Depression is an equal-opportunity attacker: Neither fame, nor beauty, nor even a royal crown will necessarily render you immune to mental health struggles. What else won’t protect you against depression? Gender.
Rates of depression may be higher in women than in men, but struggles with mental health are ubiquitous among both sexes — even if men remain less likely to open up about it than their female counterparts. According to a June 2015 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discussed by Yahoo Health, close to one in 10 American men suffer from depression or anxiety, but fewer than half get treatment.
Generally speaking, guys grow up conditioned to hide their feelings, for good or for bad, and thus, feelings often get mislabeled or go untreated altogether. But one brave gentleman, Jacob (not his real name), is hoping to change that by sharing details from his decades-long struggle. They are details he has kept hidden until reading, on Yahoo, a powerful online confession from one brave young woman, Katelyn Marie Todd, about her daily struggles with depression. The story hit a powerful chord with him and inspired him to pay it forward, so to speak, by sharing his own story.
“I’ve been fighting depression for as long as I can remember,” Jacob tells Yahoo Beauty. “I am a recovering alcoholic, and every day I fight. I fight for my son and wife.” But “what gave me kind of an aha moment was something I read in Yahoo’s previous article [discussing Todd’s confession]. The article mentioned that for men, depression often demonstrated itself in different ways, such as anger. That’s when it hit me. I have, over the past couple years felt as though these feelings of anger might be depression. That comment solidified it in my mind.”
“I know that the more angry I get, the more self-destructive I become,” he explains. “I’ve had times where I went over the top. I would be angry at the wrong things or the wrong people, and for sure I was very angry at the way I felt. What was wrong with me? Why was I feeling like this? How could I think these thoughts?”
Now, Jacob says, he is on a mission to “free” himself. “Throughout the years I’ve successfully built a prison consisting of invisible bars that were forged with fear and self-doubt. My insecurities led me for most of my life. I’ve battled my demons for years. They almost won on a few occasions, but I’m still here fighting,” he says. And part of winning that fight is recognizing that his anger, the self-described “raging volcano” inside of him, is depression manifested.
“Women are wonderful torturers of themselves,” psychologist Barbara Greenberg, PhD, tells Yahoo Beauty. “They are much more likely to be self-destructive. Men, on the other hand, are much more likely to lash out against others if they’re depressed.”
And while, yes, of course, there are indeed guys out there who experience depression via sadness, crying, and a lack of energy, “most males are more likely to express their depression in a masked sort of way,” Greenberg explains. “In my experience, it is much more common for men to present not with depression but with external problems, like substance abuse or anger.”
Why? Societal expectations, in short. “There’s a lot of shame in men being depressed because men are raised to be strong,” Greenberg says. “It’s a cliché, but to be strong is a really important thing [for men in our society], so to be publicly crying or depressed and sad is simply not consistent with how men think they are supposed to express themselves. ‘Real men don’t cry,’ ‘real men don’t get sad,’ ‘real men are tough’ — that’s the societal stereotype, and it’s led to depression becoming a source of humiliation and shame for many.”
How do we flip that script? According to Greenberg, it all starts with giving boys and men permission to be both depressed as well as to talk about it. “Anyone raising boys, be it parents, guardians, etc., needs to teach them the vocabulary of emotion,” she urges. “If you teach boys the vocabulary of emotion, it is a blessing.” Because “people thirst more than anything else for the language to describe what ails them,” she adds. And make that language nuanced: Disappointed, sad, angry — these are all different emotions that can be specifically verbalized and thus specifically understood and released, not repressed.
Adults are “much more likely to see boys as ‘bad’ and girls as ‘sad,'” Greenberg continues, “and that is truly very unfair.” This tends to happen most often with depressed teenage boys, she says, who might act out by punching walls or otherwise showing extreme anger. But depression hiding beneath anger by no means ends with adolescence — or with material success. “Approximately 80 percent of my practice is female, but when many of these women bring their husbands in, even the most successful guys will break down and cry about their sadness and loneliness in life,” she says.
“We need to raise awareness in everyone that this is what depression looks like in men,” she says, and we need to raise awareness in men that there is no shame in their feelings. “Men need to be educated that they too can suffer from depression, often silently.”
And that is precisely why men like Jacob sharing their stories is so important. “It’s unusual for a man to be this open,” Greenberg adds. “He could start a dialogue that could save lives because men historically keep these things to themselves. But he made himself vulnerable, and if his confession resonates with even one person, if even one person seeks therapy, he could save a life.”
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