“He seemed fine to me.”
“You never know what a person is going through.”
These are just 2 of the cliched sentiments we express when someone we thought we knew tragically takes his or her own life. In nearly all cases of suicide, bouts of depression are evident. Just 2 weeks ago, former NFL DB Paul Oliver was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. In a USA article last week, Oliver had reportedly fallen into a depression as a result of being cut (basically retiring at 29) and dealing with marital issues
He was playing ball, then he is like a stay-at-home mom,” Scandrett said.
David Scandrett, uncle
One would like to attribute the wave of suicides among professional athletes, namely football players, to the effects of concussions. But depression plaguing men isn’t a “new” thing. It’s been hiding in plain sight for years.
In a comprehensive study conducted by the Dept. of Veteran Affairs, military vets who committed suicide were more likely to be married, widowed, or divorced. The level of education of those who committed suicide stopped at high school. And according to the Dept. of Defense, a record number of service members had taken their lives in 2012.
The most recent national statistics regarding suicide are from 2010. The CDC reported that from 2000-2010, the national rate increased from 10.4 to 12.1 per 100,000 people. Despite the fact that women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression or some form of mental illness, men are nearly 4 times more likely to commit suicide.
I could make this a racial thing, but in my opinion, that’s an unnecessary distraction. Mental health and the ability to cope with depression is a serious problem for all men. Many of the reasons have been researched and documented ad naseum, however let’s look at the more human side of it.
– We hide our lack of strength behind hubris: We all know that the bigger the ego, the harder they fall. 1 of our best defense mechanisms as men is to be extremely confident no matter what. Behind closed doors, though, some men become paranoid and insecure. Not only will we never admit that there’s a problem, we’re very careful to make our behavior match up. The public puts celebrities on this unforgiving pedestal in the sense of they have money to get the help, so they have no excuse. The thing is, those guys are no different than us regular men. When we start to lose the very identity that makes us who are, we’re left with a void that few things can fill. You can only maintain an appearance for so long until you get mentally exhausted with the work it takes to simply be happy.
– We don’t always trust the relationships we have: Earlier this year, I wrote a post offering some advice about how a woman can help the man in her life through depression. Women want to always cheer up their man. It’s coded in their DNA somehow. When they can’t do that, they take it personal. Men defer to “I’m fine” because we may not be ready to be vulnerable in an emotional way. It’s one thing to talk about your hopes and dreams or most embarrassing date. It’s an entirely different conversation to talk about the times you feel confused, disengaged, or perhaps like a failure. We definitely will never call up our boys and be like “hey man, I thought about eating a bullet the other day.” It’s not that we don’t trust the person. We don’t trust that the person will see us the same when things do turn around. While our closest family members and friends expect it to be understood that they’re there for us with no judgement, a man going through serious depression can’t wrap his head around the notion that support is there. When your mind is so clouded, it’s less about what we owe our loved ones and more about just wanting the painful feelings to go away.
– We choose to self-medicate instead of therapy: There are so many resources out here to get assistance in dealing with mental illness. Yet we haven’t escaped the obvious stigma attached to men. In the minority communities, you’re expected to quit reacting and suck it up. You can walk down any street in the downtown area or through an impoverished neighborhood and see men who are too embarrassed or prideful to seek help. Like sexual abuse, men seeking therapy is seen as one of those things that you don’t discuss; let alone take part in. Most of the time, depression in men occurs during or after a major life change; loss of employment, divorce, a traumatic injury, or the death of a loved one. Men are notoriously creatures of habit. When change blindsides us, we coax ourselves through it with alcohol, drugs, and club binges. So we numb the pain until we eventually succumb to it.
– We lose sight of God’s place in our lives: I didn’t come across any solid statistics about depression among religions. However, as a spiritual person, I keep being told that when you stray away from your belief system, you begin to believe your own hype. The negative rhetoric that plays like a broken record is how you begin to see yourself. When things are going well, it’s easy to stay positive, focused, and excited about what’s next. But when things get difficult, sometimes making it 24 hours is a feat. If you become a slave to the world and let “things” define you, depression will swarm you and swallow you whole since nothing lasts forever.
It’s disappointing that the dialogue about men and depression hasn’t progressed. A man is lucky if he has a great relationship with his father or an older man with some wisdom. I’m not saying that depression will always lead to suicide. But the vast majority of us are left to navigate through darkness alone. My hope in writing this post is that people will stop acting like depression is something that can never happen to a man that they love.
So I pose the question – how can we move the needle and open healthy dialogue about men and depression?