Coming Out of Our Caves: Male Depression

Guys have lots of trouble coming to terms with depression. All the more so if you’re a lawyer. Lawyers aren’t supposed to have problems; we’re supposed to fix them. Most male lawyers I know would rather drop dead than admit that they have problem with depression. I guess the exception to this observation is when the wheels have fallen off for them. Then – and only then – do they recognize (hopefully) that they are suffering from depression and the toll that it is taking on their lives. The consequences for failing to recognize this basic fact can be serious (loss of productivity at work, sleep problems, etc.) or fatal (middle aged lawyers commit suicide at twice the rate of the national average).

Psychologist, Terrance Real, the author of the book, I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, makes the observation that we don’t think of men as depressed. This is so because what we are really thinking about is “overt” depression and more women show signs of that – weeping, a willingness to discuss painful feelings, etc. Men suffer from “covert” depression that expresses itself in addiction, isolation, workaholism, isolation and increased irritability.

“Men are just as feelingful, just as relational, just as connected, just as dependent, just as needy, as women are. Men have been coerced since childhood to forego these relational qualities and skills and squeeze their sense of membership and self-esteem through performance. Girls are taught to filter their sense of self-worth through connection to others, and boys are taught to filter their sense of self-worth through performance. That’s a vulnerable foundation for one’s self-worth” notes Real in an interview.

The excellent website, Men Get Depression, says there are three distinctive signs of male depression:

Pain
Depression may show up as physical signs like constant headaches, stomach problems, or pain that doesn’t seem to be from other causes or that doesn’t respond to normal treatments.

Risk Taking
Sometimes, depressed men will start taking risks like dangerous sports, compulsive gambling, reckless driving, and casual sex.

Anger
Anger can show itself in different ways like road rage, having a short temper, being easily upset by criticism, and even violence.

So often, the first symptom that male lawyers notice that they are slipping is in the performance department. One of the symptoms of clinical depression is difficulty concentrating. This leads to problems in getting work out the door. We may try to hide that our work is slipping – ask for extensions, take much longer to do tasks that were simple and routine in the past. If the problem doesn’t go away, some will seek out help – usually through their family doctor (who distribute 80% of the prescriptions in this country for antidepressant medications). Some will go the extra step of seeing a therapist that they can talk with about their problems.

My therapist used to liken my depression to a caveman camping out in his cave. It took a lot to coax me out of there. Men need to come out of their caves into the light of day where the colors are brighter, others live who can help us and where we can finally feel the sun of being worthy without having to perform twenty-four seven in our legal careers.

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