From contemplating suicide to helping men with depression
Around 2007, Bill Dehkes contemplated suicide for a week as he drove on a Minneapolis road that was part of his daily routine. At one point he even unbuckled his seatbelt. “I thought if I drove 100 yards I would run right into the concrete bridge and it would be over,” he says. Dehkes, 57, never followed through. “I realized I had a lot more to do.”
A couple of years after he thought about taking his own life, Dehkes co-founded the Face It Foundation, a nonprofit with the mission of helping men recover from depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide. Dehkes is the group’s chief operating officer. Men tend to try to “tough it out” and often have difficulty talking about feelings of depression. But isolating is counterproductive. “The loneliness is really big,” Dehkes says. “You can be surrounded by people and feel lonely. I felt like I always let people down.”
Depression in men
Many people associate depression with isolation, anxiety, withdrawal and overt sadness. Some men with depression do exhibit these symptoms, according to doctors who treat the condition. But, “men are more likely to express (distress) as anger or as hostility or through abuse or distracting themselves through extreme sports,” says Glenn Good, dean of the University of Florida College of Education who studies gender roles. Not recognizing the signs has lethal consequences: Men die by suicide 3.5 times more often than women, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Here are seven signs of depression in men:
In the early 2010s, comedian Gary Gulman seemed to be crushing it. He toured regularly and often greeted fans after the show, making affable chit-chat. But, before Gulman was diagnosed with depression and got help for it in 2017, he often turned down invitations from friends to watch basketball games or to attend parties and other social gatherings. Gulman, now 50, was so wracked with anxiety he often didn’t respond to friends’ texts or phone calls for months. “There was a lot of isolating,” he says. “I’d attend bat mitzvahs and weddings out of a feeling of obligation and put on a good face, but it felt excruciating. The build up to going to a social event was so fraught, I was so anxious I’d bite my lip until it bled.”
Withdrawal is a classic sign of depression in women and men; but men’s pals may be less aware that anything concerning is going on. “Guys may have that buddy culture where they drink and watch sports and do sports, but they don’t necessarily share their vulnerability directly or talk about their fears or concerns,” Good says.
2. Oversleeping or trouble sleeping
Some days — even certain weeks — you just need to catch up on sleep. But when you’re consistently sleeping for 12 to 14 hours at a time — as Gulman often did during the worst of his depression — something’s probably wrong. Before his depression, Gulman would read 50 or 60 books a year. But when his depression took over, the comedian slept a lot more and lost his ability to focus. “I couldn’t read anything longer than an op-ed column,” he says.
When you have depression, “you sleep when you should be awake and you’re awake when you should be asleep,” says Dennis Gillan, a mental health advocate and motivational speaker in Greenville, South Carolina, whose two brothers died by suicide. He suspects one suffered from depression. It’s not just excessive sleep that can signal depression; insomnia, or difficulty sleeping, can be a symptom, too — and it’s one that may be more common among men, the National Institute of Mental Health reports.
3. Lashing out
For a man or woman to be diagnosed with depression, that person must experience sadness or a loss of interest in normal activities almost every day for at least two weeks, along with meeting other criteria, according to the American Psychiatric Association. But in men, that feeling of sadness may look more like anger or irritability. “Anger can be a helpful emotion to help us know when our rights are being violated,” Good says. But when it’s out of proportion to the situation, frequent or directed at an intimate partner, it’s no longer helpful and could signal depression. “If it’s extreme, something is amiss for that guy,” Good says.
4. Drinking too much
After Gillan’s second brother’s funeral, he got drunk and “woke up in a dark place.” That’s when he realized he needed help, and he’s now nearly 27 years sober.
“Men may feel that it’s not OK to express their feelings of sadness, so they might drink more as an example of a way that we allow men to deal with painful feelings,” says James Mahalik, a professor in the counseling, developmental and educational department at the Boston College Lynch School of Education. In addition to excessive alcohol consumption, compulsive sexual activity can also be a sign of depression.
5. Loss of interest in favorite activities
If your buddy who’s fanatical about playing pickup hoops suddenly loses interest in lacing up his sneakers and getting onto the court, that might be a sign of depression, says Anita Gadhia-Smith, a psychotherapist who practices in the District of Columbia and suburban Maryland. “This can be part of a larger pattern of a loss of interest of many activities that were previously enjoyed or where there was a higher level of engagement.”
Workaholism can also be a manifestation of depression. Some men suffering from depression “create a compulsive cycle of activity or thoughts that produces stress and busyness, which can mask or distract from depression,” Gadhia-Smith says.
7. Overspending or gambling
Overspending or gambling can also be signs that a man is depressed, Gadhia-Smith says. “This is another way that people try to escape an unfulfilling life and difficult feelings,” she says. “When someone pursues a new obsession or compulsion, that can be a sign that they are trying to cope with depression.” Becoming addicted to pornography or sex can also be signs of depression.
Depression is treatable.
If you’re suffering from symptoms of depression, talk to your health care provider. “The good news is that depression is very treatable,” Mahalik says.
Gulman can attest to this. The comedian says his worst and deepest period of depression began in April 2015. He sought help. After two hospital stays and 24 rounds of electroconvulsive therapy, Gulman says, he started his recovery in the fall of 2017. Two years later, in 2019, HBO aired “The Great Depresh,” Gulman’s comedy special in which he openly talks about his struggles with depression. Since his hospital stays, Gulman has remained vigilant about maintaining his depression recovery regimen, which includes talk therapy, regularly accepting social invitations, keeping a healthy sleeping pattern and exercising. One recent morning, he woke up at 5:30 a.m. to start his day with pickup basketball. “I’ve never felt better in my entire life,” Gulman says.
To summarize, here are seven signs of depression in men:
— Lashing out.
— Drinking too much.
— Loss of interest in favorite activities.
— Overspending or gambling.
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Update 06/08/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.