. Dr. Sample provides a comfortable place for men to overcome obstacles and gain the tools for leading successful and fulfilling lives.
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