Why Healing Men’s Depression Will Do More Good Than Curing Cancer
I’ve been interested in depression for most of my life. When I was five years old my middle-aged father became increasingly depressed because he couldn’t make a living supporting his family. In despair, he took an overdose of sleeping pills. Fortunately, he didn’t die, but our lives were never the same. He was committed to the state mental hospital where he received “treatments” that made his problems worse, until he finally escaped and never returned.
Treatment for depression and other mental problems have improved since I was five years old, but still have a long way to go. In his recent book, Healing: Our Path From Mental Illness to Mental Health, Thomas Insel, M.D., former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, described the core problem in the way we deliver health care.
“On a cool May evening in 2015, during my last year as director at NIMH, I was in Portland, Oregon, giving a presentation to a roomful of mental health advocates, mostly family members of young people with serious mental illness. As I clicked through my standard PowerPoint deck that featured our recent progress, a tall, bearded man wearing a flannel shirt appeared increasingly agitated. When question-and-answer period began, he jumped to the microphone to ask the first question: ‘You really don’t get it. My twenty-three-year-old son has been hospitalized five times, made three suicide attempts, and now is homeless. Our house is on fire and you are talking about the chemistry of the paint.’ As I stood there somewhat dumbstruck, thinking about how to answer, he asked, ‘What are you doing to put out this fire?’”
In this 5-part series of articles I will describe the problem we face in providing mental health services to men and their families and a new way of thinking and acting that can help us all live longer and healthier lives. I will describe our Moonshot Mission for Mankind and my long-term commitment to putting out the fires that are undermining our health and wellbeing. I hope you’ll join us.
I grew up wondering what happened to my father, whether it would happen to me, and what I could do to keep it from happening to other families. Not surprisingly I grew up with a passionate interest in men’s health. When my son, Jemal, was born on November 21, 1969, I made a vow that I would be a different kind of father than my father was able to be for me and to do everything I could to create a world where men lived fully healthy lives.
I launched MenAlive in 1970. One of the areas of focus has been to understand, treat, and prevent depression in men. In my first book, Inside Out: Becoming My Own Man, published in 1983 I described my first job working in a mental hospital and my desire to help people with depression as well as other related problems such as drug and alcohol abuse and addiction. I also began sharing ways I had been dealing with depression in my own life.
Depression impacts everyone, men and women. My wife, Carlin, began seeing a doctor to treat her own depression and I began to recognize that depression often manifests itself with different symptoms in women than in men. Where my wife often expressed her depression by turning her feelings inward and expressing sadness, I more often expressed my depression by turning my feelings outward and expressing irritability and anger.
I wrote about what I learned in a popular book, The Irritable Male Syndrome: Understanding and Managing the 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression and in Male vs. Female Depression: Why Men Act Out and Women Act In, a professional book based on the research I conducted for my dissertation research for my PhD in International Health.
In a section of The Irritable Male Syndrome, “Depression Unmasked: His and Hers,” I said,
“I think of male depression as being masked. Millions of men are depressed but don’t know it. Millions more know it but are afraid to show it. It isn’t ‘manly’ to be depressed. Many of us consider emotional problems to be ‘feminine.’”
In their book The Pain Behind the Mask: Overcoming Masculine Depression, John Lynch, Ph.D and Christopher Kilmartin, Ph.D, say,
“Because men are raised to be independent, active, task-oriented, and successful, they tend to express painful feelings by blaming others, denying their feelings, and finding solutions for their problems in places outside of themselves.”
Terrence Real, author of I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, says,
“Hidden depression drives several of the problems we think of as typically male: physical illness, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, failures in intimacy, self-sabotage in careers.”
As a result, I have found that depression in men often goes undiagnosed and untreated. It is shocking, but not surprising to learn that the suicide rate for males is, on average, four times higher than it is for females. Even more disturbing is that the discrepancy between male and female suicide is even higher as we age. According to Dr. Will Courtenay and reported in his book, Dying to Be Men, the suicide rate for males 55-64 in the U.S. is 6.3 times higher than it is for females of the same age. For males 65-74 it is 7 times higher, and for males 85 or older, the fastest growing demographic in the world, it is 17.5 times higher than for females of the same age.
Moonshot Mission for Mankind
Having worked in the field of gender medicine and men’s health for more than fifty years, in November, 2021, I decided to launch a program I called our “Moonshot Mission for Mankind” to create a unified focus for improving men’s health.
My colleagues Randolph Nesse, M.D. and Daniel Kruger, Ph. D examined premature deaths among men in 20 countries. They found that in every country the studied, men died sooner and lived sicker than women and their shortened health and lifespan not only harmed the men, but also the women and children who loved them.
Their conclusions have inspired my work at MenAlive. They said:
- “Over 375,000 lives would be saved in a single year in the U.S. alone if men’s risk of dying was as low as women’s.”
- “If male mortality rates could be reduced to those for females, this would eliminate over one-third of all male deaths below age 50 and help men of all ages.”
- “If you could make male mortality rates the same as female rates, you would do more good than curing cancer.”
The purpose of my Moonshot Mission is to bring together individuals and organizations throughout the world who are doing significant work to help reduce male mortality, to share our collective resources, and coordinate efforts for change.
Focusing attention on understanding, treating, curing, and preventing depression can go a long way towards achieving this moonshot mission.
Last year we brought together a number of experts in the field to begin exploring ways to help improve men’s health and wellbeing, including the following:
- Riane Eisler, President and Co-Founder of the Center For Partnership Systems.
- Michael Gurian—Marriage and Family Counselor and Co-founder of the Gurian Institute.
- Lisa Hickey—CEO of Good Men Media Inc. and publisher of The Good Men Project.
- Boysen Hodgson—Communication Director at the Mankind Project.
- Frederick Marx—Founder and CEO of Warrior Films.
- Joe Conrad–Founder and CEO at Grit Digital Health.
- Ed Frauenheim—Co-author of Reinventing Masculinity: The Liberating Power of Passion and Connection.
- Shana James—Author of Power and Pleasure: A Man’s Guide to Becoming a Confident and Satisfied Lover and Leader.
This year we will be expanding our reach and offering webinars and trainings for more people and a larger group of presenters.
If you’d like more information about the Moonshot Mission for Mankind you can visit us here.
Understanding, Treating, Curing, and Preventing Depression in Men
There is a great deal of misunderstanding about depression generally and male depression in particular. Some view depression as synonymous with feeling unhappy and sad. Others view it as a serious mental illness that can undermine a person’s health and well-being and cause them so much pain they would prefer to end their lives than carry on.
Some view depression as a brain disease and the treatment of choice anti-depressant medications. Others see depression as involving the person’s body, mind, and spirit. Some see depression as an individual problem. Others see it as a breakdown in our relationship to other people, our communities, and even our connection to the community of life on planet Earth.
Everyone agrees that it is a major problem in society and that it is getting worse. According to the World Health Organization (WHO),
“Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. Approximately 280 million people in the world have depression and over 700,000 people die due to suicide every year.”
Most of the efforts in the world are focused on trying to treat people with depression with a wide variety of approaches, many with limited success. Very little attention is paid to trying to cure people of depression or to prevent depression from occurring in the first place.
Curing a problem involves a complete restoration of health, while treatment refers to a process that leads to improvement in health. Prevention involves creating a world in which depression does not ever occur or is very rare and easily treated and cured.
In this 5-part series of articles you will learn more about male depression and why full healing will not only help millions of men, but also the families who love them. You’ll learn about the underlying causes of depression, the few places in the world where depression is rarely, if ever, a problem, and a new approach to understanding, treating, curing, and preventing depression.
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