Health & Wellness

Real Men Get Depressed

By Kimberlee Roth
Once upon a time, depression was seen as a women’s issue. Women were more likely to express their feelings, visit counselors, and schedule psychiatric appointments. Over time, however, it was learned that men commit suicide four times more frequently than women. They are also more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Clearly, men do get depressed. It’s just that they are less likely to recognize it, talk about it, or seek help for it. Often, they’re afraid that seeing a mental health professional will have a negative effect on their jobs, or that their families will think less of them as men. Many men take pride in being the provider, the rock of their family. The last thing they want is to be considered weak, flawed or mentally ill. 
The reality is that depression can strike anyone – regardless of age, ethnic background, socioeconomic status, or gender. Moreover, people don’t realize that physical ailments, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain, can actually be symptoms of depression.
Art’s Story
When Art Mellor was diagnosed with MS in the summer of 2000, it didn’t take the energetic entrepreneur and software engineer long to swing into action. Frustrated by the slow progress toward a cure, he founded the Accelerated Cure Project, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to curing MS by determining its cause. 
“My one word to describe myself is ‘passionate,’” he says. “I was always up, always energized about something.  If a barrier was put up, I could just bounce through it, around it or over it.”
But in the months following his MS diagnosis, Art found his passion waning. He started declining invitations for him and his wife Debbie to socialize with friends. He spent increasing amounts of time surfing the Internet. Debbie noticed that he would sit on the couch and stare into space, something he wasn’t likely to do before. He even alluded to occasional thoughts of suicide.
Debbie noticed that Art’s “spark” was missing. “I just looked at Art and realized something had changed,” she says. 
“But I wasn’t really aware of it,” Art says. “Until one day Debbie said, ‘I can’t take it anymore! You’re so depressed.’”
“She really snapped it into focus,” he says. “It was like, ‘Oh yeah, I didn’t used to be like this.’ Ironically, my depression prevented me from wanting to fix the problem. That’s when I decided to talk to my neurologist about it.”
People with MS experience higher rates of depression than the general population. Scientists aren’t sure exactly why, although evidence points to multiple factors, including physiological effects of the disease on the central nervous system; the psychological effect of living with a chronic, often debilitating condition; MS medication side effects and sleep disturbances.
Although Art has a history of depression in his family, he hadn’t experienced it himself until he began taking an interferon-based drug soon after his diagnosis. Interferon is known to cause depression in some people. His neurologist prescribed an antidepressant, one that had worked for a relative of Art’s. While it was somewhat helpful, Art still has spells of depression, although that depressed feeling is no longer continuous.
Art’s depression stirred up a lot of emotions for Debbie as well. Prior to Art’s diagnosis with MS, she attributed his lack of interest in their usual social activities to being uncooperative or difficult. Now that she has a better understanding, she often feels anger at the situation, but sadness for Art. “You hate to see the person you love in pain.” While she does feel a sense of frustration, she stops short of feeling resentment. “I think we give depression the credit it deserves. We don’t push it. If Art doesn’t feel like doing something, we don’t do it.”
Monitoring Depression and Adherence to Meds
In addition to taking his medication, Art learned to recognize the telltale signs that he’s going into a depressive state. He was able to do that by using a structured approach to monitoring his depression, especially in the beginning when he was first getting a handle on it.
“I found the Depression Wellness Guide really helpful. It’s a book developed by Families for Depression Awareness. It has a section with worksheets where you can monitor feelings, situations, and personal triggers to depression. That was a great tool for me.” 
Today, when he notices a change in how he’s feeling, Art warns his wife. Then, he reminds himself that it’s going to go away in a few days or weeks. “It seems weird to think I didn’t notice before, but in the beginning, I just couldn’t tell when it was happening.” 
In addition to monitoring his moods, Art has also found that keeping a seven-day pillbox next to his bed helps him maintain his medication regimen. “I was bad about forgetting before I started doing that. I’d forget for several days and then feel really bad.”
Debbie says she is grateful for his high level of self-awareness and how direct they can be with each other. “As soon as I raise the question, ‘Are you feeling depressed?’ he’s very quick to acknowledge that, ‘Yes, this is the depression I’m feeling; it’s not directed toward you.’” 
“For me, the hardest part about depression has been accepting that it’s not something I can use willpower to push through,” Art says. “It’s not like being sore or tired or stressed out.”  At times, he admits, he is fearful about the future. “I feel like the depression has the potential to turn me into a different person and not necessarily a person I would like. I’m concerned about how my relationships will be impacted if I’m not me – or who I consider ‘me’ to be.”
Research has shown that depression is real and treatable – and no more a sign of weakness than any other illness. Men like Art are helping to shed light on a topic that has been in the dark for too long. Treatment takes time, patience, and commitment. Finding the right medication can be a time-consuming, trial-and-error process. Sometimes, it takes 6-8 weeks of treatment before any improvement is seen. You’ll need to be tough and determined. Depression is an insidious and challenging opponent. Whatever you do, don’t let it win!
Families for Depression Awareness

Telephone: 781-890-0220
National Institute of Mental Health
Public Information and Communications Branch
Toll-Free: 866-615-NIMH (6464)
Phone: 301-443-4513
TTY: 301-443-8431
TTY Toll-Free: 866-415-8051
Kimberlee Roth is a freelance writer specializing in health, psychology and relationships. She is the author of Surviving a Borderline Parent (New Harbinger Publications, 2003).
(Last reviewed 7/2009)