As a male psychiatrist, I'm very aware that our language is peppered with clichés that discourage boys and men from expressing emotion. If we talk about how we feel we may be told to "man up!" or "stop acting like a girl!". But efforts to conform to the male stereotype of 'the strong silent type' who's always in control of his emotions and never 'loses it' may be killing us.
Depression affects about one in five of us during our lives. We think depression is probably as common in men as women - but men are less likely to ask for help. I've met many men with depression who acknowledged how hard it is to discuss their feelings - "It's not the manly thing to do". Men find it easier to seek help for an illness that can be seen - a rash, a broken bone - than one that can't, like depression.
For some, depression can be life-threatening. And when it comes to the increasing rates of suicide in men, we need to tackle this as a social problem as well as a health problem. We need to consider how men think, feel and behave and ultimately challenge unhelpful clichés like "big boys don't cry".
What is depression?
We all have times when we feel down, but depression is more than that. It's an illness that can take over our lives and the feelings just don't go away. We don't enjoy things as much as we used to, lose interest in hobbies and fall out of touch with friends.
When we're depressed, everyday life can be a struggle. It's harder to sleep, eat, to look after ourselves, cope with work or be a partner or parent. When depression is particularly severe, we may feel hopeless and that life is not worth living.
Men don't have 'different' depression to women, but are more likely to be irritable and fly off the handle. Men are also more likely to try and avoid how we're feeling, for example by over-working or numbing our feelings with drink or drugs.
What causes depression?
Depression can strike out of the blue, but there are usually obvious reasons why. We know depression runs in families - if you have one severely depressed parent you're about eight times more likely to become depressed yourself. Those of us who have few family or friends to support us are also more vulnerable to depression. Stresses often trigger depression -such as relationship problems, physical illness and money worries.
Research has shown that recession and economic hardship are bad for a nation's mental health. It's suggested that the recent economic crisis has increased rates of depression and suicide in men in particular. Having a job and providing for our families is central to the traditional stereotype of being a man. When we don't fulfil this we may feel ashamed, defeated and out of control.
Big boys do cry
Big boys do cry and we should not be ashamed of this. But in a society where many still see a display of emotion as a sign of weakness, seeking help for depression may take courage. And what could be more "manly" than that?
If you are feeling low, there are things you can do to help yourself:
• Don't bottle things up. Tell someone close to you how you're feeling. It's often helpful to share our problems - it can encourage us to think about ways of tackling our difficulties
• Keep active. Exercise has an antidepressant effect and even a regular short walk can be helpful
• Try and eat regular healthy meals as running short of vitamins will only make you feel worse
• Don't drown your sorrows with drink. Alcohol may make someone feel better for a short while, but in the long term alcohol makes depression worse
• Keep hopeful. Remember that many people have had depression and have recovered, sometimes stronger than before.
More information on 'Men and Depression', including advice on when and how to seek help, is available on the Royal College of Psychiatrists website: www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/problemsdisorders/depressionmen.aspx
HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around men to highlight the pressures they face around identity and to raise awareness of the epidemic of suicide. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, the difficulty in expressing emotion, the challenges of speaking out, as well as kick starting conversations around male body image, LGBT identity, male friendship and mental health.
To blog for Building Modern Men, email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to read our features focused around men, click here
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