The Male Mode of Depression, Part 4: Where a Man Can Find Help

We have found that once men stop depriving themselves of human connection and instead form authentic relationships with other people, their conventional presenting problems often disappear.   ~ Charlie Donaldson and Randy Flood

In prior articles, we’ve looked at several aspects of the way men typically experience depression. To recap, we’ve looked at how depression is expressed by a man (here), how it develops in a man (here), and what wake-up calls a man might experience that motivate him to get some help (here). Now, we’re finally ready to explore some ways that men can get effective help for their condition. You’ll see that the great majority of these methods involve gaining greater experience, competence, and enjoyment in connecting with other people. Over time, this tends to do the trick, as they say, although it’s not an instant cure. A lot of times, however, men will need to work their way up to these methods due to the last gasp efforts of the internalized Man Code to interfere with the process. Let’s see how this works.

You may recall that the Man Code, as described here, requires a man to be independent (as opposed to connected), not show any weakness, and not talk about his problems. So, an overtly depressed man (one who fits the diagnostic criteria for, say, “Major Depressive Disorder”) might be reluctantly willing to drag himself into a physician’s office and describe the situation in terms of physical symptoms. The physician will probably prescribe some pills to take, that being the major tool in their toolbox. This might include an anti-depressant such a Prozac, an anti-anxiety medication such as Xanax, and possibly a stimulant such as Adderall (a more frequent augmentation for anti-depressants). In theory, this might do the trick to some extent and will allow the man to avoid actually having to address the underlying causes of his depression. I think we have a winner here!

Well, until we don’t. Those pesky underlying conditions start to leak out. The initial euphoria of a lifted mood starts to wane. The troubles and frustrations start to appear once again. Now what? More pills? Increased dosages? Well, maybe. Rinse. Repeat.

A next step might involve the man’s wife or girlfriend dragging him into couples counseling to address how he doesn’t talk about his feelings, doesn’t communicate well, doesn’t appreciate her enough, doesn’t spend enough time with her, doesn’t want anything but sex, doesn’t do the dishes, doesn’t do anything but watch sports, doesn’t this, doesn’t that. You get the idea. I’m not saying these complaints aren’t justified. It’s just that our hapless man never learned how to do this stuff nor did he ever learn the value of doing this stuff. So, no matter how many pills he swallows, he’s still not good enough. This “not good enough” emphasis might actually aggravate the man’s depression if it’s not handled carefully. However if the man is really motivated to work and the therapist has a clue about how the male of the species operates, this might just be helpful.

During the course of couples counseling, the therapist might get the bright idea that the man should engage in his own individual therapy. This would involve the man meeting with a therapist for the purpose of doing exactly what the Man Code has required him not to do all his life. This includes, well, some of these things:

  • talking about emotional stuff (as opposed to keeping it to oneself)

  • reflecting on things (as opposed to just solving the problem right now!)

  • being vulnerable (oh, it pains me to even say that word!)

  • being open to taking advice (as opposed to giving the advice and always being right)

I could go on, but you get the idea. Instant success guaranteed? Hmm. Truthfully I’ve been seeing more and more men who actually do this and seem to want to (what is this world coming to?). The message here is: find a therapist who knows how to work with men in a way that will work for them.

An interesting alternative to individual therapy involves joining a group of some sort, preferably all male if possible, at least at first. This allows the man to:

  • have a sense of belonging (something many men long for)

  • feel “normal” and not so lonely among others who have similar problems

  • practice speaking, listening, and connecting to others in a relatively safe space

  • practice all the stuff one does in individual therapy, but have it seem OK to do so

  • get helpful, non-judgmental feedback from other group members

Here are some examples of these kinds of groups, ordered from beginner to advanced:

  • 12-step groups such as Alcoholics/Narcotics/Sex/Love Addiction/Overeaters/ Codependence Anonymous; Al-Anon; Adult Children of Alcoholics (now just Adult Children)

  • applicable church ministries

  • support groups for grief, mental illness, dementia, and so on

  • men’s groups (typically formed by a male therapist, but not always)

  • Mankind Project’s New Warrior Training

  • Mythopoetic men’s retreats such as the Minnesota Men’s Conference

While doing individual or group work, a man may benefit from grief work, processing the parts of him that he lost during his life (see here). These include having to be someone other than he really is, disconnecting from mom, not having a father who “blessed” him, having to shove down feelings, failure to meet impossible standards, and so on. Another similar process for a man to consider is shadow work, where the parts of him that were lost or considered unacceptable by parents, society, religion, and so on, can now be accessed and better assimilated into the man’s whole self.

Once a man starts to get the hang of it, he may venture out on his own and start doing things that no one ever saw coming, least of all him. He might start reading poetry, maybe even writing some. He might read books by Robert Bly, Robert Moore, Robert Johnson and other authors (some of whom are not named Robert) who write about men’s issues. He might start to create art, play with his children or grandchildren, meditate, sing, dance, play music, be a generous lover. Who knows? The sky’s the limit.

If a man can overcome the Man Code conditioning he received in his earlier years and begin being who he really is instead of the person someone else thinks he should be, he’ll live a very different kind of life. In a good way. Depression will only be a memory, if that.

I hope this series of articles has been helpful. To men and to those who love them.

Copyright 2018 Daniel M. Metevier