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What is Depression and Why Is It Vital to Understand It?
"Depression is the flaw in love," says Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. "To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who can despair at what we lose, and depression is the mechanism of that despair." When we are depressed we are unable to feel the love coming from others or to give love. Like my father and many other relatives in my family I have experienced depression in my own life. For me, depression is like being trapped within a dark cloud that allows no light or heat. When I'm in it, I feel like I've always been there and I will never come out of it.
Depression can be roughly divided into small (mild) and large (major) depression.
"Mild depression," says Solomon, who is a journalist and has personally wrestled with depression throughout his life, "is a gradual and sometimes permanent thing that undermines people the way rust weakens iron. It is too much grief at too slight a cause, pain that takes over from the other emotions and crowds them out."
It is mild, only by comparison. For those who have it, this kind of depression can slowly sap all the life energy out of a person. "On the face of it, 'mild' depression sounds like a quiet problem," say John J. Ratey, M.D., and Catherine Johnson, Ph.D. We think of the slightly depressed person as an unassuming soul: melancholic, perhaps shy, a meek and retiring figure standing on the sidelines of life's parade. A person who is more trouble to himself than to anyone else."
I believe that this describes the kind of depression that is more common in women. There is another kind of depression that is more common in men. Ratey and Johnson describe it this way. They are "often stressed, frazzled, angry. They feel overwhelmed and fed-up; they are the people who have 'hit the wall.' They bark at their children; they snap at their mates. They are chronically irritable, and they are having no fun."
As we know if we've ever experienced this kind of depression or lived with someone who has, it is far from mild. Andrew Solomon offers a useful contrast. "Large depression is the stuff of breakdowns," he says, "If one imagines a soul of iron that weathers with grief and rusts with mild depression, then major depression is the startling collapse of a whole structure." Many men suffer from depression in silence. Many of us don't know we are depressed. Others of us, suspect we are depressed, but feel we can and should handle it ourselves.
Many of us don't feel much hope that the talk therapy or drugs can really solve what is eating away at us. From my own experience, I know we need not suffer alone. There is help that will work for each of us. We just need to be willing to look for it. Of course, when we're depressed, it can feel impossible to seek out the help we need. Often it is someone close to us who pushes or pulls us toward recovery.
Does this sound familiar? Drop me a line and let me know what you have experienced.
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This article first appeared on Gordon Clay's MenStuff Web site, http://www.menstuff.org/