Big Boys Do Cry!
The other day I saw a TV-program about men and depression with an alarming prognosis: The World Health Organisation predicts that within a decade depression will be more disabling than cancer. Statistics say that one in four (!) women and one in ten men suffer from it but it is now assumed that these statistics may be incomplete because men often don’t get help and that there may be a hidden epidemic of depression among men. This is because men often feel unable to admit to it; they feel stupid, unmanly and pathetic and that they should be able to “man up” and pull themselves together. They may feel hopeless and that life is not worth living; they may have trouble sleeping, feel empty or angry and irritable for no particular reason, they may have lost their libido or their appetite or eat too much and they may feel that things will never change. It’s like living under a heavy black cloud with no hope of it ever lifting. In our society women have more permission to admit that they’re unhappy, and women talk more to each other about how they really feel.
Men learn in many ways that “big boys don’t cry” and that it is unmanly and weak to cry or to admit that they are suffering. “Don’t be such a wimp” they are told, and usually they are shamed and ridiculed if they dare to show feelings other than toughness or aggression. Many men suffer from depression in silence for years or even decades. It may be the loss of their job that triggers a crisis; they feel they lose their identity because they define who they are almost entirely through their work and through being the breadwinner. For others it may be triggered through a failed marriage or relationship. Some men live with depression from their teenage years onwards after having surrendered to peer-pressure and the idea that a real man’s life is about drinking a lot and being hard.
Depression is often a crisis of meaning. There seems to be no real meaning in a lot of the things we do. Also professionally and financially successful men (and women) suffer from depression. Our culture is focussed on making money and “being somebody” in the eyes of others. But that doesn’t guarantee satisfaction. Our children are pushed hard into occupations and professions that will make them financially secure. But they learn hardly anything about their emotional side and how to create a fulfilling life rather than focussing only on a financially secure but maybe quite empty life. We need to take a long hard look at our values and priorities.
Technologically we are a highly evolved culture but emotionally we are dangerously ignorant, primitive and disconnected. We are disconnected from nature, from each other and from ourselves. Instead of putting our energy into close and meaningful relationships, into understanding who we are and could become, or into work that we are passionate about and proud of and that fulfills us emotionally as well as making us financially secure we dive into consumerism on every level. We need to start to take this epidemic of depression seriously.
We need to learn that getting help is a sign of courage and intelligence!
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