The Male Mode of Depression, Part 3: What Causes a Man to Get Help

The cure for covert depression is overt depression.      ~ Terrence Real

In prior articles, we’ve looked at what men’s depression, sometimes called “covert depression,” looks like (here) and where it comes from (here). Given that men typically hide their depressed feelings (overt depression) from themselves and others (hence, “covert), it takes a bit of doing for them to come to a place where they seek help. Most often, men don’t seek help without a major “wake-up call” in their life. This is much like (or the same as) when an addict hits “rock bottom” and admits they are powerless over what’s happening in their life. The word “powerless” describes a condition in which few men want to find themselves. Let’s take a look at some of the situations that push men into this condition. Let’s also look at how to speed things along (a good thing; really!).

Just to knock off an easy one, there are some men who do not hide their depressed feelings or fail miserably (and I do mean miserably) at it. We might think of these men as “the lucky ones” since they have the best chance of feeling motivated to seek help in a timely fashion. They have already hit “rock bottom” and will (hopefully) waste little time in doing something to help themselves. The people around them are also lucky in that they won’t have to put up with all the effects of and fallout from covert depression. By the way, unless a man gets to the point of experiencing overt depression, he is unlikely to seek help. So, lucky!

Please note that the next article in this series (here) will explore many ways that men can actually get help that’s effective for them, so stay tuned!

OK, back to wake-up calls. One wake-up call that’s become more and more popular in recent years is the threat of divorce or break-up of a significant relationship. Not only has divorce become more prevalent, but around 70% of all divorces are initiated by the wife. (Queue the alarm clock sound.) Although many times it’s hard to tell, men do value their relationship with their wife or girlfriend (I would say “or both” but that would be in bad taste, so I won’t say it). The loss of a lifestyle, ready access to children, half of one’s finances, a beloved house, and so on may also be included in the wake-up process brought on by the threat of these words, “I want a divorce.”

Right along side of this threat, a man may have his career threatened by those who don’t much care for what he’s doing to push back his depressed feelings. Sometimes, work colleagues, employees, or bosses won’t tolerate for long a man who is controlling, angry, grandiose, drunk, and so on. If he’s not outright fired, he may be put on probation, so to speak, and have a very important part of his personal identity threatened. Wakey, wakey!

When a man hides, pushes down, or distracts himself from depressed feelings, as opposed to actually feeling them, he may eventually experience some form of physical health problem. This might come in the form of a heart attack, cancer, or a stroke. Depending on what the man does to make his depression covert, he may have an accident that includes serious injury. These situations can serve to wake the man up to the fact that he must attend to some serious business. Yes, it is life and death.

Another physical health wake-up call might involve surviving an overdose. (Just for completeness, not surviving could only serve to wake up the other men in the man’s life.) Here, as mentioned above, the survivor has the opportunities afforded him by “hitting rock bottom” and participating in some form of substance abuse recovery process. Although I have very little knowledge of this process (maybe I should learn?), I’ve been told that addressing the underlying causes of an addiction (depression, perhaps?) can be just as important as getting sober, if not more so.

A popular wake-up call amongst older men is the aging process itself. A man may get tired of doing all the stuff he’s been doing in order to distract himself and others from the bad feelings deep inside. He may start to realize there’s not much time left to find true happiness. Or, he may start to mellow out or put aside things of younger days, starting to get more “real.” This, unfortunately, may come with the onset of grief, wounds, shame, guilt, disappointments, regrets, etc., from the past. These serve as entrees to overt depression but also the possibility of getting help.

Living in San Diego county, where we have the largest population of veterans in the country, I’m aware of the ravages of posttraumatic stress disorder or PTSD. This is real, folks, and has to do with how one’s body remembers traumatic events even when one’s conscious mind either doesn’t remember (it was turned off at the time) or doesn’t want to remember. This highly prevalent condition, which by the way is anything but a character flaw, can rear it’s ugly head, pushing the victim toward overt depression or worse (note the very high suicide rate in veterans these days). Major wake-up call.

Touching on the topic of suicide reminds me of all the tragedies that occur when a wake-up call is not heard or happens too late. I also include early death by one of the medical conditions mentioned above and accidental death by overdose. These highly preventable (in theory) situations can leave many wounded people in their wake, including wives, girlfriends, sons, daughters, parents, friends, you name it. My hope is that more and more men can hear the sounds of the wake-up calls in their lives and save themselves by answering those calls.

That leads us to our last bit of business in this article: how to speed up the process. Here, I address myself not to the men who need to wake up, but rather those who want to help them do so and don’t know how. Remember first that the man in your life needs to get to overt depression since that’s the “cure” for covert depression. It serves to motivate the man to seek help and take the help. He needs the wake-up call, to hit “rock bottom.” So, get ready to hear what I’m about to say and know that you really can help even if my method goes against your grain.

Much like the addict (and your man might be one), the process of “tough love” is essential to speed up the process. This phrase consists of two seemingly contradictory actions. First, being “tough” means holding the man accountable and responsible for his behaviors. Establish firm boundaries or limits beyond which you will not venture. Leave, or threaten to, or give other appropriate consequences. At the same time, the “love” part means having empathy for the man. Understand where he is and how he came to be there. Hold him in your heart as you walk out the door, or whatever. Know that you’re not being mean or cruel, but rather fiercely compassionate. This is good for him! You actually harm him by not doing it!

And by the way, if these seems a lot like parenting, there’s a reason. Inside the man is the little boy who needs growing up. Will you help him?

Copyright 2018 Daniel J. Metevier