The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.
Henry David Thoreau
The official diagnostic criteria* for depression include such symptoms as a sad mood, loss of interest in things, loss of energy, difficulty concentrating, and so on. These symptoms are pretty obvious, so we might say that someone who has them is “overtly” depressed. Further, it’s interesting to note that statistics show at least twice as many women get diagnosed with depression as do men. Does that mean that women are more depressed than men or is there something else going on here? We’ll see that it’s not so obvious when most men are depressed, thus the term “covert” depression gets applied informally. What does this male mode of covert depression look like? What makes it “covert?” Let’s find out!
Unlike depressed women, or men with overt depression, your typical, garden-variety depressed man never admits to having “problems” or “issues” or “needing help” or “needing to see someone” or “needing to change” or “having a nervous breakdown” or anything that smacks of weakness, emotionality, or not being completely in control. This is all strictly forbidden by the Man Code he must follow, described here, in order to “be a man.”
The typical depressed man never admits anything to anyone else. And, he never admits anything to himself either! “I’m fine,” he says. Or, if it’s really bad, he’ll fess up and say “I’m frustrated.” In the meantime, while he’s allegedly feeling no pain himself (and we’ll see how he does this in a minute), he’s likely making things quite painful and frustrating for those around him.
Is it true that a depressed man feels no pain? Oh, hell no! He feels lots of pain, but only for a “hot nano-second.” Then he immediately proceeds to take some kind of action, or definite inaction, that pushes the pain away. How does that work?
Well, the pain of depression typically stems from being in a “one-down” position of shame from not meeting the Man Code mentioned above. Most men live their lives trying to avoid that shame and the accompanying pain. So, what’s our hero to do? What’s the easiest thing for a man to do to avoid “one-down” shame? Yes, you guessed it!
Go “one-up!” Become unreasonably grandiose! Start “acting out!”
Here is a list of ways to do this (your or your man’s mileage may vary):
- work too hard
- switch from having contempt for himself to having contempt for others
- find someone to blame, a scapegoat
- get angry
- become controlling
- become abusive
- abuse substances
- have affairs
- work out a lot
- do too much of something he’s good at
- become overly religious
- become addicted (gambling, sex, food, video games, spending money, etc.)
- stuff like that
Any of this sound familiar?
Or, the depressed man might go the other direction to quickly push away the pain of shame. He might start “acting in.” This might involve:
- pushing down emotions
- staying in his head
- stonewalling (not talking)
- checking out (literally or figuratively)
- stuff like that
If he’s really good at this, he’ll do both, acting out and acting in at the same time. Wow! This guy’s got it covered. He’s back in line with the Man Code. Good for him!
Well, not really. Bad things happen when men go “covert.” They eventually suffer big losses, maybe their job, their relationship, their health, you name it.
So, that’s what the male mode of depression looks like. In future articles, we’ll explore how men get to the point of feeling depressed, even if it’s only allowed in for a very short time (here), how they hopefully get waked up to the reality of their situation and their all-too-real need for help (here), plus some of the many ways they can get the help they need (here).
*As expressed in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, Fifth Edition), published by the American Psychiatric Association.
Copyright 2018 Daniel J. Metevier