Depression drives men towards self-harm

Mustafa (not his real name) is 44 years old and after being sacked from his job as a middle manager in a multi-national company, he become withdrawn.

His wife and two children (aged 15 and 12) noticed that he was spending a lot of time by himself. Even when he went out ostensibly to look for a job, he would return smelling of alcohol and vomit sometimes.

He did not feel that there was anything wrong even though he was losing weight and only nibbled at food.

Depression can lead to serious risk of self-harm and suicide and is very often related to serious life events, especially loss of relationship, job or a house.

It is seen in both men and women but men respond somewhat differently. Depression can be both a symptom and a serious psychiatric condition.

Most of us have ‘bad’ days when we feel lethargic, tired and not able to concentrate and the terms often used are, “I am feeling low’ or “He must have got up from the wrong side of the bed.”

Clinical condition

Depression as a clinical condition can be serious, deep and prolonged. Individuals may feel trapped, hopeless, helpless, poor or excess appetite, early morning awakening or poor sleep and waking up feeling unrefreshed.

They may also suffer from loss of weight, libido and energy.

Depression in men can often be present with irritability, outbursts of anger, loss of control, risk taking, aggression and increased alcohol intake.

Men may also use drugs more often to self-medicate and hide feelings of depression. The general belief is that exhibition of depression is a sign of ‘moral weakness’ and hence men tend to cope and manage depression in different ways.

Depression is interpreted as a sign of failure and hence many men do not share their feelings with anyone. Men are three times more likely to commit suicide in comparison with women.

The causes

Relationship difficulties, communication styles, separation, divorce, stressful jobs and a lack of support at work, absence of promotional opportunities or supersession by another person can cause stress and depression.

New fathers are also prone to develop depression, seeing difficulties in bringing up babies.

For some men, work and employment are very important, loss of which can cause severe depression.

Help and Support

Men find it difficult to accept help, especially if they are suffering from low self-esteem. Talking and sharing concerns and feelings will help.

If you are feeling low, try talking with your friends or people with who you feel comfortable, rather than resorting to alcohol or other habits as described above. Getting exercise and keeping active can help in low levels of depression.

Proper diet, changing life style, taking a break, spending time on things that you enjoy can all also help.

Counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy can help in moderate to severe depression either jointly or severally with anti-depressants. Reading about depression can also help.

It is important to see your General Practitioner, who can suggest the best course of action. Depending on a number of factors, some people can respond quickly. It is important to be hopeful and act with confidence to get the better of depression.

Dr Dinesh Bhugra is Professor of Mental Health and Cultural Diversity at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London and Honorary Consultant at the Maudsley Hospital, where he runs a sexual and couple therapy clinic. He was earlier President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Chair of the Mental Health Foundation. He is a Trustee of Care-if. He will take charges as President of the World Psychiatric Association in September 2014. In early 2012, Queen Elizabeth II honoured him as a Commander of the British Empire (CBE).

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