By Christopher Heide
To all the men out there: Can you remember the last time you cried or got in touch with your feelings? Most men would answer that they have not in a long while, and it might have something to do with the fact that we are a society obsessed with appearance. Many people still unfairly consider men who acknowledge the vulnerability of their feelings, cry or even talk about their emotions as weak and unstable.
For too long, the issues of depression and the use of antidepressants have been considered taboo. Remember when Tom Cruise eloquently ranted on the Today Show? He said, "But what happens, the antidepressant, all it does is mask the problem.There's ways, [with] vitamins and through exercise and various things ... I'm not saying that that isn't real.That's not what I'm saying.That's an alteration of what I'm saying. I'm saying that drugs aren't the answer, these drugs are very dangerous. They're mind-altering, antipsychotic drugs. And there are ways of doing it without that so that we don't end up in a brave new world."
Although Cruise's sentiments about the ability of antidepressants to help people are radical, his view is shared by a great number of people. We're told to "shake it off" or "get over it" and overcome difficulties face to face without the help of drugs. This advice is all too American with its assertion that you can achieve anything you want if you try hard enough.
Medical evidence, however, says otherwise about the crippling effects of depression. In fact, according to a recent Newsweek article, more than six million men alone will be diagnosed with depression this year, but the use of antidepressants is too often seen as a sign of fallibility and weakness. Ignoring the problems of depression, however, will only lead to greater ones. Some people are just unable to function properly without the aid of antidepressants because of chemical imbalances.
All this feeds the stereotype that men are, in all aspects of life, stronger than women. Because depression is considered a taboo topic even for women, surely no man wants to admit to suffering from it for fear of looking weak.
A recent Newsweek article sums up these fears by noting that "even when they do realize they have a problem, men often view asking for help as an admission of weakness, a betrayal of their male identities." Instead of the typical symptoms of depression, a man's depression may be manifested through alcohol or drug abuse, gambling, or workaholic tendencies.
"Our definition of a successful man in this culture does not include being depressed, down or sad," says Michael Addis, chair of psychology at Clark University in Massachusetts. "In many ways it's the exact opposite. A successful man is always up, positive, in charge and in control of his emotions."
Is anybody surprised by that revelation? I know I'm not. When you think about it, it seems ridiculous that men will use drugs or gambling as distractions from depression. Even so, too many men are still unwilling to reach out for help. They are either unaware of their disease or choose to ignore it, and it's all in an effort to preserve that macho male identity. I can safely say that I do not share these sentiments. I prefer to be healthy rather than be perceived as a guy that's got it together.
This seems heroic in the context of a society that frowns on bringing our personal problems into our public lives because it is inappropriate. Nevertheless, people have the need to lead sound and resolute personal lives in order to lead constructive public lives. Ignoring a problem will not make it go away.
Guys, it's OK to overcome your pride and admit weakness. According to the National Institute of Health, 9.5 percent of the population, which is about 20.9 million American adults, suffers from a depressive illness, so you're not alone.
The Newsweek article also suggests that depression is directly linked to other health and financial problems. Depression results in approximately $83 a year in lost productivity and has been linked to heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. Not only can depression drain your bank account, but it can also kill you.
True heroism is in those individuals who have the courage to appropriately deal with their problems. Admitting to having depression and dealing with the disease can be a daunting task, but men should feel just as comfortable dealing with their feelings as women. It's time to get over the stigma that women are emotional, men are strong and that's just the way it is. The more people are willing to learn about and accept depression through open discussion, the more successful they will be at combating the disease.