Caregiving is tough. It's one thing to see a loved one in the dirty trenches of illness; it is a whole other to jump headfirst into that trench with them. Caring for a man who is suffering from depression can be even harder, because depression isn't often seen - it's felt.
NIH and CDC statistics explain that women have a higher likelihood of being depressed. Many experts disagree - noting that depression is just less diagnosed in men. This makes sense considering men commit suicide nearly four times more frequently than women due to their symptoms being overlooked and untreated. Even if the data is correct, there are still six million of my fellow men who are experiencing some level of depression at any given time. Six million fathers, husbands, boyfriends, brothers, and uncles living day by day wondering both when the pain is going to end and how to break through the crushing stigma of depression.
The truth of this can be seen in one man's story, and to keep his identity anonymous, I will call him John. Three years ago, John's son was killed, and understandably, he fell into depression. What is interesting is that John is a licensed clinical social worker (L.C.S.W) and has spent several years working with populations suffering from depression and a variety of other mental health conditions. He was no stranger to depression's devastating effects or coping methods but, as he found out, helping others isn't the same as helping yourself. During the time of his son's death, he was in a relationship with a woman who didn't know how to help him. She called family members asking "what is wrong with him?" She felt that the short period of 3-6 months should've been enough time for him to grieve and get over his depression. It was not, and their relationship ended. Eventually he beat the depression through the support of family and friends. Although, if his girlfriend would have handled the situation differently or had been more informed, things might have gone better for them and their relationship may have lasted.
My point isn't to paint a hopeless picture but rather to show there is immense opportunity for change even if it means that as a caregiver you could have to balance your way through a mine field of defensiveness, denial, anger, and despondence. Here are 4 tips to help you do it unscathed.
Tip #1 Understand His Depression "There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds." ― Laurell K. Hamilton
One of the largest misconceptions about depression is that it is a feeling - which is part of the reason men are so reluctant to talk about it. Yes, it is a feeling but it is also much more. Not only does it effect people on an emotional level but it also drains them physically and psychologically. The chemical imbalance in the brain slowly causes the body to shut down. That is why if your partner is depressed, he will be lacking the motivation to hit the gym or to pursue a once cherished hobby. With this in mind, the first thing you can do to help is make sure he is eating a balanced diet and is exercising. Buy fresh food, avoid stocking the fridge with highly caffeinated products and booze, and see if he will go walking with you. These are all easy and are tremendously helpful, but won't necessarily combat the depression itself. For that, we go to Tip #2.
Tip #2 Acknowledging His Depression "Never ignore the elephant in the room. That's rude; play with it and introduce it." ― Donna Lynn Hope
Confronting his depression will be tough but is absolutely necessary if you are going to help reverse its course. What you're going to be doing here isn't confronting him and telling him he is depressed. Trust me, he knows he depressed or at least that something is wrong. The goal is to show him that you acknowledge he is going through something and that asking for help is okay. I've broken it down into
four steps -
- Approach him where he is comfortable, at home or maybe your favorite date spot. Make sure you have privacy and enough time to talk (at least an hour).
Tip #3 Self Care "The Best Health Care Plan Is A Self Care Plan" ― Nina Leavins
"In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your own mask first, and then assist the other person."
If you've ever been on an airplane you've likely heard some iteration these words. While growing up they confused me because it seemed like it would make more sense to help the helpless and vulnerable first, but with age I realized that if you are incapacitated you won't be of any help to anyone. The same goes for caring for a man with depression. You need to secure your own mental stability before you can help him.
The difference in a situation with male depression as opposed to other diseases is that the frustration and stress isn't going to come in the traditional way. You won't be stretched thin providing medical assistance to him or running back and forth from a hospital. But, rather the emotional connection you have with your partner will be taxed. Because of the nature of depression he won't be as connected or invested in your relationship as he was when he was healthy. He might become more combative or more withdrawn, depending on how the depression affects him. Don't get pulled into this or take it personally. Do what you need to do to stay healthy. Connect with friends, exercise, or shop - you have an identity outside of your relationship.
Tip #4 Involve the Professionals
Getting professional medical personnel involved is the most critical step as it is the most effective way to cure the depression. I understand it can be incredibly hard to get a guy to see doctor, for even the most routine of checkups, let alone getting him to see a therapist or psychologist for depression. Here are some ways to make it easier:
- Ask him to do it for you or your family. Tell him it will bring you peace of mind if he sees someone.
Depression is devastating, insidious, it can break up relationships and ruin friendships, but it doesn't have to. With the right tools and support, it can be beaten. Helping a man who is in the throes of depression is nothing to be laughed at; I applaud you and hope the tips above will be helpful.
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