Handling depression is tough. Handling depression alone or without compromise is considerably harder.
Ryan’s father is the most stubborn man Ryan knows. Ryan, who asked not to be named in this article, describes him as a Sopranos character minus the ties to organized crime. He’s a son of Italian immigrants who’s lived in Jersey for all of his very loud, confrontation-filled life. For as long as Ryan can remember, his father has been repeating his mistakes and arguing even inarguable points.
“If we’re having a fight, no matter how silly he’s being or how dumb his position is, he’ll just hold onto it until it gets to a point where it’s emotionally not worth the energy to hold onto it anymore,” Ryan says. Then Ryan laughs. He loves his dad.
Still, the stubbornness represents a real problem because Ryan’s father suffers from depression and stubbornness and depression go together like like ammonia and bleach. They create a toxic cloud that fills Ryan’s family’s home for days on end.
We expect fathers to be stubborn. It’s a shopworn cliché regularly mined for easy humor. Lost husbands never ask for directions. Clark Griswold, Archie Bunker, and Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor never admit they’re wrong — they stay the course and blunder through disaster after disaster. But when male stubbornness is coupled with male depression, it’s no joke. Depression changes how a person perceives the world. Stubbornness makes you insist that perception is correction. Believing your possibilities are limited, you sink further into despair and stubbornly lash out at anyone who tries to convince you otherwise.
Because Western society’s attitudes about mental health are shaped by gender roles, male depression easily hides in plain sight. Our cultural norms teach us that sadness is weakness and therefore incompatible with masculinity. While about 12 percent of American men are likely to experience depression sometime in their lives, their symptoms could easily go unrecognized and untreated. A recent study indicated that our people are less likely to recognize symptoms of depression in men than in women.
After an injury left him unable to work around 2005, Ryan’s father withdrew into his house and got hooked on opioids. He became a shell of his former self, staying in bed all day and only leaving to visit the grocery store. He ignored his family’s pleas. No, he didn’t want to take a walk. No, he did not want to talk about it. He denied that there was a problem, even after a doctor diagnosed him with depression.
“I don’t know if he was resistant to the diagnosis, but, going back to the stubbornness, he’s just in denial,” Ryan said. “Like he’ll tell himself that he’s not depressed, he’s just feeling this way because his body hurts or like whatever.”
Unwilling to take steps to treat his depression, Ryan’s father pretends it’s under control until his emotions are too powerful to contain.
“It’s so bottled up that he immediately gets very emotional,” Ryan said. “So it’s like he has been pushing it down or ignoring it or maybe talking about it to himself in his head or whatever. And then if he ever brings it up to me within like two sentences, he gets teary-eyed and like almost can’t talk because it’s like he stifled it for so long that he can’t.”
Ryan’s father isn’t alone in denying his depression. There’s evidence that men respond to depression in much different ways than women. In fact, therapist and author Jed Diamond argues that depression manifests itself differently in men and women.
“Often we think of depression as somebody being just very, very sad, who can’t get past feelings of self-blame and has low energy and just can’t get through the day or, in extreme cases, is suicidal because they’re just so sad they don’t want to live,” Diamond says. “Men often have different symptoms that aren’t recognized, that include things like irritability and anger, frustration, acting out.”
Diamond says that men suffering with depression may behave very differently than the fatigued and despairing figure we think of as a depressed…